Liverpool assistant manager Pep Lijnders has made the astonishing suggestion that Joel Matip is “maybe the best free signing ever in world football”.
Matip, 30, has been a consistent fixture in Jurgen Klopp’s starting XI since relocating to Anfield from Schalke in 2016, save for two injury-hit campaigns in 2019/20 and 2020/21.
He endured a tentative start to his career on Merseyside but has proven himself as one of the most complete, ball-playing centre-backs in the sport, famously starting in the Champions League final in 2019 as the Reds lifted their sixth European crown.
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The former Cameroon international also started in Liverpool’s League Cup final win over Chelsea last season and featured in the FA Cup triumph over the Blues in mid-May, underlining his importance to Klopp’s defensive set-up.
Matip also recently made Klopp’s team sheet to partner Virgil van Dijk in Saturday’s Community Shield triumph over reigning English champions Manchester City, keeping a lid on Pep Guardiola’s centrepiece signing this summer, Erling Haaland.
Since pitching up in front of the Kop six years ago, Matip has appeared 167 times for Liverpool, prompting Klopp’s trusted No. 2, Lijnders, to hail the Bochum-born defender as quite possibly the greatest free signing in the history of the game.
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In an interview with The Coaches’ Voice, Lijnders said: “Joel Matip was maybe the best free signing ever in world football.”
A bold claim, and Liverpool are certainly no strangers to picking up free transfers over the years, having secured the services of James Milner, Kolo Toure, Craig Bellamy, Joe Cole, Maxi Rodriguez, Andriy Voronin, Fabio Aurelio, Boudewijn Zenden, Jari Litmanen and Markus Babbel (among others) since the turn of the century.
It could be argued that Matip’s influence at the club certainly transcends those in the above list, though some may contest that Milner has enjoyed a similarly transformative impact at Anfield to his Cameroonian counterpart. With both still contracted to the club, there may yet be even greater heights to scale.