Article by Sachin Nakrani
Welcome to Liverpool Football Club, Fabinho, and welcome Liverpool Football Club to making a statement of intent. Bloody hell, that was quick. I was having a shower having just got back from Kiev when I heard Liverpool were in for the Brazilian and my hair wasn’t even dry by the time the club’s Twitter account was putting out pictures of him in a red shirt. Signed, sealed, delivered in record time.
It’s an excellent signing and, more than anything, shows we mean business. No messing about, as was the casewith the first attempt to sign Virgil van Dijk last summer, and no feeling sorry for ourselves after Saturday’s heartbreaking loss. We go again and we go stronger.
The arrival of Fabinho as a direct replacement for the soon-to-be-Juventus’s Emre Can shows a superb level of forward planning as well as a level of ruthlessness that has been lacking since Rafa Benitez’s heyday. Because having spent Â£40m on the man from Monaco, he’s definitely starting, as is Naby Keita, and with Liverpool also keen to bring in Nabil Fakir from Lyon that means the likes of James Milner, Adam Lallana and, most notably, Jordan Henderson are far from guaranteed first-team football next season. Henderson’s demotion also means the captaincy should be handed to Van Dijk with immediate effect, and it no doubt will.
This ruthlessness is hugely encouraging for us supporters but not so for the players in situ, and not just those mentioned above. Which brings me on to Loris Karius.
Everyone’s had their say on the German since the loss to Real Madrid and the outpouring of sympathy has been notable. I also feel sorry for the lad, I really do, but I can no longer trust him. In the heat of a Ukrainian evening, when the pressure was truly on, he crumbled in a manner so stark that there can be no way back for him. Not to Anfield, anyway.
I’ve heard it said that sport is a study of human tragedy and Saturday was the ultimate case in point. That’s where the sympathy comes in, because I appreciate Karius is a broken man right now. I saw it with my own eyes and have seen his social media postings since. I’d buy Karius a pint tomorrow if I could. Sit him down in The Sandon or The Arkles and chew the fat for as long as he wanted. But once we were done that would be it; hands shook, backs patted,hugs exchanged and a wave into the distance.
I’ve heard people say we need to stick with Karius, help him through this difficult time so he doesn’t slide into a slump that could end a career before it’s truly begun. But the last time I checked, Liverpool was a football club and not a coping charity for traumatised goalkeepers. We’re here to develop careers but, more than anything, we’re here to win and, as such, we can’t carry passengers, no matter how low they’re feeling and precarious their state may be.
The cold, hard truth is that Karius doesn’t currently have what it takes to be an elite goalkeeper. He’s looked unsure of his position ever since arriving from Mainz in the summer of 2016 and simply not taken his chance having been given a sustained period to prove himself as the club’s undisputed No1. How many times since the German replaced Simon Mignolet in goal have you come away from a game and thought, â??Karius played really well today?’ It’s been a rarity and while part of that can be put down to him playing behind an improved defence and, as such, going through matches not having to do anything particularly eye-catching, it’s also because, well, he’s not capable of consistently doing eye-catching things.
It’s somewhat been forgotten that in Rome, Liverpool conceded four goals and Karius barely made a save all night. Then there was the moment in the first leg, with the score goalless, that he let a shot from Aleksander Kolarov go straight through his hands. That was eye-catching but for entirely the wrong reasons.
Then came his display at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium. Good grief, I’ve never seen anything like it. What was Karius’s mental state going into the Champions League final? Was he too relaxed or too worked-up? Too cocky or too fearful? Either way his head wasn’t right and, allied to suspect talent, that led to a horror show of a display when it mattered most.
Which brings us back to a lack of trust. Say Karius remains at Liverpool and remains the club’s No1; what then? What happens going into the first game of the new season, or our first trip to a fellow title-rival, or the first Champions League group fixture – do we trust Karius not to have another meltdown? More importantly, do his team-mates? What if his presence in goal sends nervousness through the back four? An improved unit reduced to wrecks by the figure of uncertainty behind them.
There will be those who deem this harsh. After all, even the truly great players have bad games and occasionally in finals, too. The winning manager on Saturday is testimony to that – Zinedine Zidane literally lost his head in the 2006 World Cup final.
Karius’s fellow goalkeepers will no doubt also point out the harshness of digging out the 24-year-old for moments that only someone who plays in his position can contribute. There is something in that – a goalkeeper can have an incredible game and still be remembered for the one mistake that leads to a goal.
That is precisely why they need to be mentally strong as well as technically able, and Karius falls foul on both counts. He clearly went into the final in the wrong frame of mind and having made his first grave error did not have the inner fortitude to make sure he didn’t make another.
It will be a long, difficult summer for Karius. He no doubt wants another game as quickly as possible to make up, as best he can, for what happened against Real but instead has to wait until mid-August for his first competitive game, and if that is for Liverpool can you imagine the tension whenever a shot or cross comes his way. Anfield will hold its breath and the outpouring of frustration and fury when he makes his first mistake will be toxic. Karius would always be on borrowed time, just one error away from his world potentially caving in again.
Just by becoming a professional footballer – and a professional goalkeeper in particular – Karius must have a decent level of mental strength. Beating off the competition from his days growing up in Biberach to make it to Mainz as well as a German youth international. Then came his big move to England and battling back from being dropped in December 2016 to once again be Liverpool’s No1. And there followed some good displays, a feeling that he was the real deal after all, but cracks appeared against Rome and then came Kiev. There are stories of Karius’s mother being at the stadium, staring into the distance and holding her son’s sobbing girlfriend while the horror show unfolded. You’d need a heart of stone not tofeel sorry for all concerned.
But ultimately Liverpool is about winning and Karius has shown himself to not have what it takes to be a winner for this club at this moment in his life. My advice to him if we did meet for that pint would be to go back to Germany and start afresh. He’s young enough to go again and still have a very good career.
I wish him well but it’s time to say goodbye and for Jurgen Klopp to finally get on top of the weakness that has stretched across his time at Anfield – the goalkeeper. He’s shown ruthless in defence, attack and now in midfield. Next up has to be the one position that remains. Goodbye Loris and, genuinely, all the best.
Article by Sachin Nakrani
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