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Interview

Bouncing back

Injury may have curtailed Liverpool defender Joël Matip’s time out on the pitch in previous seasons, but that hasn’t stopped the centre-back from assuming hero status on the Kop

WORDS Simon Hart | PHOTOGRAPHY Clive Brunskill

“The legend. One of a kind. I love the man.” It was not just Virgil van Dijk’s effusive words about defensive partner Joël Matip – uttered as Liverpool’s players were filmed modelling the club’s new kit last June – which ensured the ensuing video went viral. It was also the T-shirt he was wearing, featuring an image of Matip’s smiling face on the front.

The image came from the ‘No Context Joel Matip’ Twitter account, set up by a Liverpool fan to celebrate the centre-back’s goofy smiles and gangly limbs. The fact that it now has more than 100,000 followers tells you  that Van Dijk is not alone in his admiration of a low-profile footballer who, five-and-a-half years after his arrival from Schalke, has become an unwitting cult figure amid a squad packed with household names.

“I can’t really tell you how it has come to this,” says Matip. This is a man who just goes quietly – and quirkily, some might add – about his business. “I enjoy being here. I look forward to arriving here every day, seeing the lads again and spending time with them on and off the pitch. This is the best basis for positive development, as well as for fun and successful work.”

Cult heroes are not necessarily the star performers; think the snarling, scurrying Gennaro Gattuso in the stylish AC Milan side of the Noughties. Perhaps Divock Origi, who stepped from the shadows to play a starring role in Liverpool’s 2018/19 Champions League success, would be a prime example in the current Reds squad. In the case of Matip, John Gibbons of The Anfield Wrap podcast points to “the mannerisms, the unusual things he does with his body, his gestures on the pitch”. Yet he attests that this should not detract from the quality of the Cameroonian international’s football. “He’s playing at such a level now, and has been for such a long time, that it is a bit of a disservice to just describe him as a cult hero.”

Alongside the thoroughbred figure of Van Dijk, the 30-year-old may look a “a bit edgy” at times – to quote Jürgen Klopp – but he has forged a strong pairing with the Dutchman, keeping Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konaté out. It helps that Matip is one of the best players in the Premier League at taking the ball up the pitch – highlighted by a meme on his parody account that shows his head transposed onto the body of Bilbo Baggins and the words, “I’m going on an adventure.” At the time of writing he ranks eighth in the English top flight for the distance he carries the ball forward, almost 300 metres on average per game.

“The legend. One of a kind. I love the man.” It was not just Virgil van Dijk’s effusive words about defensive partner Joël Matip – uttered as Liverpool’s players were filmed modelling the club’s new kit last June – which ensured the ensuing video went viral. It was also the T-shirt he was wearing, featuring an image of Matip’s smiling face on the front.

The image came from the ‘No Context Joel Matip’ Twitter account, set up by a Liverpool fan to celebrate the centre-back’s goofy smiles and gangly limbs. The fact that it now has more than 100,000 followers tells you  that Van Dijk is not alone in his admiration of a low-profile footballer who, five-and-a-half years after his arrival from Schalke, has become an unwitting cult figure amid a squad packed with household names.

“I can’t really tell you how it has come to this,” says Matip. This is a man who just goes quietly – and quirkily, some might add – about his business. “I enjoy being here. I look forward to arriving here every day, seeing the lads again and spending time with them on and off the pitch. This is the best basis for positive development, as well as for fun and successful work.”

Cult heroes are not necessarily the star performers; think the snarling, scurrying Gennaro Gattuso in the stylish AC Milan side of the Noughties. Perhaps Divock Origi, who stepped from the shadows to play a starring role in Liverpool’s 2018/19 Champions League success, would be a prime example in the current Reds squad. In the case of Matip, John Gibbons of The Anfield Wrap podcast points to “the mannerisms, the unusual things he does with his body, his gestures on the pitch”. Yet he attests that this should not detract from the quality of the Cameroonian international’s football. “He’s playing at such a level now, and has been for such a long time, that it is a bit of a disservice to just describe him as a cult hero.”

Alongside the thoroughbred figure of Van Dijk, the 30-year-old may look a “a bit edgy” at times – to quote Jürgen Klopp – but he has forged a strong pairing with the Dutchman, keeping Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konaté out. It helps that Matip is one of the best players in the Premier League at taking the ball up the pitch – highlighted by a meme on his parody account that shows his head transposed onto the body of Bilbo Baggins and the words, “I’m going on an adventure.” At the time of writing he ranks eighth in the English top flight for the distance he carries the ball forward, almost 300 metres on average per game.

