Five years on from his Champions League horror show, Loris Karius has the chance to resurrect a once promising career and help end Newcastle United’s trophy drought in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester United at Wembley on Sunday.
In an age of wall-to-wall coverage of football from the Champions League right down to the Chinese Taipei lower divisions, it is rare that a player just vanishes from sight.
But that is what happened with Loris Karius, whose upward trajectory was dramatically altered in May 2018 by an elbow from Sergio Ramos and a subsequent second-half performance variously described as “calamitous”, “a nightmare” and “a catastrof**k”.
On Sunday Karius, 29, is set to play his first match for two years in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley when Newcastle face Manchester United. It is a chance for the German to remind people of his undeniable talents and breathe new life into a career that has flatlined.
Other sports are more familiar with the tale of the player who got found out or “lost it” is more common, be they the promising opening batsman brutally exposed by the step up to Test cricket or the golfer afflicted by the yips who goes from major contender to mediocrity overnight.
In football, a player found to be out of their depth might drop a division or two until they find their level. But that usually happens early in a career, not after more than 170 senior appearances. Karius was too seasoned and had been too much of a prospect for that.
A teenage prodigy, Karius joined Manchester City at 16 but broke through on loan back in his homeland at Mainz. His displays for Thomas Tuchel’s team earned him a move to Liverpool in 2016, where he was swiftly installed as No1 of Jurgen Klopp’s improving side.
Karius soon wobbled and Klopp dropped him before Christmas after some costly errors. The following season he re-established himself as first choice, helping Liverpool finish fourth and reach what would prove to be a fateful Champions League final.
The events of 26 May 2018 are well documented: the solid first half; the collision with Ramos that left Karius dazed; the two errors that presented goals to Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale and cost Liverpool the game; his tearful apology to supporters afterwards.
It was only later that summer when Klopp said that medical tests conducted days after the final had shown that Karius had suffered concussion during the match. Whatever the mitigation, he had lost the trust of Liverpool’s management, who bought £56m Alisson Becker instead.
Karius was sent on a two-year loan to Besiktas, where he would make 67 appearances but leave in acrimony after suing the Turkish club for unpaid wages. A loan to Union Berlin in 2020-21 also left a bitter taste after he was selected just five times.
Union’s 1-1 draw with Hoffenheim on 28 February 2021 was Karius’s last competitive football. He returned to Merseyside that summer but Klopp did not even include him in his squad last season; a once-promising career seemingly now a write-off.
After a summer in limbo as a free agent his luck changed in September when Newcastle contacted his agent in search of a deputy to new No1 Nick Pope. Given 10 minutes to decide, he quickly agreed and flew to Tyneside early the next morning to sign a short-term deal.
Still, with Pope excelling, a first game in English football for five years remained a distant prospect, even more so when Martin Dubravka returned early from a loan to Manchester United. Suddenly Karius was only third in line for an outing between the posts.
But a confluence of unlikely events changed all that. Pope’s red card against Liverpool last week means he is suspended for Sunday’s final, while Dubravka is ineligible having played for United in earlier rounds. Enter Karius, football’s forgotten man.
Newcastle manager Eddie Howe said it offered “a magnificent chance for him to rewrite the story of his career”. Howe added: “That’s the beauty of football. This unpredictability is what makes it such an amazing thing to watch.”
A lot has changed in five years. Since that Champions League final in Kyiv, Liverpool have lifted the trophy and won the Premier League, football’s concussion rules have been tightened and the host country has been invaded by Vladimir Putin’s Russian troops.
On the other hand, some things have stayed the same. As last week showed, Liverpool are still ending up on the wrong end of results against Real Madrid, thanks to their goalkeeper presenting the ball straight to their opponents. Alisson has more credit in the bank than Karius did.
When goalkeepers are plucked from the fringes to fill an emergency vacancy, they are often a grizzled veteran enjoying a last hurrah or a plucky young buck out to make a name. It’s another aspect that makes Karius’s case different. This is a shot at redemption.
Of course, there is the danger it could go the other way. Has Karius still got it or is he, as Klopp appeared to decide, damaged goods? With Newcastle desperate to seize a first domestic cup for 68 years, the stakes are high and even Howe doesn’t seem sure how it will go.
“There have been loads of stories through the times in football where these things have happened and there’s been a really positive outcome – or not,” he said. “We can’t predict what that will be.”