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Kiev, Madrid, and a Final Defense of Loris Karius

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A year on from Kiev, I think we need to put everything that unfolded in that final into perspective.

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Liverpool v Torino - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

From the start I want to make one thing clear: Loris Karius was not the goalkeeper we needed to take us to where we wanted to go as a football club.

However, over the past year, his name has been endlessly tarnished. Not just by rival fans, but from those proudly sporting the liver bird. Although I’m sure my words will fall on deaf ears, I felt the need to make one last defense of Karius.

Life, of course, isn’t fair. And the circumstances leading up to, during, and after the final were especially cruel to Karius.


Before Kiev

In 2016, during Klopp’s first summer transfer window, it was clear we needed an upgrade to Simon Mignolet. Despite the positive vibes surrounding Jurgen Klopp’s arrival, and the excitement of getting to two finals, there were still question marks over whether the charismatic German could replicate his success from Borussia Dortmund at Anfield.

After years of failing to qualify for the Champions League, Klopp had a limited budget and limited options. His “big money” transfers that summer were Georginio Wijnaldum (£23 million) from relegated Newcastle, and Sadio Mane (£30 million) from Southamption. It’s amazing to think about in retrospect, but there were reasonable questions to be asked about the fees paid and overall strategy of signing both players.

But Klopp knew he also needed improvements—even if only marginal ones—defensively. He signed Joel Matip and experienced goalkeeper Alex Manninger on free transfers. He shelled out £4.2 million for Ragnar Klavan, and finally—his big defensive signing of that summer—Karius for an eye-watering fee of £4.7 million.

At the time, Karius was an up-and-coming hot prospect in the Bundesliga, rated second to the one and only Manuel Neuer. He was a product of the Manchester City academy, and had a low release clause. It was a low-risk signing with a potentially high reward. And, importantly, the best we could do with Liverpool’s stature and budget limitations.

If ever there was an ominous bad start to a career, it’s a goalkeeper breaking his hand during a preseason friendly against Chelsea. A collision with Dejan Lovren ensured that Karius would not even start the season, and he’d be in and out of the side throughout the rest of the campaign.

In fact, he jostled with Simon Mignolet for the starting sport between the sticks for the better part of a season and a half, before finally showing enough to claim a spot in the second half of the 2017/18 season. Even by this point, rumors were swirling around Liverpool’s interest in Alisson Becker, among other goalkeepers across Europe. It was clear that neither Mignolet nor Karius were the long-term solution.

Karius was never spectacular, but he allowed Liverpool’s defense—now being marshalled by Virgil van Dijk—to play a higher line. And his distribution was better than Mignolet’s. Karius was the best Klopp had at his disposal, and to Karius’s credit, he was a good enough shot stopper to help lead the Reds to their first Champions League final in 11 years.


Kiev

Despite losing Mohamed Salah (while Liverpool were on top, no less), the Reds still clung to a scoreless draw early into the second half of the Champions League final. Their defense was bending, but not yet breaking, while the attack looked uncharacteristically (though perhaps understandably) toothless after being deprived of Salah’s services.

Not content to injure one key opponent, Sergio Ramos launched himself elbow-first into the temple of Karius. Like the last red card worthy challenge, this too went uncalled. The ref didn’t even stop play, as the rules call for with a potential head injury. For those who have the courage to rewatch any of that final, you can see that Karius is sprawled in his own net for quite some time. The ref never stops action, and Liverpool’s medical staff never have a chance to assess him.

We don’t know if the staff would have pulled him out. We know that Liverpool have been particularly cautious with concussion protocol this season, but perhaps that is a result of this incident.

Regardless, mere moments after having his bell rung, Karius rolls the ball straight into the path of Karim Benzema. And later in the half, he let a Gareth Bale shot from distance go right through his hands and into the back of the net. Both errors were uncharacteristic for the German keeper. And the errors, ultimately, were the difference in the final 3-1 scoreline.

The scenes of Karius besides himself in emotional agony after the final whistle are hard to watch to this day.


After Kiev

There was no redemption story for Karius at Liverpool. Even during preseason, while Liverpool were working behind the scenes to sign Alisson, Karius was given hell by League Two opposition fans. Liverpool fans, also, couldn’t trust him in goal. Every single time the ball went near him in preseason, you could hear a collective gasp from the travelling Kop.

Klopp tried to help. He spoke up publicly about he concussion, and tried to help rehabilitate the player’s image. But the damage had been done.

No one wanted to hear about the concussion, no matter how relevant. Even today, no one talks about it. Instead we hear things like: Karius decided to throw it in his net.

No one blames Salah for going off injured, but everyone blames Karius from playing through an injury, even if he didn’t even realize he was injured.

“Whoever had a concussion knows there is not one way how it feels, there are different ways,” Klopp said. “He didn’t feel it obviously. He had a knock on his head and he felt that but he didn’t know he had a concussion. That’s how concussions are. The guy who has it is the last one to be aware of it probably.”

I wish we all could be as forgiving as the boss.

In the end, despite, or maybe even because of this compassion, Klopp decided to loan Karius out to Besiktas in Turkey. It was clear the player would never be able to live down those mistakes he made on the world’s biggest stage, regardless of circumstances, and certainly not while at Liverpool.


I think we need to better contextualize Karius’s career at Liverpool. I know football is a results oriented business, but injuries happen. If Ramos’s challenge had resulted in a broken bone, or a torn ligament, there would be a far greater understanding. A head injury should be no different.

We know he wasn’t the keeper that Klopp needed for his project. He was as good as Klopp could manage at the time. It was a terrible way to lose a final, but we need to stop spitting on the ground every time Karius’s name is mentioned.

If Liverpool can win a week from today, I hope supporters can finally understand what happened, and forgive Karius.