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Liverpool's forgotten man Karius facing uncertain future despite Reds return

08:00 BST 15/07/2021
Loris Karius Liverpool
The German goalkeeper has spent the last three seasons out on loan, but has joined up with Jurgen Klopp's squad for pre-season in Austria

It can be a strange time, the first week of pre-season.

And if you needed proof of that, just have a look at the Liverpool squad which reported for duty in Austria on Monday.

It's quite the mix. Jurgen Klopp’s 34-man group is made up of the big names (Mo Salah, Sadio Mane), the returning stars (Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Trent Alexander-Arnold), the new signing (Ibrahima Konate), and then a solid blend of first-teamers, fringe players and bright-eyed prospects from the Reds’ academy.

And there, in the middle of it all, sits Loris Karius. Again.

Yep, it can be a strange time indeed, the first week of pre-season.

Karius has not played for Liverpool since August 2018, when he came on as a second-half substitute in a pre-season friendly against Torino at Anfield. The goalkeeper spent the next two seasons with Besiktas in Turkey, before returning to his native Germany with Union Berlin for the last campaign.

His last competitive outing for the Reds, of course, is the one which, sadly, will define his time on Merseyside. Nobody, least of all Karius, will forget the 2018 Champions League final, when his second-half errors cost Liverpool dear as they slid to defeat against Real Madrid in Kiev.

Karius left the field in tears, his misfortune played out on the biggest stage in club football. He was mocked and criticised, blamed and exposed. How do you even begin to recover from such a harrowing experience? 

Liverpool would try to protect him, sending him to a specialist in Boston who suggested the goalkeeper had suffered concussion in a clash with Real’s Sergio Ramos, minutes before his otherwise-inexplicable aberrations. It was not an excuse, Klopp insisted, just an explanation. Few people listened.

Back on Merseyside, it quickly became clear that Karius would have to leave Liverpool if he was to move forward with his career. His second game post-Kiev was a friendly at Tranmere, in which another handling error led to a goal - and the rather cruel image of Ben Tollitt, Tranmere’s Liverpool-supporting forward who had been in Kiev as a fan, taunting the stricken ‘keeper.

“You are f*cking sh*te,” spat Tollitt.

A few weeks later, Karius was indeed moving on. Liverpool had their new No.1, Alisson Becker, joining from Roma in what was at the time a world-record transfer for a goalkeeper.

The plan, initially, had been for the Reds to sell Simon Mignolet and retain Karius as back-up, but that was shelved when it became clear how deep the psychological wounds of Kiev were. Mignolet stayed, while Karius was sent to Besiktas to rebuild.

It was not easy for him in Turkey. He played regularly - 35 appearances in his first season and 32 in his second - but his form was patchy at best. He struggled to settle, and certainly struggled to win over his critics.

Those critics included his manager, Senol Gunes, who took the unusual step of publicly criticising his goalkeeper after one mistake against Konyaspor. 

“Karius has gone a bit stagnant,” Gunes said. “Something is wrong with his electricity, motivation, enthusiasm for the game.

“It has been like that since the beginning. He does not really feel a part of the team.

“[He] is talented but it hasn't worked out and we have a problem. Let me put it this way, if I still had Tolga [Zengin, the veteran goalkeeper] available, I would play him.”

That was in March 2019, around the same time Karius sought legal action against Besiktas over unpaid wages.

That issue would rumble on for more than a year, before the player himself terminated his loan deal in May 2020.

Karius spent pre-season with Liverpool last August, but if he hoped a move to Germany might bring about a change in fortune, he was mistaken.

He joined Union Berlin on loan in September, but would make only five appearances for the Bundesliga outfit, who preferred 34-year-old Andreas Luthe to the former Manchester City and Mainz man.

And so here we are, back where we started. Karius back at Liverpool, part of a five-man ‘goalkeepers’ union’ alongside Caoimhin Kelleher, Adrian, Marcelo Pitaluga and Harvey Davies, which will work intensively alongside coaches John Achterberg and Jack Robinson during the coming weeks.

Alisson, the undisputed first-choice, will not return until August, following his summer exploits with Brazil at the Copa America.

There could be minutes in the forthcoming friendly matches but Karius knows, as he knew last summer, that there is no chance of a future at Liverpool. He has entered the final year of his contract, and his representatives are working to find him a new club, either on loan or, preferably, on a permanent basis.

Interest so far has been minimal. Liverpool are yet to receive any official approaches, though they are aware of potential interest in France, Germany and Russia.

For Karius, it is likely that any solution is an imperfect one. His stock has fallen drastically since the days when he was the Reds’ No.1, or when he was one of Bundesliga’s up-and-coming stars at Mainz.

He turned 28 last month. An optimist would say he is entering the peak years of a goalkeeper’s career.

He will not be spending them at Liverpool, though. That much is clear, even if little else is at present.

Karius’ time at Anfield has been and gone.