Loris Karius is the first to admit he played a large role in Liverpool's Champions League final loss to Real Madrid, but his heartbreak is punishment enough.

By 90Min
May 28, 2018

Bill Shankly famously claimed that football was much more important than life and death. Non-football fans will tell you "it's only a game." The truth lies somewhere in between. Of course football isn't as important as life and death; but it isn't just a game, either.

Loris Karius likes a good punch, and one could hardly blame him for laying one on anybody who tells him "it's only a game." After his errors cost Liverpool the Champions League on Saturday, it's tempting to try and downplay the importance of football, particularly when so many people seem to have forgotten.

But for Karius, and thousands of other footballers around the world, football isn't just a game. It's their livelihood. It's the thing that made them, and it could be the thing that destroys them. Either way, it's the thing for which they will be remembered. For better or for worse.

For Karius, it seems that the 'For Worse' box has been ticked with permanent marker. His mistakes were terrible. An inexplicable gift to Karim Benzema, an inexcusable fumble from Gareth Bale's shot. Sunday League mistakes in the biggest match in club football. 

In the immediate aftermath of his errors, it was difficult to feel sorry for Karius. Not when there was so much sympathy to be shared among his defensive colleagues, who had barely put a foot wrong between them all night. In the five stages of grief, anger precedes acceptance. And there was plenty of the former for Karius.

But as the full-time whistle went and Karius lay alone on the turf, it was difficult not to feel an overwhelming sense of sympathy for him. There was nowhere to hide, and he didn't try to. He stood up and approached the Liverpool supporters, repeatedly offering an apologetic hand as he saw the thousands of fans who had been relying on him. And he cried, a lot.

Soccer
Watch: Loris Karius Apologizes to Liverpool Fans After Champions League Final Defeat

When people look back at great World Cup moments, there's a reason why they remember Tardelli's scream, Gazza's tears and Zidane's headbutt more than they remember most goals. It reminds us that footballers are human, susceptible to the same emotional highs and lows as anyone else. 

This was a final which exposed the humanity in a group of players whose talents and bank balances make them seem like aliens. It wasn't just Karius. Mo Salah and Dani Carvajal were left in tears after sustaining injuries which ended their finals and threatened their World Cup fitness. And at full time, there were more Liverpool players crying than not.

I say that it was difficult not to feel sorry for Karius, but plenty on Twitter managed it. Opposition fans laughed at his misfortune. Liverpool fans heaped blame upon him. A small minority, who do not deserve to be labelled fans of any club, posted death threats. 

On Sunday evening, as Karius issued a public heartfelt apology on his social media platforms, many of the replies were from people with nothing better to do than laugh at the heartbroken agony of a total stranger. 

There was criticism in some corners for the Liverpool players who did not immediately comfort Karius at full time. They were dealing with their own demons though, and they were on message in their post-match interviews. Win as a team, lose as a team. Karius will have good people around him at Anfield.

But by next week, half of Liverpool's players will have joined up with their international squads. The rest, including Karius, will go on holiday. He will have over a month to stew in his misery. And that isn't healthy for anyone.

The temptation to compare Karius' situation to that of a fellow German goalkeeper, Robert Enke, has proved too strong for some. We shouldn't create a false equivalence. There were many factors more tragic than football that contributed to Enke's suicide in 2009. The Samaritans warn against sensationalised comparisons in media reporting.

A recent example which hit close to home was that of Billy Knott. Knott was recently released by my hometown club, Lincoln City. A string of poor performances led to him being dropped, loaned out, and eventually let go by the Imps just over a year after he joined from Bradford.

It was harrowing to hear earlier this month that Knott has been battling alcholism and depression for years. He seemed to be on the route to recovery last year until a harsh red card against Notts County undid all the good work. He eventually contacted the PFA before the problems could threaten his life.

Knott's salary at Lincoln was higher than the national average. Karius' is much higher still. It doesn't matter. Bank balance and mental health are completely unrelated. The Daily Mail was rightly slated last year for appearing to suggest that Aaron Lennon's hefty wage packet had anything to do with his mental health. This is 2018 - do we really need to spell it out?

It requires enormous mental strength to be a footballer. The highs can be very high and the lows, very low. No wonder we see footballers as gods - how can we even begin to imagine a job where one mistake will incur the wrath of millions of people around the world?

We can't compare Karius to any of his contemporaries, because everyone copes with defeat differently. But he has some dark days ahead. The chances are that he may never get a chance of redemption. He may never play in a game of this magnitude again. He will have to live with his mistakes for the rest of his life.

Now more than ever, Liverpool's famous mantra must be enforced. They must show Karius that he won't walk alone through this storm.

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