Joel Matip: Meet Liverpool's new centre-back on his way this summer
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: August 8, 1991
- Place of birth: Bochum, Germany
- Height: 6ft 4in
- Position: Centre-back/defensive midfielder
- Current club: Schalke (243 apps, 23 goals)
- International: Cameroon (27 caps, 1 goal)
Joel Matip was a regular in the Schalke first team at 18, having joined the club 10 years earlier and progressed through the ranks to eventually become a vital first-team regular.
Born in Bochum, West Germany, Matip had a choice of international team through his Cameroonian father. He hadn’t decided by the time he made his Schalke debut in November 2009, and the difficult decision caused him some heartache: he declined to take part in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, despite his selection by Cameroon's French coach Paul Le Guen.
However, just two months later he made his national team debut against Italy and went on to represent the African nation in the World Cup at the end of that season.
Why you need to know him
Young centre-backs learning their trade at the highest level are something of a rarity, as few teams are prepared to allow the costly mistakes which could be the difference between crucial points and silverware. But Matip's capability and confidence has ensured that he has featured consistently for all seven managers who have held the position in his time at the club.
Earlier this month it was reported that Liverpool had agreed a deal in principle for Matip to join in the next transfer window
The pressure in Gelsenkirchen is undoubtedly high, and with the third-highest budget in the Bundesliga, those expectation have led to that instability on the bench. Yet Matip’s development hasn't been harmed by the many managerial changes and stylistic adjustments, which have instead helped him extract knowledge from the various characteristics of his leaders.
It was former Bayern Munich and Fulham coach Felix Magath who gave him his break as a holding midfielder, which was made even more impressive by the fact that Schalke were spending heavily at the time and recruiting the likes of Raul and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Under Ralf Rangnick he moved back into defence and experienced Champions League football as the club reached the semi-finals in 2011. “I have played again from the start under the new coach and of course I am enjoying it, but I also have a lot to thank Felix Magath for,” Matip admitted at the time. “Ralf Rangnick lets me play, he talks to me and of course this helps. But both are great coaches.”
Matip appears to take everything in his stride, and it's this assurance that makes him the perfect man for the big stage. On his league debut he scored the equaliser in a draw with Bayern Munich, and he netted against Brazil in their own backyard at the 2014 World Cup.
Earlier this month it was reported that Liverpool had agreed a deal for Matip to join in the next transfer window, but this was later denied by Jurgen Klopp. Now, though, the latest stories suggest Matip has agreed a deal to play at Anfield next season, which is fine news for Reds: the defender evidently fits within Klopp's ideology having played in Rangnick's not-too-dissimilar system, and now under current boss Andre Breitenreiter.
Matip wins more aerial battles than any other member of Schalke's squad
His ability to play in a high defensive line isn't the only reason for Klopp's advances: Matip wins more aerial battles than any other member of Schalke's squad, and is only bettered by Christian Benteke at Anfield. This prowess isn't just confined to his own penalty area, as he demonstrated by scoring the opening goal against Werder Bremen last weekend.
On the ball he's comfortable with both feet, equally capable of a fast-paced delivery into his centre-forward or playing a diagonal cross-field pass to a winger. His anticipation and reading of the game gives him an excellent interception rate, while his speed enables him to recover against the majority of forwards.
As he's a proactive defender, he can sometimes dive in to steal the ball and get turned by his striker, but that's to be expected given the role he's detailed to carry out. At only 24, he's still young for a centre-back.
Matip's concentration as a whole is very good, but he can sporadically lapse in the second phase of play
His laid-back style means that he isn't easily fazed and doesn't make rash challenges, although there are moments when you hope he would put his body on the line a little more with a block or last-ditch tackle. Matip's concentration on the whole is very good, but he can sporadically lapse in the second phase of play or when the danger looks to have been cleared.
Did you know?
Matip comes from a family of footballers. His dad Jean also represented Cameroon, while his brother Marvin is a midfielder at Bundesliga rivals Ingolstadt. His cousin is former Middlesbrough attacker Joseph-Desire Job, who shares his relative’s passion for the top events – the Cameroonian scored the opening goal in Boro's 2004 League Cup Final triumph over Bolton Wanderers at the Millennium Stadium.
Matip Snr believes a good education set up both of his boys for successful football careers. “When the two were six years old, I've told them: ‘Without Abitur (A-Levels) there's no football',” he told Bild. “They were then at private schools... otherwise it would not have worked.”
In the summer, general manager Horst Heldt acknowledged the unlikelihood of keeping Matip at Schalke for more than another season. “It’s very high on our agenda [to discuss a new deal],” he revealed. “Joel is one of the most underrated players. We wish to extend his time here – but it will be difficult.”
What happens next?
According to the Liverpool Echo, Matip has signed a pre-contract agreement and will join the club this summer on a free transfer. Klopp is clearly unconvinced by the current crop of centre-backs on offer at Anfield, and sees the Cameroonian as an obvious upgrade on the outgoing Kolo Toure, whose contract expires at the season's end.
It's unlikely he'll be the only new arrival in central defence, however, what with Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho both having struggled ever since joining Liverpool. Klopp knows that in Matip, he has a defender he can rely on.