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Redemption in Turkey? - How Karius rebuilt his career after Champions League nightmare

9:55 AM EDT 4/19/19
Loris Karius Besiktas 12072018
The Liverpool goalkeeper has had a difficult 12 months but things are looking up for the German at Besiktas

AB13 became AB1 this week, with Liverpool revealing that goalkeeper Alisson Becker would take the No.1 jersey at Anfield from next season.

The Brazilian has been a big hit since his £65 million ($85m/€75m) move from Roma last summer, establishing himself as the club’s first choice and helping Jurgen Klopp’s side move ominously towards domestic and European glory.

Alisson’s performances in a Liverpool shirt have moved him into the conversation when it comes to ‘world’s best goalkeeper’, alongside the likes of Jan Oblak, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and, of course, David de Gea.

But what of the man he replaced between the sticks on Merseyside?

Loris Karius could have been forgiven for casting a few envious glances towards Alisson and Co. this season. While Liverpool bid for Premier League and Champions League success, the German has been seeking to rebuild his confidence, and his reputation, on loan in Turkey with Besiktas.

Karius’ Reds career, of course, will be remembered for last season’s Champions League final – and the errors which cost Klopp’s side dear. The former Mainz man’s tears were a defining image from that disappointing night in Kiev, while subsequent claims that Karius had been suffering from concussion during the second half of the game ensured he remained firmly in the spotlight for weeks afterwards. It was not a great summer for the 25-year-old.

Klopp’s initial plan had been to keep him as Alisson’s deputy, with Simon Mignolet offloaded instead. But with Mignolet proving difficult to move on – the Belgian preferred a move to Napoli, and turned down the chance to join Fulham – and with Karius making errors during Liverpool’s pre-season fixtures, the decision was taken to allow him to leave, to clear his mind and start afresh.

Besiktas paid an initial £2.25m ($2.9m/€2.6m) to sign him on a two-year loan deal. For an extra £7.25m ($9.4m/€8.4m), and providing Karius has met a series of complex requirements in terms of appearances and performances, the Turks can make that move permanent at the end of that spell.

For a time, it seemed that that would be unlikely. Karius played regularly – he has, in fact, started more games for Besiktas than he did for Liverpool last season – but his mistakes were highlighted and his form criticised.

Even his own manager, Senol Gunes, took a shot. Last month, he accused Karius of “going stagnant”, stating that something was wrong with his “electricity, motivation, enthusiasm for the game.” He went on to suggest that had Tolga Zengin, Besiktas’ other goalkeeper, been available, then Karius would not be playing.

Interesting man-management, to say the least. Especially given Karius had started 25 of the 26 league games he had been registered to play – the one he didn’t start, Besiktas lost away to Sivasspor in November. He had also been picked by Gunes for five of their six Europa League group matches.

Around the same time, it emerged that Karius was owed four months’ wages by Besiktas, and that he had asked FIFA to intervene. There were even suggestions he could return to Liverpool as a result.

That won’t be happening – there is no exit clause for either Karius or Besiktas – and Reds officials believe the wages dispute is now settled. They engaged in close dialogue with the player and his representatives, and have received assurances from Besiktas that there will be no further issues. Their feelings on Gunes’ stinging criticism were also relayed to the Turkish club.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Karius’ form has picked up recently. He was instrumental last weekend as Besiktas beat league leaders Istanbul Basaksehir at BJK Vodafone Park, a game attended by Liverpool’s sporting director Michael Edwards and head of loan pathways Julian Ward. The win keeps Besiktas in contention for Champions League qualification; they sit three points behind rivals Galatasaray with six games to play.

Sources close to Karius say he is now happy and settled in Istanbul, where he has been joined by his girlfriend, and that the experience of playing for a club like Besiktas, who are expected to win pretty much every time they play, has been key to him regaining confidence following his Kiev nightmare. He has certainly not shied away from pressure situations this season.

And with Gunes set to depart in the summer to take over as manager of the Turkish national team, Karius can look forward to a new, more accommodating boss too. Among the favourites to take over is the manager of Basaksehir, Abdullah Avci, although former Spain and Real Madrid star Guti is another candidate.

Whoever takes over, though, will find a different Karius to the one Liverpool fans will remember. He may never get the chance for redemption at Anfield, but almost 12 months after hitting rock bottom, his career is very much back on track.