Redemption arcs will be part of sport for eternity. Something bad happens, something good erases it. It’s a cycle which has been neatened by Hollywood, certainly, but it remains broadly relevant in the real world. If you make a mistake at work, just try harder tomorrow and nobody will remember the day before. It’s simple enough.
Lorius Karius will have no redemptive arc at Liverpool. Having spent the summer imprisoned by his performance in Kiev, Alisson Becker’s arrival at Anfield has ensured that there will be no quick escape. Karius’s errors occurred in a Champions League final. In a game watched by a millions.
No, that night was never going to be forgotten, but he would have hoped for a quick burst of form in August and some relief from the mockery which has been crashing over him since May. A penalty save at a critical moment, perhaps, or points-preserving brilliance which showed him at his best. That would have been the intention.
A month ago, Karius even released his own training montage. Then, he was Rocky preparing for Drago. Now, he’s a fighter without an opponent. Alisson will start for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and what Karius does next will happen out of plain sight. He may choose to stay, becoming a lesser-spotted back-up in minor competitions, or he might depart. Whatever the case, he’ll never return to the same level of the game and so, unfortunately, the cathartic ending will remain elusive.
Whatever else he does in his career, the shadows of Kiev will never entirely disappear.
Perceptions seem to matter with goalkeepers. Whether it’s fair or not, their isolated mistakes seem to determine their course. Robert Green has never really returned from Rustenberg, Scott Carson’s trajectory was permanently changed on that sodden night at Wembley, and Massimo Taibi – to this day – remains frozen in time, searching among his studs for an excuse that wasn’t there.
Sometimes mistakes breed psychosis. Confidence is clearly critical to goalkeepers and their errors often seem to create sustained periods of poor form. Alternatively, the memory of the mistake itself can be enough to condemn a goalkeeper – they become a risk, a liability, someone who does not belong beyond a certain level of the game. Think of Ben Foster or Heurelho Gomes. Richard Wright and Tim Howard. Once a consensus had been reached, the asterisks are permanent and form becomes incidental.
Football is cruel and uncaring. It’s a point-and-laugh world in which schadenfreude rules and any consideration of humanity is somehow beside the point. But consider the last few months of Loris Karius’ life – not just the bits we’ve seen, either, not just the tears on the pitch and the isolated lowlights from what looks to have been a painful pre-season.
What happened when he left the stadium that night? When Liverpool’s players gathered back on the coach and then took their seats on the plane to Merseyside, what was it that he felt in those moments? A Champions League final is a season’s crescendo, a reward for eight months’ work, and it had unraveled in his hands. There were certainly sub-plots that night, not least Mohamed Salah’s injury and Karius’ own concussion, but those had to be lonely hours.
Maybe he sat there in a daze. Perhaps he put his headphones on, turned the volume as high as it would go, and just pretended that he was somewhere else. But maybe he struck up conversation with teammates instead, feigning resilience when – really – he was searching for deeper truths. Were those players being sympathetic out of obligation, or because they know that he’s a fine goalkeeper and that he’ll have better nights.
What does Jurgen Klopp really think?
It’s not easy to quieten that inner monologue.
We know that he barely slept that night. We also know, unfortunately, that he and his family were pelted with threats from low-IQ social media users. It’s an ugly fact of life, of course, and most know by now that those aren’t people worth a second’s thought, but the cumulative effect had to leave a deep bruise.
For those few days and despite his great wealth, barely a soul on earth would have traded places with Loris Karius.
In 2017, ESPN’s long-running 30-for-30 series revisited the Buffalo Bills’ doomed attempt to win the Super Bowl. The Bills advanced to the NFL’s championship game four consecutive times between 1991 and 1994, losing on all four occasions. Most famously, they came within a goalpost’s width of winning in 1991, with Scott Norwood’s field-goal drifting wide and right with time expiring against the New York Giants.
Strangely, despite the differences between sports and cultures, the life of a place-kicker and a goalkeeper are strikingly similar. Both exist on islands away from their team and both roles are specialist occupations. Most importantly, success in either is strictly binary: the goalkeeper either saves a shot or he doesn’t, the kicker either succeeds or fails with his kick. Both, obviously, leave the individual highly exposed in the event of a mistake.
The Four Falls Of Buffalo is a compelling watch. It’s also a troubling one, though, because it exposes just how much Norwood has suffered in the years since. While the other players interviewed discuss the losses with measured regret and healthy analysis, Norwood clearly remains haunted. His was not a glaring mistake, the kick was from 47 yards and just missed by a fraction, but he was barely able to discuss it without melting into tears.
Scott Norwood is nearly 60 years old now. It has been 27 years since that night in Tampa. He would play another season in the NFL before retiring, actually performing extremely well, but he departed the game in 1992 before disappearing from public view. In that darkness, clearly, he paid a heavy price.
It’s also one that he wouldn’t have paid alone. Family members are rarely mentioned in these situations, but behind every Scott Norwood – and now Loris Karius – lies a support network. A mother sitting helplessly in the stands, a father who desperately wants to shoulder some of the burden but cannot, maybe even young children who have to go to school the next day. There are many examples of families rallying around their embattled members and of strength being drawn from those numbers, but far less discussion of the strain which can often be placed on those relationships. In civilian life, a bad day at work can be enough to test the fabric of a marriage, so goodness knows what effect public failure can have.
At its worst, a couple can be exposed to a staggering lack of empathy. Shortly after Bill Buckner had fumbled a critical ground ball in baseball’s 1986 World Series, a journalist asked his wife if her husband was considering suicide. Suicide. Something that reprehensible clearly lies at the far end of the scale, but it’s still a vivid – stark – example of how barbaric the aftermath can be. Buckner also has three children; presumably they all have tales of unkind playground remarks and Little League snark.
For Loris Karius, this is the beginning. There will be no redemption at Liverpool and likely no chance of altering his Champions League legacy. It’s happened now and it can’t be changed. For the immediate future, the concern will be over how he recovers his goalkeeping mechanics and what steps he takes to repair what is now a career in free-fall. But there’s a stage before that – one which is, in the short term, important to his professional performance but which, over the next 30, 40 years, is imperative to his well-being.
He must learn to live with this. Football, in spite of its wild sense of over-importance, must do what it can to allow him to have a career beyond that night.