The curious case of Joël Matip
By Max Gallagher (@maxgallecrit)
The following is a guest article from the aforementioned author – linked above – and is not necessarily a representative of the views held by anyone at Empire of the Kop …
Today’s gamers can play well over the age of 65. But some players are still improving.
I recently saw a quote from an interview with Joel Matip on Twitter; the quote read: âI’ve been here for five years now. It is a special club and a special city. You feel it everywhere you go. If you want to endear yourself to the Anfield loyalists, all you have to do is mention – sincerely or not – how much you love Liverpool themselves. Below the quote, a fan tweeted: ‘name goes on the back of my shirt for defo ‘. Five years ago, if you had suggested that you put Matip’s name on the back of your shirt, you would have been laughed at. Or, for that matter, five months ago. So what has changed?
I think most independent watchers and commentators would agree at this point without a doubt that Joel Matip looks a bit like a giraffe. He has a long neck and an adorably small head. I know it’s not polite to compare human beings to animals, but since a giraffe is everyone’s favorite creature and Matip is the friendliest half-center in the world, I doubt he will. worry. Who doesn’t love a giraffe? Moreover, giraffes are the only animals other than humans that bury their dead. It’s a fact. At least I read it somewhere reliable a long time ago. I don’t want to google it now and ruin the illusion. This seems unlikely, however. It’s hard to imagine – a crowd of giraffes standing in the cold drizzle pushing one of their companions into a big hole. Then then hang out in groups of two or three, meditating on mortality and the passage of time. It just doesn’t sound plausible.
When Joel Matip arrived on a free transfer in the summer of 2016, Jurgen Klopp said he would save Liverpool millions. At the time, that didn’t seem very plausible either. When a new manager comes in from an inferior league, they’ll usually try to bring in a few cheap rookies from their home country who they hope will be sneaky successes but are usually asses. For example, in the same transfer window, Ragnar Klavan was also brought in from the Bundesliga. It was another unknown amount, and the eyebrows rose. As an Estonian captain he had some pedigree, but not much. Estonia is that little Baltic country that snuggles up against Russia. Given that Russia is apparently now determined to try to infiltrate the West and geopolitically undermine it with every sleight of hand in the book, Estonia is in a rather vulnerable position, much like Adam’s apple. from Europe. With all the cyber espionage and Novachek stealing, Estonians must be tough as nails. Klavan was certainly that (the man’s named after a Viking, for God’s sake), but he was a little small and a little slow and was never going to be the answer. But who was this slender and elegant German-Cameroonian?
When Klopp first arrived, it was following a dismissal from the management that had been brought about mainly by defensive calamities. But in his first season at the helm, Liverpool conceded two goals Following as Brendan Rodgers had done in his final final season. In fact, Klopp’s first season represents the most goals against Liverpool in the Premiership era. Most people were sure Klopp would ring the bell at the earliest opportunity. A January transfer window has passed and the club have not acted. In the summer of 2016, therefore, everyone was talking about who the club was going to hire to solve our defensive problems. The answer, apparently, was no one. Matip was the main addition to the bottom line – a free transfer from Schalke. Fans immediately embraced him, it must be said, due to his clear ability and demeanor off the pitch. He was a ball player, an athlete and a goal threat from set pieces. But he has had injury issues and although he was Liverpool’s first-choice defender that season the statistics weren’t particularly flattering.
After Klopp’s first full season at the helm (although we were in the top four and showed some improvement playing aggressive attacking football), defense was still the biggest issue. Liverpool were conceding on average one goal per game in the Premier League, and each press conference was identical to the last. After one match, Klopp stormed the tunnel in the post-match interview when a reporter had the audacity to mention our poor defensive record. âAlways the same, always the same! Klopp hissed as he walked away. Despite the manager’s outrage, it was a concern to every fan that he apparently didn’t make the defense overhaul a top priority. However, unbeknownst to us, Klopp was just waiting for the right man to come. Kind of like a romantic expects a knight in shining armor, or that girl next door who looks a bit like your mom. Sometimes miracles do happen, however. Sometimes dreams can come true. And history, of course, would prove Klopp right.
