Joel Matip mix-up leaves Jurgen Klopp seeing red

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp could not hide his exasperation as the row of Joel Matip’s availability overshadowed his preparations for tonight’s clash with Plymouth.

Joel Matip mix-up leaves Jurgen Klopp seeing red

Two days after being forced to pull the defender out of a game at Manchester United, Klopp was no nearer to getting the answers he wanted as he met media to preview tonight’s FA Cup third-round replay at Home Park.

Klopp requested that the matter, a dispute between Matip and Cameroon, be “put on the end” of the press conference in order to first “talk about football” — but the subject went on to dominate proceedings.

“There are not a lot of times in my life when I have been in a situation like this, not even a similar situation,” said Klopp. “It is pretty difficult.”

Matip was named in Cameroon’s squad for the the African Nations Cup despite it being widely understood that he had retired from international football.

The Cameroon Football Association still had a right to call up the player under Fifa rules but, given he has not played for the national team since September 2015, the matter has taken Liverpool by surprise.

The club had assumed Cameroon had accepted Matip’s decision to retire, taken before he joined them from Schalke last summer. However, with Matip having now technically not reported for duty, he could be suspended from club football for the duration of the tournament.

Liverpool have called for greater clarity from world governing body Fifa and Cameroon but so far have received no response.

Klopp said: “It is not about blaming anybody but it is not too easy to get in contact with the decisive people — the president of the Cameroon FA and Mr (Gianni) Infantino from Fifa.

“What we need is a letter, even when it is clear he is retired, from the official side saying the player is released and can play for Liverpool.”

Klopp could field Matip, recently recovered from a knee injury, at Plymouth but it would risk sanction from Fifa.

He said: “In this moment we have not a 100% guarantee he could play for us. I think I could line him up and I don’t think the referee would say, ‘Stop,’ but I will do it when it is OK from our point of view.”

Asked what could make that happen, Klopp said: “New informations, if there are any.”

Klopp said he has been told that Fifa will decide by Friday whether an investigation into Matip’s non-compliance with a call-up is necessary. He resents any suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of the club or player.

He said: “We are sure we did nothing wrong. We are sure Joel Matip did nothing wrong.”

Meanwhile, Rafa Benitez is confident Newcastle’s bid for a return to the Premier League is safe in his hands despite owner Mike Ashley’s return to the limelight.

Weekend headlines suggested Ashley had stepped in during recent days to ensure his long-standing policy of signing younger players with potential sell-on value, which has been relaxed since Benitez was parachuted in to Tyneside, is reinstated as the Spaniard attempts to build upon a solid first half of the season.

Benitez remains relaxed about a situation he does not believe has changed materially, but hinted that the best approach would be to leave him alone and allow him to do what he does best.

Speaking ahead of tonight’s cup replay against Birmingham at St James’ Park, Benitez said: “In Europe, you have presidents or chairmen that are involved in everything. In England, you have football operations and business operations.

“I said at the beginning doing that, we are doing really well, so I think it is important to understand that it is a way to work that has been successful and it’s the best way possible now for us.”

Benitez is keen to strengthen his squad this month, but has found the going difficult having been quoted £20m for Fulham midfielder Tom Cairney and enjoyed little success in landing loan targets Tom Cleverley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, or Ireland’s James McCarthy.

He remains confident he will get the players he needs and is adamant that age is largely irrelevant, despite Ashley’s watching brief.

He said: “My understanding is that he [Ashley] is really, really pleased, really happy with the team, with everything that we have done for months, and hopefully he can be really happy with everything we will do now until the end of the season. That means that we are still winning games.”

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