Read the full story
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This urge to wander has long been there. Recalling his Schalke academy days, he says, “When I was in the U19 team, I got a small glimpse into being a forward, and I must say that I did quite well. I must admit that I’m a defender by trade and this is the right position for me, although I enjoy it when we attack and I can get the ball forward, and I think I’m not that bad at that.”

When Liverpool won at Leeds United in September, Matip advanced to the edge of the hosts’ penalty box to feed Trent Alexander-Arnold, who crossed for Mohamed Salah’s goal. Delve into YouTube and you can even find footage of him scoring with a back-heel, a decade ago, for Schalke against Wolfsburg. “When you are up front, some ideas will always come into your mind,” he says. “In defence there is no room for such things, so when I get the chance to attack I also have one or two good ideas.”

Matip is not one for bold statements. There is humility when he compares his own career with that of his brother Marvin, six years his senior, who played for Köln and Ingolstadt. “It is true that I’ve played for bigger clubs and had the chance to test myself and improve on bigger stages, so I’ve had better chances.”

It was in July 2016 that Matip left Gelsenkirchen to take his chance with Liverpool. He felt at home quickly. “Both cities are working-class and the mentality is similar, and that’s why the transition felt so easy,” he says. Though becoming a crowd favourite took more time for a player who has been hindered by injury. “I knew if I worked hard that it wouldn’t turn out badly. I have had a bit of bad luck with injuries, but apart from that I’m very happy here.”

He excelled during the run to the 2019 Madrid final and this season, after recovering from the ankle injury that ended his 2020/21 campaign in January, he has shone once more. By late November he had already made as many league starts as in each of the previous two seasons. “The injuries I’ve had, and the fact I’ve always come back, has made me stronger despite the setbacks.”

Still, for all the love that Reds fans show him, Matip is his own biggest critic. “I’m never really satisfied. If I had to make a list of things I’d improve about myself, we’d be here a long time.”

“The legend. One of a kind. I love the man.” It was not just Virgil van Dijk’s effusive words about defensive partner Joël Matip – uttered as Liverpool’s players were filmed modelling the club’s new kit last June – which ensured the ensuing video went viral. It was also the T-shirt he was wearing, featuring an image of Matip’s smiling face on the front.

The image came from the ‘No Context Joel Matip’ Twitter account, set up by a Liverpool fan to celebrate the centre-back’s goofy smiles and gangly limbs. The fact that it now has more than 100,000 followers tells you  that Van Dijk is not alone in his admiration of a low-profile footballer who, five-and-a-half years after his arrival from Schalke, has become an unwitting cult figure amid a squad packed with household names.

“I can’t really tell you how it has come to this,” says Matip. This is a man who just goes quietly – and quirkily, some might add – about his business. “I enjoy being here. I look forward to arriving here every day, seeing the lads again and spending time with them on and off the pitch. This is the best basis for positive development, as well as for fun and successful work.”

Cult heroes are not necessarily the star performers; think the snarling, scurrying Gennaro Gattuso in the stylish AC Milan side of the Noughties. Perhaps Divock Origi, who stepped from the shadows to play a starring role in Liverpool’s 2018/19 Champions League success, would be a prime example in the current Reds squad. In the case of Matip, John Gibbons of The Anfield Wrap podcast points to “the mannerisms, the unusual things he does with his body, his gestures on the pitch”. Yet he attests that this should not detract from the quality of the Cameroonian international’s football. “He’s playing at such a level now, and has been for such a long time, that it is a bit of a disservice to just describe him as a cult hero.”

Alongside the thoroughbred figure of Van Dijk, the 30-year-old may look a “a bit edgy” at times – to quote Jürgen Klopp – but he has forged a strong pairing with the Dutchman, keeping Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konaté out. It helps that Matip is one of the best players in the Premier League at taking the ball up the pitch – highlighted by a meme on his parody account that shows his head transposed onto the body of Bilbo Baggins and the words, “I’m going on an adventure.” At the time of writing he ranks eighth in the English top flight for the distance he carries the ball forward, almost 300 metres on average per game.

