DÜSSELDORF: A return to the Bundesliga relegation fight was never part of the plan for Loris Karius.
More than two years after making some bad mistakes for Liverpool in the Champions League final, the German goalkeeper has returned to his homeland for the latest move in trying to rebuild his once-promising career.
Union Berlin may be far from the peak of European soccer, but it could offer the ideal place for Karius right now. The first step could come Friday when Union plays Mainz, Karius' old club.
“I’m looking forward to my new opportunity in Berlin and I’m happy to be playing in the Bundesliga again," Karius said Monday after his season-long loan from Liverpool was confirmed.
“Union is a special club, one that has earned a great deal of respect, not just by promotion to the Bundesliga. I would like to play my part in this positive development and help to achieve the great goal of staying in the Bundesliga.”
When Karius left the Bundesliga in 2016, he was an up-and-coming goalkeeper with a dependable reputation. That came from helping Mainz establish itself in the Bundesliga and move away from the threat of relegation. A successful loan spell would help Union - the only current Bundesliga club which once played in the Cold War-era East German league - to do the same.
Karius spent two years in Liverpool trying to confirm himself as first-choice goalkeeper ahead of Simon Mignolet. That seemed to have paid off when he started the Champions League final in Kyiv, but the game changed everything.
Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos caught Karius with an elbow and, while he at first seemed healthy enough to carry on, basic errors crept into his game.
Trying to roll the ball out to a defender, Karius sent it straight to Karim Benzema for a goal. Later, Gareth Bale scored Madrid's third goal in the 3-1 win with a shot that bounced off Karius' hands and went in. He was diagnosed with concussion in the days after the game.
Ridicule and death threats followed on social media.
“We as players face an extreme amount of hostility on the internet,” Karius told German sports weekly Sport Bild in April. “If you were to read through every message, you wouldn't be able to sleep for two days. It's crazy what people allow themselves to do under the cover of anonymity.”
Karius has played only a smattering of friendly games for Liverpool since that night in Kyiv, and no competitive matches, as Alisson Becker is established as the No. 1 goalkeeper at Anfield. His first attempt to reboot his career on a two-year loan at Besiktas ended in acrimony when Karius terminated his contract with the Turkish club in May amid a dispute over pay. His last competitive game was against Galatasaray on Mar 15.
At Union it's not a given that Karius will always start ahead of Andreas Luthe, who was signed from Augsburg in the off-season and looked reliable in his two league games so far. Union coach Urs Fischer is keeping his options open.
“You'll have to wait and see,” the Swiss coach said Wednesday. “He's played test games. He was in training. He brings all the qualities needed to play if necessary. It is how it is in the end.”
There's another Liverpool loanee in the squad in Nigeria forward Taiwo Awoniyi. Finland forward Joel Pohjanpalo could make his Union debut Friday, two days after completing a loan deal from Bayer Leverkusen.