Loris Karius has no real grasp of the last time he played a first-team match.
He is shaking his head and bending his lip as he is told it was about 21 months ago. ‘Probably longer?’ he ventures. ‘It’s been a while. It’s not been easy.’
And the reason? One night in Kyiv in the Champions League final of 2018 was supposed to mark the high tide of the goalkeeper’s rise.
Loris Karius is trying to get his career back on track at Newcastle after a difficult few seasons
The German was man of the match in Newcastle’s friendly win over Saudi Arabians Al-Hilal
Instead, after his two mistakes led to Real Madrid goals in a 3-1 defeat for Liverpool, it precipitated the fall. The German has been fighting to stay afloat ever since.
Indeed, he did not appear ever again for the Reds, even though he remained on their books until this year.
But, standing here now in the tunnel of the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, Karius is back. He has just taken the man-of-the-match prize in Newcastle’s 5-0 win over Saudi Arabian champions Al-Hilal.
It says much for the misery of his absence and the criticism received – Gary Neville admitted in an interview with Sportsmail last year that he had ‘overstepped the mark’ – that Karius confesses to feeling nervous before this friendly game.
You understand why, for his name on the team-sheet was the standout inclusion – is he a competent keeper after all, or simply here as an emergency measure?
Karius took the gloves during the friendly last week on Newcastle’s training break
it had been a lengthy wait for Karius (top left) since h’d played in a first-team fixture
Karius answered that question with a showreel of saves supporting Eddie Howe’s assertion that his player has improved markedly for three months of training on Tyneside. He is now set for an extended contract beyond January.
Not that he ever thought, at just 29, he would be here, reflecting on the loneliness of several wasted years in what should have been the prime of his career. He has his own thoughts as to why.
‘It (the Champions League final) made me go to another club. It was maybe a move that wouldn’t have happened otherwise,’ says Karius, who was loaned by Liverpool to Besiktas for two years.
There was then another loan spell with Union Berlin before last season in the shadows at Anfield.
‘I found myself in a situation where I had to stay at Liverpool knowing I wouldn’t get my chance,’ he says. ‘It was discussed openly with the manager (Jurgen Klopp). There’s no bad blood, but knowing the situation from the beginning, it was tough.
The 29-year-old joined the Magpies on a free transfer after being released by Liverpool
Karius is a much happier figure now as he attempts to rebuild his career at St James’ Park
‘Last season, being left out of matchday squad, you lose the feeling you have when you win, lose and travel with the team. You just miss it.
‘It’s not easy to stay positive and keep working. But I have played over 200 games in the first division and national teams, so I know my qualities.
‘I knew I had plenty to offer. I am only turning 30, and that’s not old for a goalkeeper.’
Another question about the Champions League final and fallout from it – Karius was later found to have suffered a possible concussion before his errors – leads to some irritation.
‘I have said everything about this. For me, it is tiring to keep talking about it, it’s football and things happen. In my case, there were a lot of unfortunate things. But I don’t think about it anymore, four years in football feels like eight, or 12!’
He never played for Liverpool again after gifting Real Madrid two decisive goals in the final
Premier League unless stated
Saturday Rayo Vallecano (H)
December 20 Bournemouth (H)
Carabao Cup fourth round
December 26 Leicester City (A)
December 31 Leeds United (H)
January 3 Arsenal (A)
January 7 Sheffield Wednesday (A)
FA Cup third round
Coaching staff at Newcastle are pleasantly surprised by the quality Karius has retained. For all of the club’s riches, they may have found a genuine rival to No 1 Nick Pope in the form of a man who was training alone in Germany until the call from Howe in September.
‘It’s been a great few months,’ he says. ‘Of course, I don’t play (competitively) yet, but how I’ve been training, how I was welcomed by the whole group, it makes me believe I can achieve more things here. That’s my aim, to be here for a long project instead of a short one.
‘When Newcastle called me, I thought it was a great chance to go back to England and maybe show myself and prove myself again.
‘Of course, we have four goalkeepers in the squad, but I’m ready when the manager needs me, and the rest of the time, I will push and make it difficult for him to make the decision.
‘I am thankful to him for this opportunity, but I need to deliver. I cannot just be thankful and sit there and not perform. That’s not how I work. It was a great chance offered by Newcastle. I have to grab it with both hands and make the best of it.’
Nick Pope has been Newcastle’s No 1 keeper this season but Karius could challenge him
Eddie Howe will be hoping his Newcastle side can maintain their form after the restart
Karius certainly used both hands, quite literally, to impress during his Newcastle debut. He is now likely to start when the third-placed Magpies face Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup at a sold-out St James’ Park on Tuesday.
Before leaving for the team bus, he is asked what the tattoo on his neck says. He pauses, reluctant to answer. Finally, he offers: ‘Fearless. I’ve had it for a long time.’
He will need to be just that if, and when, he does return to a Premier League playing field. He may say that four years feels like 12 in football, but opposition supporters have long memories and merciless they can be.
For Karius, it is about forgetting part of his past and focusing on a future that could yet, very quickly, take him back into the Champions League. Maybe only then will everyone else move on from that one night in Kyiv.