The uncertainty over Joël Matip’s eligibility to play for Liverpool during the Africa Cup of Nations is over after FIFA confirmed that the defender was free to play for his club. A decision from FIFA was expected today and seen by Liverpool’s hierarchy as a formality given that Matip had not played for Cameroon for over a year.
Matip joined Liverpool on a free transfer from Schalke 04 in the summer with no intention of interrupting his first season in English football with international commitments. Matip’s concerns surrounding Cameroon’s lack of organisation were made clear to Hugo Broos with a view of possibly returning to the national team setup at an undefined point in the future. As such, this unwelcome saga was exactly what Matip had sought to avoid: missing any games for Liverpool during 2017’s AFCON.
Liverpool and Matip, however, will be delighted that clarity has now been provided by FIFA. A curious ankle injury has dogged the defender for quite some time and restricted the 25-year-old to just one appearance—against West Ham United in the Premier League—in December. Since that game, Matip has been absent through injury or uncertainty. Nine games in three domestic competitions have been contested since then, but Liverpool will be able to name a key player in the matchday squad against Swansea City tomorrow.
As Matip has not played any competitive football for over a month, questions can now centre on whether Ragnar Klavan will retain his place against the Premier League’s basement side at Anfield tomorrow. Liverpool have four successive homes games to round off another busy month, which should provide sufficient opportunities to help Matip improve his match fitness.
Most importantly, Joël Matip—an excellent defender who helps those around him perform better—can play for Liverpool again.