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15th Jan 2017

Liverpool forced to drop Joel Matip for Man United clash – because of extraordinary threat of FIFA punishment

Club chiefs have tried everything

Tony Barrett

A Premier League footballer will not play for his club today, not because he is injured, suspended, ill or out of favour, but because his club do not know if they will be punished if he does feature.

As extraordinary and inexplicable as this situation is, it is the reality for Joel Matip who has been left out of Jurgen Klopp’s team that will face Manchester United as a direct result of Liverpool being unable to get the reassurances about his eligibility they had been seeking from FIFA.

Matip had been expected to start at Old Trafford having recovered from an ankle injury which has restricted him to just one appearance since November 26.

Having returned to training on Thursday, the centre back had convinced his manager of his readiness for a game that has the potential to define Liverpool’s season only for red tape – or, more accurately, the potential for red tape to be applied retrospectively – to prevent his inclusion.

The reasons for the uncertainty stem from Matip’s non-participation in the African Cup of Nations, a tournament which began yesterday, with the defender being one of seven Cameroon players to inform his country that he did not wish to be selected. That raised the possibility of the Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) asking FIFA to suspend the players at club level for the duration of the tournament.

(Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)


Matip’s individual situation was more complex, though, as he has not played for Cameroon since September 2015. It is not that he is avoiding the tournament to benefit his club: Matip has placed himself into international exile because he has no current wish to play for his country.

What seems the latest development in the age old conflict between clubs and national teams is in actuality a dispute between a player and FIFA, one in which the player’s club is caught in the middle.

While Matip feels he reserves the right to withdraw himself from international duty, FIFA remain determined to protect the credibility of international tournaments by doing everything in their power to compel players to make themselves available for them if selected. That this is a complex set of circumstances is not in question but it is not so complex that world football’s governing body should not be able to provide a club with clarity when it is sought.

Liverpool have done that, even to the extent of those at the top of the club, most notably Mike Gordon and Tom Werner, intervening in an attempt to resolve the issue but despite making representations to FIFA they have been unable to ascertain whether or not they could face potential repercussions as a result of the ongoing wrangle.

As a result, Liverpool feel they have no choice but to err on the side of caution out of concern that if Matip is selected and FIFA decide that he should not have played, they could be punished regardless of their attempts to resolve the situation. With FECAFOOT refusing to confirm that Matip is eligible to play for his club during the African Nations, Liverpool believe there is no other course of action available to them than to leave the 25-year-old out.

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)


“Liverpool Football Club can confirm Joel Matip has been withdrawn from selection for today’s Premier League fixture at Manchester United as the club continues to seek clarity from FIFA ‎as to the player’s eligibility,” Liverpool said in a statement released this afternoon.

“Matip, who was not included in Cameroon’s final squad for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament, has previously communicated his withdrawal from consideration for international selection, with his last appearance for Cameroon occurring in September 2015.

“The Cameroon Football Federation have failed to confirm that Matip can therefore play club football during the period of the Africa Cup of Nations. Liverpool have subsequently repeatedly sought, as a matter of urgency, clarity from FIFA in this regard. This includes assurances the player was called up for the tournament in accordance with the world governing body’s regulations.

“It is Liverpool’s view that the player should be available for club football during the period of the competition and will continue to work for a speedy and unambiguous resolution.”

Matip’s absence means Ragnar Klavan will continue to partner Dejan Lovren in the heart of Liverpool’s defence.  

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