In January 2018, Virgil van Dijk arrived, if memory serves, on a cloud flanked by angels playing the harp and weeping. Around the same time, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold were promoted from the reserve team and Andy Robertson was snatched from an obscure team on the Humber River. Suddenly, Liverpool had the best defense in the championship, if not in Europe. We had center-halfs with the pace and common sense to play down the halfway line and overlapping full-backs from hell that made us look like a two-tailed scorpion. The next two and a half years have been a history of record success, and while Matip is a decent team player, it seems his day is over and his chance is wasted. Where was it?
When the infamous 20/21 defensive crisis struck, Liverpool lost their two precious center-backs. After selling Dejan Lovren this summer, there were only players from the youth squad and Joel Matip to turn to. It was an opportunity for Matip to crush his authority and guide the team through the crisis, at a time when we were still league champions and vying for the league and the Champions League. It had been said that Matip was too prone to injury to be trusted. Now was his chance to prove us wrong.
Including the 2020 preseason, Matip had already had four separate spells on the sidelines before Christmas. On December 29, he sustained a groin injury. Nerves were already strained and when Matip limped off the pitch Anfield – already devoid of supporters – fell calmer than the funeral of a giraffe. He missed four games, but in his second leg at Tottenham he made a big tackle against Heung-Min Son and injured his ankle which would rule him out for the remainder of the season. There was one day left in the transfer window – just enough time for the club to bring in Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak as late cover, but the Joel Matip era seemed to be well and truly over. He had failed on the biggest stage, missed his chance, let it go.
This summer, during the usual transfer hysteria, sacrificial names were offered in order to raise money to bring in a world-class attacking player. With the purchase of Ibrahima Konate and the near cult status of Nat Phillips, it seemed like our central defense was sorted. Matip had to be sold. On a reliable forum it was suggested that the offers would be listened to in the region of Â£ 5million. Matip had indeed saved us millions – but only five of them appeared.
No offers were received for Matip this summer and so Liverpool now have yet another defensive crisis – too many first-class center-backs. Konate had been brought in as Van Dijk’s first choice mate, and Gomez and Phillips were fan favorites. So where was Matip going to fit into all of this? The answer, surprisingly, was in the starting lineup in our season opener against Norwich. Watching this game, it looked like maybe Matip felt he had a point to prove – a note of contrition for not stepping up the previous season. He played with determination, cunning and an aggressiveness that he had perhaps lacked in his previous outings.
Over the season, this has become a common thread and his level of performance has never dropped. After four games in the season, in our away game at Leeds United, Joel Matip looked just unfazed and unrecognizable. If he had played all season in a fake nose-and-mustache glasses disguise and we were told he was a brand new Â£ 75million signing named Jim O’PÃ©tale, fans would have been purring about our new bespectacled Irish center-half and the fact that sometimes it takes a lot of money to bring quality. He had always been a running back, but now he was coming out of defense with Franz Beckenbauer’s goal and intensity giving Alan Hansen a piggyback.
Liverpool have put the teams at the edge of the sword this season and that comes, ironically, as much from their renewed confidence in defense as it is from the return to form of their star attackers. Much of this is due to the stunning form of Joel Matip. Konate had a chance against Manchester United and Matip rested, possibly because of Cristiano Ronaldo’s physique. A five to zero win at Old Trafford meant Konate rightly kept his spot against Brighton at home a week later. But once again the Liverpool defense grabbed the headlines for the wrong reasons, losing a two-goal lead and struggling at times to keep Brighton at bay. Matip was reintroduced for the home game against Atletico Madrid and Liverpool were once again compelling.
Sometimes it was the former Cameroon international who provided the leadership and confidence that we are used to seeing from Van Dijk. You could even say that Matip is temporarily the dean of this partnership, while the Dutchman regains his confidence after his cruciate ligament injury. It seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that Joel Matip improves with age. How good will he be in five years? He’s only thirty now. Centerbacks can often shoot their members a few more years than midfielders or forwards. If the examples given by Lewandowski, Messi, Milner, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic are something to follow, there is no reason why Matip cannot continue to make his contribution for several years to come.
I wonder if this guy ever had Matip on the back of his shirt. It doesn’t seem so laughable anymore. If Matip were to be sold now, his age could reduce his fees, but he is currently playing as a world-class center-back. Jurgen Klopp was right. Joel Matip has really saved us millions. But if there is a trophy at the end of the season, we will have to thank our gentle-mannered Camelopardin defender. And no one can put a price on it.