It’s fair to say that Loris Karius will not look back on the summer of 2018 with any great fondness. The life of this 25-year-old German footballer changed on the night of 26 May in Kiev (two weeks before his 25th birthday), when two cataclysmic blunders from the Liverpool goalkeeper went a long way to Real Madrid’s 3-1 victory in the Champions League final. In a world where the actions of public figures are instantly dissected via the Internet, Karius trended on Twitter that night for all the wrong reasons.
A pulsating World Cup helped to take some of the focus off the Liverpool netminder but the club’s pre-season fixtures have put him back in the spotlight again. Footage of a less than confident warm-up prior to the 7-0 win against Chester went viral, with many Reds supporters quite unimpressed with what they saw in that clip. Further mishaps against Tranmere and Borussia Dortmund served only to damage Karius’ public image even further, while the £57 million capture of Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker from Roma was a clear sign that manager Jurgen Klopp, while publicly supportive of Karius, no longer trusts him as Liverpool’s first choice keeper.
In a situation that would only have transpired in the last five years or so, Karius drew further attention when, following the 3-1 defeat to Dortmund a week ago, he posted a strong opinion on Instagram (the post has since been deleted), saying:
“To those who take joy in seeing other people fail or suffer, I feel for you. Whatever it is that’s happening in your life to hold this much anger and hate, I pray that it passes and good things come to you.”
Added to that intriguing comment, he also tweeted a photo of himself in pre-season training on the day of the Dortmund match, one in which his heavily tattooed arms were visible in their entirety.
The reaction to these social media offerings have polarised not just the views of Liverpool supporters, but also Karius’ peers in the goalkeeping profession. The iconic Iker Casillas launched a strong defence of the German, reminding us all that Karius is indeed human and his mistakes on a football pitch are of scant importance when compared with genuine life-or-death situations such as conflict in Syria and homelessness.
Unsurprisingly, the blue-collar Twitter fraternity were less sympathetic towards the Liverpool keeper. One user photoshopped an image of a tearful Karius in place of a ball that Alisson was about to kick. Another demanded that the German get “out of my club”. One account posted in direct reply to Karius’ tweet: “HAHAHAHA f***ing c***”. Meanwhile, on a Liverpool fans’ page on Facebook discussing his performances, phrases such as “useless prick” and “f***ing joke” were expressed.
Social media can be fantastic for many things – indeed, I use several such sites frequently – but it also gives rise to shameful direct abuse of other people on these platforms. We forget that public personalities like Loris Karius, when their actions are not being broadcast to the world, are people the same as you and me who go to work, come home and live their lives with the people they love most. They are not inanimate commodities which can be bought on eBay or in a supermarket. They are real people with real lives.
Football, like other sports, is such an emotion-stirring game that many of us are guilty of dehumanising players, managers, chairmen, etc. without even attempting to put ourselves in their shoes. Some people are naturally better at dismissing criticism than others, while criticism is something that comes with the territory when playing football professionally. However, in recent weeks, legitimate critiquing of Karius’ work performance has given way to unacceptable personal abuse of a young man who has clearly done a lot right to be able to play football at the highest level, given how difficult it is just to get to a standard where players would earn any reimbursement for playing the sport.
Karius drew scorn for another social media post at the beginning of July, a video of him in a Los Angeles mansion eating ice cream and skateboarding. Granted, it was a very ill-conceived piece of content to allow into the public domain given his recent fortunes, but don’t try telling me that the man doesn’t care about his job. My own devastation over the Champions League final defeat aside, it was heartbreaking to see him in floods of tears after that match because he knew he had committed two atrocious errors. What that reaction illustrated to me was that Karius cared deeply about what happened and a public apology in the subsequent days was heartfelt. Had his reaction been one of indifference, that would have been galling as it would have indicated that he didn’t seem bothered. Don’t be mistaken; I didn’t like seeing Karius getting upset, but I sympathised with him in that moment because I knew he was a human who had a bad day in his job. I have plenty of them but at least I get to have them away from the unforgiving eyes of a cynical public.
Shockingly, some saw fit to send death threats to the goalkeeper after (and since) the Champions League final. Let’s just think for a minute of how low Karius was clearly feeling that night. How could a torrent of personal abuse have been in any way helpful to him? This is an age where so many people tragically take their own lives because they feel so devalued that life no longer seems worth living. You only need to look at another German goalkeeper for a chilling example of this. In 2009, Robert Enke threw himself in front of a train, a tragedy that shocked the football world to the core. Maybe those individuals directing venomous abuse at Karius should take a moment to remember that.
Was criticism of Karius’ Champions League final performance justified? Yes, because he made two awful mistakes which gifted two goals to Real Madrid. Are we right to expect better from a professional footballer? Yes. Do I trust in him to be Liverpool’s first choice goalkeeper for the new season? No. Have some of his social media posts been ill-judged in light of recent performances? Absolutely.
These are all critiques of his actions, though. Karius dropping two clangers in Kiev does not make him a “useless prick” or “f***ing joke” of a human being. They proved that, like everyone else in this world, he makes mistakes and has bad days. As my father has said, a person who never makes a mistake is a person who does nothing with their life. Arguments that we should not feel sorry for him because he is a millionaire do not hold water. A millionaire is still a human the same as someone on a working class wage or a destitute person living on the streets.
It has been refreshing to see so many people leap to Karius’ defence and wholeheartedly believe that he has what it takes to move on from his nightmare summer. I know what it’s like to feel worthless because of stupid misjudgements and actions, so the online commentary about Karius has made me rethink how I behave on social media. The line between banter and abuse is very fine.
Hate the sins, not the sinner. Karius has had to face justifiable scrutiny over his on-pitch performances, but he has also been forced to endure a disturbing list of personal vitriol which is way over the line. When ‘heat of the moment’ frustration over players’ mistakes subsides, Liverpool fans should support their players and want them to do well instead of screaming at them to get out of the club. We are called supporters for a reason. Loris Karius needs more of those and less of the ‘footballer on the ditch’ brigade who fail to recognise his human value.