Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Loris Karius of Liverpool breaks down in tears after defeat in the UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool on May 26, 2018 in Kiev, Ukraine.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

How did your weekend go?

Because short of real tragedy, it was factors better than Loris Karius’s.

A few days ago, Karius was a relatively anonymous cog in the Liverpool soccer set-up. Today, he is the most infamous flubber in all of sports.

A few years from now, people will only vaguely recall who won Saturday’s Champions League final (Real Madrid), who was the star of the game (Gareth Bale) and the score (3-1).

But they’ll remember what Karius did. By that point, it’s a fair guess that’s all they’ll remember about him.

Karius was Liverpool’s starting goalkeeper (heavy emphasis on the past tense). In a game that will have been watched by hundreds of millions, Karius lived out the getting-up-to-give-a-speech-only-to-realize–you’ve-forgotten-to-wear-pants nightmares of childhood.

In the first instance, Karius gathered a ball passed back to him in his area and looked around for a place to throw it.

Back passes can be tricky. Even kicking the ball has its moments for some keepers. But throwing it? That never goes wrong.

This time, it went wrong.

Karius underhanded the ball into the outstretched foot of Real’s Karim Benzema, who toe-poked it back into the net. Even Benzema looked surprised.

A half hour later, Karius had begun to mentally unravel. Bale took a shot from distance. The keeper had to pick between punching it away and catching it. He decided on neither, allowing the ball to glance off his hands and slip feebly into goal.

If some mistakes are epic, these two were Lawrence of Arabia.

One howler is terrible. Two is unforgiveable. Two in a Champions League final means you should be booking a checkup with an exorcist. Son, you are cursed.

There was a great deal of incident in the game – Liverpool’s Mo Salah was judo-flipped to the pitch by the sport’s great cartoon villain, Sergio Ramos, and may miss the World Cup with a dislocated shoulder. Bale scored another goal of such preposterous quality that his transfer value likely jumped US$50-million. Cristiano Ronaldo kept his shirt on (in itself, newsworthy).

But regardless of your rooting interest, all you could think about was poor Loris Karius, the saddest boy on Earth. About how it would feel to be forced to stand there until it ended, getting used to the fact that you are no longer a pro athlete. You have instead become a punchline.

As the match ended, the broadcaster helpfully cut between images of Karius looking ashen, and small children in Liverpool jerseys weeping in the crowd. Just in case we hadn’t got the point.

Karius has the same CV as most decent soccer players at this level. He was a child prospect and worked his way through several academies. He was no obvious star, so he bounced around.

He wasn’t very tall, or very quick, or two-footed. But unlike outfield players, goalkeepers don’t have to cultivate one particular ability. They need only be averagely good at everything (which is to say, not flawed at anything). Karius had that.

He started for Mainz aged only 19 – then the youngest keeper in Bundesliga history. Two years ago, he was sold cheaply to Liverpool to act as backup to Simon Mignolet. When Mignolet fell apart this season, Karius became the team’s No. 1 choice.

Just 24, starting for a storied outfit, on his way to an unlikely Champions League final.

It was a nice, little success story.

Until it was a horrible, big failure story.

It’s hard to feel sorry for athletes. They make a boatload of money, are coddled and often out of touch. Their lives seem unfairly blessed. But every once in while they show you at what risk that privilege comes.

You could see that much on Karius’s face. Once the match ended, he collapsed in tears. None of teammates came anywhere near him. They were afraid that whatever he’s caught might be contagious.

Instead, it was the Real Madrid players who consoled him. Even a man as galactically self-involved as Ronaldo came over to offer some forlorn head stroking.

You’d like to say Karius will learn from this – “that which doesn’t kill us yadda yadda“ – but this probably killed him.

There is a hierarchy of mulligans on a soccer team – forwards get a ton of them; midfielders a few; defenders every once in a blue moon and goalkeepers get none.

They may slip one in away to Huddersfield on a Wednesday in November. But they get fewer than zero mulligans at the Champions League final.

So this was almost certainly the end of Karius’s career as a goalkeeper at the elite club level. He can’t stay at Liverpool. What other top team would want him now? He’s a pariah.

History is littered with otherwise decent netminders whose professional lives are defined by an instant of chaos – Robert Green, Rene Higuita, Moacir Barbosa.

Barbosa, a Brazilian, was the man blamed for losing the final of the 1950 World Cup. At the end of his long playing career, he was given the goalposts from Rio’s Maracana Stadium as a memento. Barbosa took them home and burned them.

And Barbosa’s sins were not filmed.

Karius issued an apology after the game. It didn’t help stem the usual fetid tide of death threats from deranged “fans.”

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the whole thing was the team’s arrival back in England. As Karius walked off the plane, he covered his face. Like he was on a perp walk. Like he’d done something immoral, rather than something foolish.

This is where you say something about sports not really mattering. But it does. I’m pretty sure it matters to Loris Karius. I’m pretty sure this moment will matter to him, and change him, forever.

That’s not fair, but that’s where the power of the game comes from. We don’t like to talk about this part, but we know it be true.

That the glamour of sport comes not just from its ability to lift up lives, but also in how it can occasionally ruin one.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe