Where does Loris Karius go from here?
Blame is the easiest thing in life to give, which also makes it the most worthless. It’s important to identify mistakes so they can be corrected. If they can be corrected quickly, a player’s confidence can be restored. With goalkeepers, just as with strikers, confidence is paramount.
When Loris Karius fatally attempted to roll the ball to a defender 50 minutes into the Champions League final with Karim Benzema close at hand, there was no time to correct the error. Shortly after, he was holding the ball again, no one near him, and three teammates surrounding the 18-yard-box. Under normal circumstances, he would have connected with one. This time, he hesitated, considering one, then another, before dropping the ball on the turf to hoof it into Real Madrid’s half. He didn’t punt it. Karius no longer trusted his hands.
That insecurity led him to doubt himself on Gareth Bale’s volley from 30 yards. Never mind that the Welshman had embarrassed two other keepers with similar swerving blasts in the Euros. Karius was behind the ball but couldn’t decide whether to catch or parry it. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp understood.
Loris Karius knows [he is to blame], everybody knows it. That is a shame in a game like this, in a season like this. I feel for him; he is a fantastic boy. The second mistake is because of the first one. The bad parts are difficult to get rid of in a game like this.
Lorius Karius knows it indeed. When the referee blew full time, he fell to his hands and knees, hid his head and cried. When one of the coaches helped him off the field, he kept his shirt over his face, trying to hide. To his credit, he later came out to face the fans.
The German knows more than the fact he choked in the biggest game of his life. He knows how hard he worked to gain his manager’s trust, the fan’s trust, to become Liverpool’s undisputed first choice in goal. He knows that trust is shattered. The look on Klopp’s face after the second error said as much. So did the expressions worn by Liverpool fans as the final minutes ticked away. So did the fact that no players in Red kits came to console him at the end. Instead, it was Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, and one or two other Real Madrid players who took time to show their compassion, to make sure he didn't walk alone.
And Karius deserves compassion. Liverpool did not make it to the final only because their side kept scoring goals. He played a part, making critical saves throughout the tournament, including in the quarterfinal tie against Manchester City. He also denied the Citizens an equaliser in the league match between the two sides at Anfield, which Liverpool also won. In the opening minutes in Kyiv, he charged out brilliantly to punch away a cross that Benzema was poised to knock home. He turned away Ronaldo’s header, which would have counted because the linesman had not flagged the Ballon d’Or holder for offsides. Karius is an above-average keeper.
But, his confidence. It's in more pieces than Humpty Dumpty. Jurgen Klopp now has an unexpected decision to make this summer. Does he attempt to put Karius' psyche together again? Or does he “get rid of the bad part” of his squad?
Sticking with his netminder will be even more problematic than Zinedine Zidane standing by Karim Benzema through a poor season. The rest of the squad must trust the man between the sticks. Liverpool's outfield players' actions at the match’s conclusion suggest they no longer do. Then, there are the fans. How will they react to any future mistakes if Karius stays with the side? It may be simpler to make this someone else’s problem. But not too simple.
Karius is under contract until June 2021. Three seasons. The whole footballing world was watching the Champions League final. The Reds will not get good value if they can find a buyer. They might be able to loan their damaged goods out, making the keeper’s recovery someone else’s problem.
Then it will be a matter of bringing in someone new. Or old. Pepe Reina has been linked with an Anfield return in the past year. Other options might be available. Burnley may have two healthy England internationals heading into 2018/19. Whoever it is, Liverpool will go into the next campaign with serious doubts rather than riding the emotional high of having been Champions League finalists.
And there's no getting around the responsibility Loris Karius bears. Again, though, assigning blame is easy, but it solves nothing.