IAN LADYMAN: Only Man United fans should not be wishing Karius well

IAN LADYMAN: If you don’t wish Loris Karius well you don’t understand sport, or life… Newcastle’s fourth-choice goalkeeper has been thrown into the second biggest game of his career – only Man United should be hoping for a repeat of the first

  • I was there in Kyiv for Loris Karius’s howler in 2017-18 Champions League final
  • The thing that baffles me is the goalkeeper has never recovered from that night
  • All of us should be hoping for a different outcome in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final 

On the day that Loris Karius’s problems really began, Eddie Howe was the manager of the opposition.

On December 4, 2016, Liverpool were drawing a mad game 3-3 with Howe’s Bournemouth. Karius had just made a very good save that nobody remembers when he fumbled a shot in stoppage time and Bournemouth knocked in the rebound to win the match.

It was, on reflection, the start of a story of Karius and English football that will, one way or the other, reach a conclusion when the German goalkeeper plays as fourth choice for Howe’s Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester United this weekend.

In the Sky studio that Sunday more than six years ago, pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher were not generous to Karius, a 23-year-old playing his ninth Premier League game. A few days later Karius and I sat down to talk in a Liverpool cafe.

The timing was coincidental. The interview had been arranged a week earlier and, given events at Bournemouth, I expected Liverpool to cancel it. To their credit, they didn’t.

Loris Karius’s problems in goal for Liverpool really began away at Bournemouth in 2016

Newcastle manager Eddie Howe was in charge of the opposition on that very afternoon

Now Karius will play as fourth choice for Howe’s Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday

So Karius sat and talked about his upbringing, family and his unsuccessful spell as a 16-year-old at Manchester City. He also talked about his error at Bournemouth and also, briefly, about Carragher and Neville who, it turned out, didn’t like that very much.

They subsequently both agreed, after another less than certain TV display against West Ham the following Sunday, that Karius should talk to newspapers less and just play better.

For a while, the whole business became a bit of a story. 

Neville and I exchanged civilised but frank views on the telephone while Karius’s manager Jurgen Klopp defended his man against what he interpreted as an attack from Manchester.

Neville then ended a rather tense week by appearing as a special guest on Sky’s journalism chat show, Sunday Supplement, to discuss the business of footballers and the media.

Why is this important now? Well, it feels so because it’s hard not to look back and wonder if Karius’ career here ever really recovered from that ugly, uncertain start.

Klopp – a week after defending his man – dropped him after the West Ham game and Karius was not to play regularly again in the league for another year.

That was a very long time for a footballer to sit and think, and we all know what happened at the end of his second coming in May 2018. 

Karius – established as first-choice again only the previous Christmas – gifted Real Madrid a Champions League final with one of the most calamitous individual performances a showpiece game has ever seen.

Karius has never recovered from his calamitous showing in the 2018 Champions League final

You don’t forget moments like the one when he gifted Karim Benzema an opener out in Kyiv

I was there in Kyiv and you don’t forget moments like the one when Karius allowed Karim Benzema to pinch the ball as he rolled it out for goal number one. Or when he fumbled Gareth Bale’s shot for number three.

It’s like watching a golfer three-putt from a yard. Or a bowler with the yips. You want to look away, to pretend it didn’t really happen. You want to be somewhere else but you can’t be. You have to stay. You have to watch and try to make sense of it. But you can’t because some things defy logic. 

Goalkeepers spend their days catching and kicking footballs. But then, suddenly and when it matters, they can’t do it. And for the rest of their lives, they are not allowed to forget.

And this is the thing with Karius. We have seen this week – Real Madrid against Liverpool again as it happens – how easy it is for modern goalkeepers to err with their feet.

All of us should be hoping for a different outcome for Karius at Wembley on Sunday

But the thing that continues to baffle and trouble me is not that Karius made those mistakes in Kyiv, but that he has never really recovered from them.

His whole career in England – two seasons and 49 games – is defined by negativity. Bournemouth, West Ham, the nonsense that followed and then – 18 months later – the Champions League final. Then he disappeared from view.

When we spoke that day in Liverpool, Karius was phlegmatic. Goalkeepers don’t tend to get second chances after a mistake, he shrugged. Soon enough he was to learn how painfully true that was.

The fact is that Karius didn’t prove himself good enough for the top end of the Premier League. No shame in that. What has always surprised me is that he didn’t return to our game a little further down the food chain.

Instead, he has played 67 games in Turkey, five in Germany and now this. Fourth choice at Newcastle, little more than someone to help with training, until Nick Pope’s handiwork and a tangle of football red tape propelled him to the front of the queue for the second biggest game of his life.

I liked Karius when I met him. I liked his warmth and openness. But I have also long wondered about the damage done by the whole affair.

So I have a vested interest in what happens at Wembley on Sunday. But then so should all of us who don’t support Manchester United. If you don’t wish an honest footballer a better outcome this time then I suggest you don’t really understand sport, or indeed life.

Reds longing for Van Dijk resurgence 

The scariest thing about Liverpool’s 5-2 humbling by Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday is that at half-time it was possible to see it coming. 

Jurgen Klopp’s side had already lost control of the game and when they do not have control these days they are desperately vulnerable. The reasons are varied and an ageing midfield is prime among them.

Virgil van Dijk is no longer the unbeatable force he once was after suffering a knee injury

But what about the elephant in the room? What about the thing only ever whispered about in dark corners? What about Virgil van Dijk? Once almost unbeatable, the great Dutch defender has not emerged from a serious knee injury as quite the same player. The drop-off has only been marginal but it’s there.

Only when Van Dijk returns to eminence will he start to drag Liverpool’s defence back with him. It needs to happen soon.

Brave Sema is just the tonic 

About five per cent of children will experience a problem with stuttering while they are learning to talk. Many grow through it, others do not.

Watford midfielder Ken Sema is 29 and has not grown through it but stood by the side of the field and gave a TV interview after his two goals helped the Hornets beat West Bromwich Albion on Monday.

His stutter was apparent but it did not define that interview. What defined it was happiness and human spirit and I felt a lot better about the world after watching it.

No Champions League won’t do for Pep at City 

Pep Guardiola does many things very well but self-deprecation is not one of them. 

Ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League game at RB Leipzig he once again addressed the fact he has not won the tournament with Manchester City. 

‘Whatever I have done in the past or in the future, I am going to fail,’ Guardiola said. ‘Nothing will (ever) be enough.’

It’s rubbish, of course. Guardiola will one day leave these shores revered. But the fact he has not won the Champions League since 2011 with Lionel Messi and Barcelona does represent a huge hole in his record.

If he wins it just once with City, it’s enough. If he doesn’t, it’s not enough. It really is that simple.

Tierney knows it’s time to go 

Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney was once one of the club’s most valued assets during troubled times. His tenacity, courage and talent represented something to cling to while Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were draining money from the club.

Kieran Tierney knows it is time to move on after falling out of favour at Arsenal this season

Now that things are better, the Scot doesn’t play and it is said he wishes to leave. If that’s true, it may be that Mikel Arteta lets him.

This is what really top managers do. They make decisions for the team rather than for individuals and Tierney is, above all, a team player. He showed that when he managed to shine during the dark days.

Deep down, despite the pain, he of all people will get how all this works.

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