It is not unusual for a Liverpool goalkeeper to experience hard times before European Cup glory.
Ray Clemence took FA Cup final defeat to Manchester United so badly in 1977 that he led an impromptu heavy drinking session on the train back to Lime Street. Liverpool won their first European Cup in Rome four days later and Clemence was immaculate.
Bruce Grobbelaar – a winner in 1984 – was almost laughed out of Anfield in the early part of that decade while – twenty-one years on – the Pole Jerzy Dudek played a hero’s part in Istanbul while already knowing that he would not be at the club for the long-term.
Loris Karius made a rocky start at Liverpool but is now on the cusp of European glory with them
So goalkeepers and their unique ups and downs are already entwined inexorably through the heart of the Liverpool European story and to those names we can now add that of young Loris Karius. Few have done it tougher in their early days at Anfield than the 24-year-old German.
A year ago nobody could have imagined that Karius would be in Kiev on Saturday as Jurgen Klopp’s No 1.
To say that the German’s first season at Anfield was mixed would be untrue. It wasn’t even that good.
Poor form and an exchange of words with SKY pundit Gary Neville through the pages of this newspaper left Karius seemingly washed-up by the time the 2016-17 season ended with Simon Mignolet back in goal.
It is not unusual as Ray Clemence experienced hard times before winning the 1977 trophy
Bruce Grobbelaar was almost laughed out of Anfield in his early days before the 1984 triumph
Twenty-one years later and Jerzy Dudek played a hero’s part in Istanbul to win it for Liverpool
Back then Karius looked a little like a football rarity, a Klopp gamble that hadn’t worked. In the same way that an unheralded player like left-back Andy Robertson has been able to make the step-up in class on arriving at the club this season, Karius simply could not and only an end of campaign chat with Klopp reassured the goalkeeper that better times may be ahead.
‘Before the summer break I talked to the manager and he explained his perspective,’ recalled Karius recently.
‘I know that he was always convinced of my skills and I always felt his trust and never felt uneasy.
‘I could have said in the summer that we need a solution but I believed 100 per cent and that’s why it was always clear for me to fight my way back in to the team.’
Sources at Anfield this week stressed that conversation with Klopp last May was not as dramatic as it may look in print.
‘There was never an ‘Any Given Sunday’ moment,’ said the source, with reference to Al Pacino’s defining speech as coach of the fictional Miami Sharks American Football team in the 1999 film.
‘I wish I could say there was a moment when everything changed for Loris but there wasn’t.
‘Part of Jurgen’s approach to these things is to normalise them and not allow them to grow too big.
‘To Jurgen it was never about more than the football and Loris took his cue from that.
A year ago nobody could have imagined that Karius would be in Kiev as Liverpool’s No 1
The German got off to a poor start at Liverpool ended the 2016-17 behind Simon Mignolet
‘That is the way he looked at it too. It was just about the football.’
In itself, that provides insight in to Klopp’s methods.
In the wake of Karius’ spat with Neville at the start of December 2016, it would have been tempting for some Premier League clubs to ask some internal questions.
Why was a young goalkeeper allowed to conduct a long, personal interview during a period of uncertain form? Why was he not prevented from been drawn in to something that could define or overshadow his first season at the club?
At Liverpool it was different. Klopp, it is understood, never so much as raised an eyebrow, buying also in to Karius’ own theory that a hand broken in pre-season had contributed to his problems on the field.
Sky pundit Gary Neville critcised Karius, leaving him washed up at the end of last season
‘The view here is that the players are adults and are treated as such,’ added the source.
‘They are used to the scrutiny. If they weren’t they would be playing for Marine [a Merseyside non-league club].
‘Loris made some mistakes and was taken out of the team for that reason only.
‘When Jurgen thought he was ready he brought him back in.’
Karius certainly looks a better fit for this club this season than last. An instinctive goalkeeper who admits he does not study opponents before games, he is nevertheless obsessive about what he eats and what he does away from the game.
But Karius has since earned Jurgen Klopp’s trust and regained the No 1 spot this season
The German’s confidence to come off his line has been notable but he still has a mistake in him
At the club’s Melwood training base, meanwhile. he has benefited from long sessions on the grass and in the video room with coach John Achterberg. Karius also joins in 5-a-side games as an outfield player, something that may explain the immaculate way he often uses his feet in matches.
One of Neville’s criticism last season was that Karius transmitted anxiety to his defenders. Since returning to the team in the Premier League against Manchester City in January, the opposite has appeared to be true.
Karius still looks to have an occasional error in him but the confidence and certainty which he comes for crosses and set pieces has become notable. In the twenty-one games he has played since the City match he has kept eleven clean sheets.
Ahead of Saturday’s test at the Olympic Stadium, questions marks do remain.
Clemence – who conceded just one goal in winning three European Cups – was moved to pass judgement recently.
‘The number of mistakes he makes can cost the team,’ said Clemence.
‘I still think that to be a team that has a chance of winning the league, we need a top quality goalkeeper.’
Former Liverpool goalkeeper Clemence has his doubts and believes he makes too many errors
Karius is known to be a reader of newspapers so is likely to be aware of the comments. He is also unlikely to worry. Self-confidence rarely seems to be an issue and ahead of Saturday’s game it is just as well.
A little lucky to escape with a mistake in each leg of Liverpool’s semi-final epic against Roma, Karius will in all likelihood have to be flawless tonight and he is not alone.
But others of his ilk have risen to the occasion before him and if he feels he still has something to prove, he now has the perfect opportunity.
If he feels he has more to prove, Saturday’s Champions League final is the perfect opportunity