Friday 20 September 2019

Loris Karius must be defended for bravely speaking his mind in response to Gary Neville criticism

Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius had a tough time in the 2-2 draw with West Ham
Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius had a tough time in the 2-2 draw with West Ham

Jack Pitt-Brooke

There are more important issues at stake in the Loris Karius saga than whether the 23-year-old is good enough to play in goal for Liverpool. There are even more important issues than who has the right to criticise him and who does not.

When Jurgen Klopp attacked Gary and Phil Neville yesterday, he was ensuring an easy headline for himself and an easy win with the Liverpool fans. But this matters beyond tribalism or saving face. It is about players speaking to the media, which is under threat in the Premier League like never before.

Perhaps the most depressing part of the story so far, with some competition, was what Phil Neville said on television on Sunday night. “When you’re a young player, breaking into the team,” Neville advised, “you say nothing to no-one.” Only players with “a couple of seasons under their belt”, he said, had the right to “shout their mouths off”.

English football would be a far poorer place if Neville’s rules applied. To say that players must pass a test, in terms of top flight matches played, before they can say what they think, or even speak for themselves, seems like a betrayal of our footballers. They are adults with opinions and stories of their own. It would also pull the rug out from underneath our media, and, more important than them, from the viewers, listeners and readers who want to hear from their players outside of the official club media channels.

If we decide, once this has all blown all over, that it was wrong for Karius to give an hour of his time to a very well-respected journalist, then we will all lose out. Whatever people make of Karius as a goalkeeper, it was brave of him to do what was a fascinating interview, especially when it came just a few days after his mistake at Bournemouth the weekend before last. He could very easily have not done the interview and few would have thought any less of him. But he wanted to do it, and to discuss his mistake, and he should be applauded for that.

There are plenty of clubs now whose players only do interviews when the player or club has something to gain from it. Players are often told that they are forbidden to do interviews with journalists they know, even when they want to. We cannot go further in that direction, the direction that Phil Neville wants.

Even Karius’ comments about Gary Neville, that triggered this whole debate, have been bent to see a personal criticism of him that is barely there in the words. He praised Neville’s career and the fact that he was a tough pundit, and yet that has been gleefully seized by some who are unsympathetic to the goalkeeper and used against him.

And now, almost one week on, Karius is still getting punishment that he does not deserve. Klopp’s counter-attack should at least take some of the attention off his goalkeeper, even if his own criticism of Gary Neville was not exactly thoughtful. But if all this means that future players are less keen to speak to future journalists, because they do not want to be attacked on television and on social media, then we will all suffer for it.

Online Editors

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