Loris Karius and the Existential Pain of Goalkeeping

Catching a cross, back in the college days

When the soul suffers too much, it develops a taste for misfortune.

— Albert Camus, goalkeeper and philosopher

When I was eighteen years old, during the fall of my freshman year, I started in goal as my college soccer team faced off at home against a particularly difficult opponent.

I can’t remember the scoreline. We lost either 3-1. Maybe it was 4-1. Or 5-2.

But I certainly remember the two disastrous goals I allowed.

On the first, a teammate played a back pass to me on the left side of the goal, from close range. I was being closed down by an attacker.

Rather than use my stronger right foot to simply play it out of touch, I struck it with my left foot and played a poor, low clearance not far into the midfield.

It went straight to one of their players, who passed it to another, who then scored into the empty goal.

On the second, later in the game — probably still rattled from the first error — I let a well-hit shot slightly to my left squirm under me and over the goal line. I should have saved it.

Near the end of the match I also saved a penalty, diving to my left and steering the shot around the post, but by then it was too late.

The game was lost.

And it was because of me.

Today, more than two decades later, those two errors are still fresh in my mind. They’re right there on the surface of my memory, as if I’d committed them only last week. The many other saves I made over the years, rescuing points for my teammates or winning matches in penalty shootouts, and buried deep down below.

For perspective: I made those howlers my freshman year in front of 21 other players, our coaches and subs, and the students, parents and other members of public sitting in small grandstands.

A few weekends ago Loris Karius, Liverpool’s 24-year-old German goalkeeper, made two mistakes that were technically worse than mine.

And he committed them on the biggest stage in club football and in front of an audience of millions, in the Champions League final against Real Madrid. (To be clear, Karius is approximately 1000% better than I ever was. I am in no way comparing myself to him in terms of skill!)

On the first, he was too casual in rolling a ball out of the back, allowing Karim Benzema to stick out a leg and redirect it into the goal.

I think Liverpool wanted to play it quickly out of the back, Karius got the ball and looked to distribute it quickly, and just didn’t expect Benzema to get to him as rapidly as he did.

But rule number one when you have the ball in your hands is safety first; never relinquish possession in the back. He could have just waited a few moments for Benzema to drift away, or he could have faked the throw first to see what Benzema did.

On the second error, Karius let a long-range Gareth Bale shot that was basically coming right at him squirm through his hands and into the goal.

On this one, Karius was attempting to catch it, and the swerve on the ball deceived him. But he could easily have patted it down or just pushed it away rather than trying to hold it. Perhaps he was (understandably) shaken from the first goal, and this shot from distance gave him too much time to think. Hence the mental error.

Liverpool lost 3-1, with the difference being the two poor goals Karius allowed.

(It has since emerged that Karius may have suffered a concussion earlier in the game, which could have affected his performance. At first I dismissed the idea that a head injury may have affected him, because it didn’t seem like an earlier collision with Real’s Sergio Ramos was especially severe, and didn’t seem outwardly wobbly. But I’ve since read that concussions can manifest themselves in various ways.)

I really feel for Karius.

Such were the magnitude of his errors that the final will be remembered more for his mistakes than for Real’s second goal — an overhead Bale kick — that may go down as the best ever scored in the competition.

(It was, truly, an excellent game. There were injuries, fouls, play acting, everything.)

I bet that Karius has played his last game for Liverpool. He obviously has all the physical tools to play at the very highest level, and I’m sure he’ll have a productive career (perhaps outside of England).

But unless he goes on to win the Champions League with another side, or lifts the World Cup with Germany — both of which are extreme long shots — he will be known the rest of his life for his meltdown in Kiev.

If nothing else, goalkeeping builds character. It teaches you, often at a young age, to deal with failure and humiliation in front of your peers and the public, whether it’s a few dozen people at a college game or a global audience of millions.

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