Liverpool got their man today, signing 24-year-old Schalke centre half Joel Matip to a pre-contract agreement. Now they just have to wait until the summer for him to arrive. When he does, Liverpool will be getting a player who has already made 240 appearances for his club and become a regular for Cameroon.
They will also be getting a player who, after joining the Schalke youth academy at just nine years of age, felt it was time for a change. That change, though, would never have been to another club in the Bundesliga—out of respect to the club he grew up at, Matip knew that he would have to go abroad to find a new challenge
"I have always said I would leave Schalke for only one reason: to get to know something new," Matip said following news of his pre-contract agreement with Liverpool. "A change within the Bundesliga never came into consideration for me. My decision is not easy, but I’m convinced now is the right time to take this step."
On the open market, Matip likely would have cost somewhere between £15-20M, making Liverpool’s signing of him on a free something of a coup. It’s also a decision that Schalke thought he might not make, with the Germany club holding out hope that he might decide to stay right up until the end.
"Since May last year we have had many intensive discussions, both with Joel and his advisor," said Schalke general manager Horst Heldt this morning when Schalke announced they would be losing Matip. "It was soon clear that factors we could not influence would be decisive in Joel's decision."
With the German club offering to double his wages, in the end Matip's decision was based less on money than on the chance to try to take the next step in his career and to experience playing in another of Europe's top leagues. As Heldt added, in the end it boiled down to Matip wanting to "try something new."
“Schalke will remain a big Family for me,” added Matip. “I was always proud to play for this great club. I will do everything in the next few months to get the most out of this season so I do not feel guilty.”