Maybe, just maybe, Loris Karius needs to stop seeing himself as an artist and start thinking like a scientist? Perhaps his faith in the powers of instinct could do with being underpinned with a few more specific details?
Liverpool’s goalkeeper has been having a rough time of things at work – or at least rough by the standards of anyone commanding a basic wage of around £25,000 a week – since his two glaring errors in the Champions League final defeat against Real Madrid in May.
Undiagnosed concussion was subsequently cited as the cause of the German goalkeeper’s two concentration lapses in Kiev and Klopp was sympathy personified – before swiftly spending £65m on Roma’s Alisson. That decision appears vindicated by a few, instantly magnified, errors made by Karius in pre-season games which served as a cruel reminder that, while outfield players can often get away with myriad mistakes, goalkeepers rarely succeed in camouflaging slip-ups.
Following a 3-1 defeat against Borussia Dortmund in North Carolina – a setback in which Karius was judged responsible for conceding two goals – the Twitter-sphere turned hostile and hysterical. “To those who take joy in seeing other people fail or suffer, I feel for you,” the keeper retaliated in an emotional post. “Whatever it is that’s happening in your life to hold this much anger and hate, I pray that it passes and good things come to you.”
Mohamed Salah felt moved to intervene. “Stay strong Karius,” the Liverpool striker tweeted. “It has happened to the best players. Ignore those who hate.”
Stay strong Karius, it has happened to the best of players. Ignore those who hate.@LorisKarius
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) July 23, 2018
Sound advice indeed but the keeper could possibly question the implicit trust he places in instinct. Asked, last season, if he made a point of studying strikers’ idiosyncrasies, Karius said: “It’s not something I particularly do. To a certain point it’s good to analyse but, at the end of the day, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Such a fatalistic approach seems at odds with a character obsessed by the fine details of his nutrition and sleep quality but Karius believes the goalkeeper’s art to be “extremely instinctive”. He has a DVD library of impressive saves made for Mainz and Liverpool to endorse that point but it is also true that the best footballers tend to supplement the video preparation routinely done with club analysts by burning the midnight oil at home.
The Everton and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford spends hours studying the movement and technique of opponents. When last September Pickford stretched out a foot to deny Jermain Defoe a goal at Goodison Park with the Bournemouth striker clean through, he explained it was down to having prepared by visualising assorted scenarios involving Defoe and researching what he was most likely to do.
“I’d done my homework so I didn’t have to guess,” said Pickford. “I was pretty sure Jermain would put his shot to my right so I waited, he did, I saved it and we won.”
If a lack of research did not prompt the fumbled free-kick which handed Tranmere a goal against Karius in another pre-season friendly at Prenton Park, a blend of pressure and lost confidence was surely responsible.
Professor Steve Peters, the sports psychiatrist who has worked extensively with Liverpool in recent years, predicted it would take Karius three months to recover from his Kiev trauma.
“It’s not that he’s lost any talent or ability but it’s sport and on the day sometimes things go wrong,” Peters said, indicating that, just like a broken bone or torn ligament, the head needs time to heal. “The general rule of thumb, and we don’t know why, is that the mind takes about three months to process these things. But with professional help, from a sports psychologist or clinical psychologist, you can ensure that it strengthens you rather than weakens you when you come out [of the three-month period].”
The problem for Karius is that, by August, Alisson could well be Klopp’s established No 1. “Of course that’s not perfect for me,” the 25-year-old agreed. So might he depart before next month’s transfer deadline? “I don’t know,” he replied. “I cannot say what I’m doing right now.” Considering that Liverpool’s manager paid Mainz a modest – in a Premier League context – £4.75m for Karius and bought him primarily to challenge Simon Mignolet, Klopp possibly regards the German’s signing as a relatively low-risk gamble that did not quite pay dividends.
The question now is what happens next? With Karius’s wages beyond many club budgets and a contract until 2021, a loan deal seems quite likely. Alternatively, if Mignolet moves on – possibly to a reserve role at Barcelona – a return to the Anfield bench may yet beckon.
Once there he would be an Alisson injury away from a dramatic recall and a starring role in one of those redemption narratives around which football revolves. But first Karius could do worse than remember the adage about the devil really being in the detail.