Five years is a long time in the wilderness. That’s how long it’s been since Loris Karius’s ill-fated performance in the 2018 Champions League final, one that has become a defining moment of a promising career that has since stalled and stagnated. Until now.
When the goalkeeper steps onto the Wembley pitch on Sunday to make his debut for Newcastle United, the narrative will be of finally banishing the ghosts of Kyiv.
But the one thing he simply cannot allow himself to do is give any thought to the past. In fact, the less he can think about what this game might mean for him, the better.
As I know from my own career as a player and a coach, regardless of how mentally strong you are or how quickly you think you’ve put it behind you, some games can still be seen in your rear view mirror no matter how far you’ve driven away. You’re simply not allowed to forget until you have righted the wrongs in equal terms.
Karius has made 59 appearances in Turkey and Germany since his Liverpool horrorshow but none of those games have offered him the opportunity to change the conversation whenever his name is mentioned like Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.
There will also be added pressure on Karius in knowing that he is Eddie Howe’s third-choice keeper and other nagging doubts over his lack of preparation, the relationships with his defenders not yet formed, and yes, the burden of Newcastle United’s 68-year wait for silverware.
Shutting out all this noise and minimising the damage these pressures could cause will be the key to a solid performance.
So how will he do that? There are several things that I believe Karius will have been working on this season, and especially since Nick Pope was ruled out last weekend, that will have helped him prepare for this game.
When you aren’t the starting keeper, your role is to be a positive influence on the squad and make your own impact by working harder than anyone and pushing the first-choice keeper so their performance levels don’t drop.
Because if they do, they know that you’re there waiting. Likewise, you need to be sure that you’re as ready as you can possibly be and I’m sure that will be the case with Karius.
Now that he knows he is playing, if I was Karius’ coach I would be telling him to forget about overcoming the past and instead to just deal with his present situation. It is important that he ensures his recent lack of game time doesn’t have a negative impact on his side.
Training provides you with the tools to do your job but being in real game-related situations, assessing crosses and through-balls, making decisions in a pressurised environment, is difficult to replicate.
That’s why rather than technical issues such as handling or distribution, it is more likely to be moments of indecision or incorrect positioning that can cause mistakes.
It’s the job of his coach to keep him task-oriented – focus on the next save, the next pass, the next goal kick. Letting go of targets such as the result or keeping a clean sheet will prevent his focus from straying. Controlling the controllables is a mantra heard throughout every sport for a reason, and it’s vital for Karius to do just that.
Focusing on his role in the team’s game plan can aid this. If I were Karius’s coach I would ask him to focus on three priorities in and out of possession. That could be anything from controlling a high tempo with quick releases to taking a high starting position to aid the team’s press or thinking about the accuracy of his distribution.
Concentrating on processes like these can relieve him from the stresses of potential outcomes. That could alleviate some of the pressure a cup final brings, even without the extenuating circumstances surrounding Karius.
One other thing I would like to say is that you should never underestimate the resilience of a goalkeeper. No other position is knocked down with such regularity from a young age yet keeps coming back for more.
Karius has been knocked down harder than most. He came into Newcastle knowing at best his place would be on the bench after his fall from grace. He sacrificed regular game time and took a chance that a moment like this weekend would arrive.
Now he has his shot at redemption.