The arrival of Steven Caulker on Tuesday signalled Liverpool’s acceptance that they would not be able to land either Borussia Dortmund’s Neven Subotic or Schalke’s Joel Matip this month. In the case of Matip, though, that meant that the club could go ahead with signing the 24-year-old to a pre-contract.
Matip’s Schalke deal expires at the end of the current season, and Liverpool have been in discussions with him since the start of January. The club’s defensive injury crisis put any pre-contract discussions on the back burner, but having brought in Caulker for now, negotiations to bring Matip in this summer were quickly concluded.
Multiple reports in the German media have Matip’s pre-contract agreed in principle and the expectation is that the deal will be made official shortly. It looked a shrewd bit of business when rumours of Liverpool interest in the pending free agent first surfaced late in December, and it continues to look a shrewd bit of business today.
Ideally Liverpool would have been able to convince Schalke to let Matip go early for a small fee, but getting in a 24-year-old who has already played nearly 250 games for one of Germany’s top teams and been capped 27 times for Cameroon on a free transfer once the season ends is great business for the club.
The one potential problem for Liverpool in the longer term is his status as a regular for Cameroon, which means Matip will miss a month of football at one of the worst possible times every two years. With an Africa Cup of Nations set for January of 2017, Liverpool are signing a player who will miss a portion of next season.
Whether that impacts how Matip is seen by the club—whether he’s arriving as a penciled-in starter or a rotation option—remains to be seen, but at his best he is a player who can improve Liverpool’s starting eleven. He also has the ability to push forward and play as a defensive midfielder if needed.