Liverpool struck gold with Joel Matip, the loveable and world-class free transfer

As free transfers go, they do not get much better than Joel Matip, a player who leaves a lasting mark on Liverpool supporters after eight seasons at Anfield.

There were times you could argue that he was one of the best defenders the Premier League had to offer and others where you questioned if it was time for Liverpool to cut their losses.

From an automatic starter to the bottom of the pecking order and back again, it about sums up Matip’s rollercoaster at Anfield, a player with incredible ability but so often let down by his body.

Though, when he was on the pitch he rarely got the wider recognition he deserved – maybe because he was alongside Virgil van Dijk for the most part, or maybe others could not see what we did.

A player ready for an adventure with his marauding runs, intelligent and eager to do the dirty work when the opposition targeted him instead of his colossus centre-back partner – they soon learnt!

Liverpool had Matip on their books for eight seasons, a free transfer that will always be considered one of the finest.


A loveable giant

“If you’re going to surprise people, better do it in a positive way,” Matip told the Times in 2019, and he most certainly accomplished just that.

A cult hero adored by his team-mates and the players, the centre-back’s theatrical yet genuine reactions on the pitch and off it earned him a Twitter account (now X) in his honour.

‘No Context Joel Matip‘ is a parody account but never with any malicious intent, rather a place where supporters could embrace him for everything he was.

You only get to that level though with an appreciation of his talent and what he gave to Liverpool.

And perhaps Jurgen Klopp said it best when he declared: “In all the years that I have been involved in football, I am not sure I have come across too many players who are more loved than Joel Matip.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, September 13, 2022: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (L) celebrates with team-mate Joël Matip after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group A matchday 2 game between Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He arrived from Schalke in the summer of 2016 on a free transfer, his ability in the air and pace made him a player obviously suitable to Jurgen Klopp‘s system.

As the seasons passed by, his confidence grew and his marauding runs down the pitch became a hallmark of his game, adventures you sensed that even he did not know how they would finish.

Even Virgil van Dijk joked that Matip “hopes for the best a little bit” on his runs out of defence.

He did not always look elegant with the ball at his feet but he was elite at opening space for his team-mates and even had an eye for an assist – just ask Divock Origi!

Matip managed a goal in every season except for his last – he finished with 11 goals – and was a player who thrived on consistency, which was not always forthcoming.


Highs and lows

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 27, 2020: Liverpool's Joel Matip goes off with an injury, replaced by substitute Rhys Williams, during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Bromwich Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The 32-year-old averaged 32.6 games across his first three seasons and battled for a position alongside the likes of Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren and Van Dijk.

He would not eclipse that appearance tally again in a single campaign until 2021/22, with the previous two seasons riddled by injury.

Matip would manage just 1,910 minutes combined across 22 starts and three substitute appearances in 2019/20 and 2020/21.

At this point in time, debate over his future was constant as fans and pundits weighed up his quality against the obvious liability of his body and having no guarantee that he could stay fit.

The Cameroonian, though, emphatically put any suggestions of being at the end of his Anfield career to an end and proved doubters wrong in 2021/22 by making his most appearances as a Red.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 23, 2022: Liverpool's Joel Matip (L) celebrates with team-mate Virgil van Dijk (R) after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leeds United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Quite unbelievably, he managed 43 games in all competitions as Klopp’s side made their push for a quadruple, chipping in with three goals and three assists alongside his defensive duties.

He was at the bottom of the pecking order in the summer prior, but he soon flipped that upside down and was key to the Reds’ deployment of their dangerously high line. A nod to his strength of character.

Slowly the outside world became aware of his ability and for a few months there, he had arguably eclipsed Van Dijk as the best defender in the league.

Could one dish out higher praise than that?


A Red for life

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 27, 2022: Liverpool's Joel Matip celebrates with the trophy after winning the Football League Cup Final match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The rollercoaster continued into 2022/23 and his final campaign at the club, with injuries wreaking havoc – none more so than when he tore his ACL against Fulham at Anfield.

You knew then that it would be the last we saw of Matip on the pitch as a Liverpool player, a harsh reality to accept.

His larger-than-life personality made him a character we all loved to love and it was always obvious the playing group felt the same way.

He leaves behind an abundance of memories and moments that will not be forgotten in a hurry, but perhaps how he celebrated the first League Cup success speaks to why he is so loved.

Raw passion and excitement, instinct first and any thoughts second. We did not hear a lot from him over the years but he showed us everything a fan wants to see where it matters most, on the pitch.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 14, 2022: Liverpool's (L-R) Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip celebrates with the trophy after the FA Cup Final between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. The game ended in a goal-less draw, Liverpool won 6-5 on penalties. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Klopp summed up the sentiment nicely, saying: “I have said before that if there was one person who wouldn’t care if he was underrated it would be Joel, but the truth is we could not have rated him more highly.

“Not only has he set the standards for himself, he has set them for others and this is one of the main reasons why his time here has been so successful.”

Matip leaves with 201 appearances to his name, five honours and a legion of loyal fans who wish nothing but the best for him. Thanks for all the memories, Joel!