Liverpool had secured one of the Bundesliga’s best defenders, a player just entering his prime, but expectations weren’t especially high. For those who didn’t watch a great deal of German football, Jöel Matip was a bit of a mystery signing. A mystery signing who came in on a free transfer.
The fact that Liverpool had managed to sign a 24-year-old defender on a free had some wondering how it was that he would be available if he was any good. And then, not long into pre-season, he injured his foot. It feels like ages ago now for a player who impressed from nearly the second he was back on the pitch.
“The beginning for me wasn’t the best,” Matip told the Liverpool Echo as he took a step back from training to reflect on his time at the club so far. “I had the problem with my foot in pre-season but since then it’s gone well. I have played a lot of games and I hope it will continue like this.
“My team-mates helped me from the first day I was here. That support meant I could play my game. There are a lot of nice guys in the squad. We laugh a lot and hopefully we will achieve a lot. I’m also playing for a great coach who improves every player he works with. I know I will get better.”
He’s already looking like the kind of player who could anchor Liverpool’s defence for another five years—or longer. Given he was 24 when Liverpool signed him and only turned 25 in August, though, it’s almost certain he will continue to improve. Especially given defenders often peak later than players at other positions.
It’s a proposition that should have opposition strikers worried—and Liverpool fans, even the ones who at first held his bargain free transfer tag against him, salivating. Matip was one of the Bundesliga’s best centre halves, and it’s not a stretch to think he could soon end up one of the Premier League’s best, too.
Size and strength, a keen reading of the game, and a solid range of passing to go with strong technique make for a well rounded and potentially dominating defender. He’s quickly become a calming, steadying, cool head at the back, and Liverpool’s defence is beginning to look far better for it.
“I am not someone who is always shouting on the field,” he added. “I try to keep my composure. I can’t do it always. Sometimes I can get a bit angry, especially if a decision I want doesn’t go my way, but I do try to stay calm on the field. It helps you to make the right decisions.”