“We got to the final as a team and lose as a team,” said Jordan Henderson as Liverpool lingered while Real Madrid reclaimed their Champions League trophy. Loris Karius would be entitled to take issue with his skipper’s sentiment.
Henderson was speaking while the Liverpool goalkeeper was offering grovelling gestures of apology to the travelling Reds supporters while holding back his tears as successfully as he grasped Gareth Bale’s 30-yard shot minutes earlier. It was a disastrous performance from the German goalkeeper, but apologies were as unnecessary as they were futile.
Goalkeepers make mistakes. The best ones make fewer than most, and that is something Karius certainly has to come to terms with if he is ever to fulfil the potential Jurgen Klopp reckoned he had spotted. The likelihood is, however, the 25-year-old won’t get the opportunity to do that at Anfield.
Certainly not if the majority of Liverpool supporters get their way.
Fans and pundits alike have doubted his credentials, and Kiev was the culmination of a series of warnings over Klopp’s apparent blind spot when it comes to keepers.
Sadly, the extreme criticism was as unsurprising as it was disgraceful. Whatever happens on a football pitch, no one should be wished death upon them, though it would be fitting to ignore those keyboard warriors just as they presumably are in their miserable everyday existences offline.
But more reasoned criticism cannot be argued against, though even that left some uncomfortable. Karius, as you would expect, was clearly devastated, even before the final whistle and many feared for his immediate and long-term frame of mind.
It is a valid concern, but referencing Robert Enke’s suicide when discussing Karius’ reaction to making two huge mistakes isn’t helping progress the discussion about mental health in sport and beyond. Enke, the late Germany goalkeeper once of Hannover, Benfica and Barcelona, stepped in front of a train in 2009, aged 32, after a long battle with clinical depression. His illness was complex and deep-rooted. Discussing Enke’s anguish in the context of Karius’ tears after two goalkeeping errors, albeit on the biggest stage, does no cause any favours.
But Karius did deserve more help at the Olympic Stadium and Liverpool should reflect on how they failed to support their crestfallen keeper in the infancy of his misery. At the full-time whistle, he was left alone in goal, in full glare of the world, without even a shoulder to cry upon. The fact that the first on the scene were those in the white of Real Madrid does not put the Liverpool players in a positive light, though they had their own hurt to process.
The Liverpool ranks of coaching and support staff, as swollen as any other top level club, should have been swifter to respond. The game was lost with minutes to spare and it must have crossed someone’s mind that Karius would need a crutch. His goalkeeping coach, John Achterberg, eventually made his way over, but for a man with responsibility for just a single soul on the playing pitch, he appeared to be painfully slow in addressing what should have been his only concern.
Perhaps Karius then asked to be left alone. Those of us not within the Liverpool dressing room might never know, but whether or not he requested solitude, that is what he was given to face up to the travelling support. At least Jamie Carragher offered some encouragement when the former Liverpool skipper – a vocal critic of Karius’s over the last year – went out of his way when he saw no one else was.
As dark as Karius’s mood may be after his catastophe in Kiev, it presents a challenge he must now face up to. Like every other player and the countless other keepers who have made mistakes at the most inconvenient times, the 25-year-old has to show the kind of resolve and strength of character that makes the finest No.1s stand out from the rest.
Whether Liverpool will grant him continued time and patience, it now seems unlikely. It has often been suggested that Klopp will dip into the transfer market for a new goalkeeper this summer, with Jack Butland and Alisson Becker the two most prominently linked. But the Liverpool boss has stubbornly resisted pressure though the last couple of windows to strengthen his goalkeeping options, persisting instead with his project.
Even this month, Karius’s status was “cool”, according to Klopp. “I’m really happy with his progress.
There is still a lot to come, I’m sure,”
“Having games like he had in the last few weeks and months helps; nothing helps you more as a goalkeeper. Having fantastic moments, having rather not-that-good moments, is all part of development.
“He really took the chance that we gave him a few months ago and was a big part of us being more stable in that period.”
Karius – and Klopp – have been fortunate to get away with the “rather not-that-good moments” in recent months. The German has certainly had them. In Kiev, the keeper and manager’s luck ran out.
Klopp’s words were rather less encouraging at the time Karius most needed them to be. “Loris Karius knows it, everybody knows it,” said the manager about his keeper’s errors. “That is a shame in a game like this, in a season like this. I feel for him, he is a fantastic boy.”
But evidently not a fantastic goalkeeper, and the likelihood is he probably will not become one at Anfield, owing to his technical flaws coupled with the grudge so many who lean towards Liverpool cannot now bury.
Those doubts and that criticism, when expressed without poison, are entirely fair. Wherever he plays, Karius has no choice but to face up to his shortcomings and show the necessary appetite in the impending fight for his reputation and, possibly, his career.