As he walked off the pitch after two costly, game-changing errors, Liverpool fans openly wondered if there was any way back. He might have been playing through an injury, but surely this was the end of his Liverpool career. Surely.
But then a funny thing happened. By the end of the season, he had led his club and country to the two biggest finals in world football. Oh, you thought I was talking about Loris Karius? No, I was referring to the one and only Dejan “Degsy” Lovren, who is now—not without merit!—proclaiming himself to be one of the best defenders in the world. After massive, stand-out performances in both the Champions League final and the World Cup semifinal, I think we can let Degsy have his moment, for now.
The size and scale of the errors make a difference between Lovren and Karius, but after an exceptional second half of the season, we can say that the Lovrenaissance is a real thing. There has already been a redemption story for Lovren under Klopp. As the manager is fond of saying, “These things can happen.”
If ever there were a manager under whom Karius could be redeemed, it would be under Klopp. But just because his Liverpool career can be saved, it does not mean it will be. That is yet to be seen.
Concussed or not, it’s difficult to look past the blinding errors under the brightest of lights in the decisive second half of the Champions League final. In 31 previous appearances, the German goalkeeper had started winning over critics, making key saves and interventions, and allowing Klopp’s gegenpressing men to play a higher defensive line. He had zero errors leading to a goal in the 31 previous matches where his head hadn’t been readjusted with a well placed Sergio Ramos elbow.
All of that good work now seems to be undone, at least in the minds of many of the Liverpool faithful on Twitter, blogs, and podcasts. “Klopp has never seen The Kop turn on a player before,” is a line I’ve heard repeated far too often. That’s a nice team you have there, Kloppo, would be a shame if something happened to your goalkeeper.
Unfortunately, Karius did himself no favors by spilling a shot, leading to a goal for Tranmere Rovers in the second preseason match. Klopp can work wonders with players, but maybe the mental strain—mitigating circumstances notwithstanding—might be too much for Karius to overcome. No one knows if Karius can come back from this. Klopp, who knows more about football and man-management than you, me, and the next 1000 football fans might not even know.
And I don’t know if Liverpool fans will ever forgive Karius, and fully throw their support behind him ever again. Sometimes there just is no redemption.
The problem now is that each and every mistake that Karius makes will be examined with a fine-toothed comb, just as his preseason blunder was earlier this week. If this 2018 World Cup has shown us anything, it’s that all goalkeepers, even the best in the world, make mistakes. But how many, if any, will be tolerated from Karius.
After a single, meaningless mistake, fans are already begging to give Danny Ward a chance. Ward, the previous third-string goalkeeper who has only proven himself capable in Scotland and in the Championship, who has not had significant playing time in a year, should apparently be our new #1. Top 4 in the Premier League and Champions League is a significant step up from winning a promotion playoff with a scrappy, overachieving Huddersfield.
What would it take for Karius to be “redeemed” as such? Another impressive half-season (or more) with near-flawless performances? How many “worldies” does he have to pull out of the hat in order to assuage our collective fears? And will there always be the fear of another high-profile blunder in the biggest of games, when the biggest of prizes are on the line?
I can’t answer any of these questions. I can’t predict the future, nor can I predict how the often-fickle Liverpool faithful will be swayed by several, or several dozen, performances.
This brings us back to Lovren and his phenomenal turn-around under Klopp. The German boss has a way of squeezing the best qualities out of his players, playing to our collective strengths, and away from our weaknesses. If there’s a redemption story for Karius this season, it’ll be Klopp’s efforts and faith in the player that ultimately prove the difference.