Bouncing back
Interview

Bouncing back

Injury may have curtailed Liverpool defender Joël Matip’s time out on the pitch in previous seasons, but that hasn’t stopped the centre-back from assuming hero status on the Kop

WORDS Simon Hart | PHOTOGRAPHY Clive Brunskill

“The legend. One of a kind. I love the man.” It was not just Virgil van Dijk’s effusive words about defensive partner Joël Matip – uttered as Liverpool’s players were filmed modelling the club’s new kit last June – which ensured the ensuing video went viral. It was also the T-shirt he was wearing, featuring an image of Matip’s smiling face on the front.

The image came from the ‘No Context Joel Matip’ Twitter account, set up by a Liverpool fan to celebrate the centre-back’s goofy smiles and gangly limbs. The fact that it now has more than 100,000 followers tells you  that Van Dijk is not alone in his admiration of a low-profile footballer who, five-and-a-half years after his arrival from Schalke, has become an unwitting cult figure amid a squad packed with household names.

“I can’t really tell you how it has come to this,” says Matip. This is a man who just goes quietly – and quirkily, some might add – about his business. “I enjoy being here. I look forward to arriving here every day, seeing the lads again and spending time with them on and off the pitch. This is the best basis for positive development, as well as for fun and successful work.”

Cult heroes are not necessarily the star performers; think the snarling, scurrying Gennaro Gattuso in the stylish AC Milan side of the Noughties. Perhaps Divock Origi, who stepped from the shadows to play a starring role in Liverpool’s 2018/19 Champions League success, would be a prime example in the current Reds squad. In the case of Matip, John Gibbons of The Anfield Wrap podcast points to “the mannerisms, the unusual things he does with his body, his gestures on the pitch”. Yet he attests that this should not detract from the quality of the Cameroonian international’s football. “He’s playing at such a level now, and has been for such a long time, that it is a bit of a disservice to just describe him as a cult hero.”

Alongside the thoroughbred figure of Van Dijk, the 30-year-old may look a “a bit edgy” at times – to quote Jürgen Klopp – but he has forged a strong pairing with the Dutchman, keeping Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konaté out. It helps that Matip is one of the best players in the Premier League at taking the ball up the pitch – highlighted by a meme on his parody account that shows his head transposed onto the body of Bilbo Baggins and the words, “I’m going on an adventure.” At the time of writing he ranks eighth in the English top flight for the distance he carries the ball forward, almost 300 metres on average per game.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

“The legend. One of a kind. I love the man.” It was not just Virgil van Dijk’s effusive words about defensive partner Joël Matip – uttered as Liverpool’s players were filmed modelling the club’s new kit last June – which ensured the ensuing video went viral. It was also the T-shirt he was wearing, featuring an image of Matip’s smiling face on the front.

The image came from the ‘No Context Joel Matip’ Twitter account, set up by a Liverpool fan to celebrate the centre-back’s goofy smiles and gangly limbs. The fact that it now has more than 100,000 followers tells you  that Van Dijk is not alone in his admiration of a low-profile footballer who, five-and-a-half years after his arrival from Schalke, has become an unwitting cult figure amid a squad packed with household names.

“I can’t really tell you how it has come to this,” says Matip. This is a man who just goes quietly – and quirkily, some might add – about his business. “I enjoy being here. I look forward to arriving here every day, seeing the lads again and spending time with them on and off the pitch. This is the best basis for positive development, as well as for fun and successful work.”

Cult heroes are not necessarily the star performers; think the snarling, scurrying Gennaro Gattuso in the stylish AC Milan side of the Noughties. Perhaps Divock Origi, who stepped from the shadows to play a starring role in Liverpool’s 2018/19 Champions League success, would be a prime example in the current Reds squad. In the case of Matip, John Gibbons of The Anfield Wrap podcast points to “the mannerisms, the unusual things he does with his body, his gestures on the pitch”. Yet he attests that this should not detract from the quality of the Cameroonian international’s football. “He’s playing at such a level now, and has been for such a long time, that it is a bit of a disservice to just describe him as a cult hero.”

Alongside the thoroughbred figure of Van Dijk, the 30-year-old may look a “a bit edgy” at times – to quote Jürgen Klopp – but he has forged a strong pairing with the Dutchman, keeping Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konaté out. It helps that Matip is one of the best players in the Premier League at taking the ball up the pitch – highlighted by a meme on his parody account that shows his head transposed onto the body of Bilbo Baggins and the words, “I’m going on an adventure.” At the time of writing he ranks eighth in the English top flight for the distance he carries the ball forward, almost 300 metres on average per game.

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

This urge to wander has long been there. Recalling his Schalke academy days, he says, “When I was in the U19 team, I got a small glimpse into being a forward, and I must say that I did quite well. I must admit that I’m a defender by trade and this is the right position for me, although I enjoy it when we attack and I can get the ball forward, and I think I’m not that bad at that.”

When Liverpool won at Leeds United in September, Matip advanced to the edge of the hosts’ penalty box to feed Trent Alexander-Arnold, who crossed for Mohamed Salah’s goal. Delve into YouTube and you can even find footage of him scoring with a back-heel, a decade ago, for Schalke against Wolfsburg. “When you are up front, some ideas will always come into your mind,” he says. “In defence there is no room for such things, so when I get the chance to attack I also have one or two good ideas.”

Matip is not one for bold statements. There is humility when he compares his own career with that of his brother Marvin, six years his senior, who played for Köln and Ingolstadt. “It is true that I’ve played for bigger clubs and had the chance to test myself and improve on bigger stages, so I’ve had better chances.”

It was in July 2016 that Matip left Gelsenkirchen to take his chance with Liverpool. He felt at home quickly. “Both cities are working-class and the mentality is similar, and that’s why the transition felt so easy,” he says. Though becoming a crowd favourite took more time for a player who has been hindered by injury. “I knew if I worked hard that it wouldn’t turn out badly. I have had a bit of bad luck with injuries, but apart from that I’m very happy here.”

He excelled during the run to the 2019 Madrid final and this season, after recovering from the ankle injury that ended his 2020/21 campaign in January, he has shone once more. By late November he had already made as many league starts as in each of the previous two seasons. “The injuries I’ve had, and the fact I’ve always come back, has made me stronger despite the setbacks.”

Still, for all the love that Reds fans show him, Matip is his own biggest critic. “I’m never really satisfied. If I had to make a list of things I’d improve about myself, we’d be here a long time.”

“The legend. One of a kind. I love the man.” It was not just Virgil van Dijk’s effusive words about defensive partner Joël Matip – uttered as Liverpool’s players were filmed modelling the club’s new kit last June – which ensured the ensuing video went viral. It was also the T-shirt he was wearing, featuring an image of Matip’s smiling face on the front.

The image came from the ‘No Context Joel Matip’ Twitter account, set up by a Liverpool fan to celebrate the centre-back’s goofy smiles and gangly limbs. The fact that it now has more than 100,000 followers tells you  that Van Dijk is not alone in his admiration of a low-profile footballer who, five-and-a-half years after his arrival from Schalke, has become an unwitting cult figure amid a squad packed with household names.

“I can’t really tell you how it has come to this,” says Matip. This is a man who just goes quietly – and quirkily, some might add – about his business. “I enjoy being here. I look forward to arriving here every day, seeing the lads again and spending time with them on and off the pitch. This is the best basis for positive development, as well as for fun and successful work.”

Cult heroes are not necessarily the star performers; think the snarling, scurrying Gennaro Gattuso in the stylish AC Milan side of the Noughties. Perhaps Divock Origi, who stepped from the shadows to play a starring role in Liverpool’s 2018/19 Champions League success, would be a prime example in the current Reds squad. In the case of Matip, John Gibbons of The Anfield Wrap podcast points to “the mannerisms, the unusual things he does with his body, his gestures on the pitch”. Yet he attests that this should not detract from the quality of the Cameroonian international’s football. “He’s playing at such a level now, and has been for such a long time, that it is a bit of a disservice to just describe him as a cult hero.”

Alongside the thoroughbred figure of Van Dijk, the 30-year-old may look a “a bit edgy” at times – to quote Jürgen Klopp – but he has forged a strong pairing with the Dutchman, keeping Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konaté out. It helps that Matip is one of the best players in the Premier League at taking the ball up the pitch – highlighted by a meme on his parody account that shows his head transposed onto the body of Bilbo Baggins and the words, “I’m going on an adventure.” At the time of writing he ranks eighth in the English top flight for the distance he carries the ball forward, almost 300 metres on average per game.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

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