Opinion: Should Liverpool keep Kolo Touré beyond his current contract?

The news that Joel Matip is joining Liverpool on a free transfer in the summer seems to have cast a cloud over the future of Kolo Touré, who sees his contract at the club run out in the summer, but should Jürgen Klopp and the Reds be making more of an effort to keep the defender at the club?

Opinion: Should Liverpool keep Kolo Touré beyond his current contract?
(Picture: Getty Images)

The signing of Joel Matip is good news for just about everyone concerned with Liverpool Football Club.

Acquiring a defender of Matip's standard arguably would have been good business had they paid up to £15 million for the defender, so convincing the Cameroon international to switch his beloved FC Schalke 04 for Merseyside on a free is even better.

The towering centre-back has been an everpresent in Schalke's back-four this term and his aerial prowess in both boxes will be very much welcomed into a defence that has panicked at any kind of set-piece this season. The fact Matip's just 24 years old, and has so much room to develop further, adds to his growing list of positives, with the player very much keen for the Premier League 'experience'.

And he certainly looks well prepared for it, standing at 6ft 4ins tall and having played at the past two World Cups for Cameroon, as well as racking up 250-plus senior appearances at Schalke, despite his relatively young age - his experience is enough to rival those he will be competing with for a berth in central defence when he swaps the Ruhr for the Mersey.

Except, the news isn't good for exactly everyone, with his arrival expected to mean bad news for at least a few defenders already on the books at the club. Though the form of all of Liverpool's defenders has fluctuated throughout the campaign, the main man under the chopping block is likely to be, Kolo Touré, who has just a few months left on his existing contract. 

The smile painted on not just Touré's face, but that of his teammates, spoke volumes about his stature. (Picture: Getty Images)
The smile painted on not just Touré's face, but that of his teammates, spoke volumes about his stature in the squad. (Picture: Getty Images)

The ageing defender has never really been a prominent figure since himself joining on a free from Manchester City in the summer of 2013, instead finding himself as back-up, primarily playing in cup competitions or filling in for injured teammates.

Perhaps, then, it is an understandable decision, on the club's part, to allow Touré to move elsewhere, as it seems they will. The defender turns 35 next month and has found his minutes restricted even in a campaign in which the Reds' defensive ranks have been depleted by injuries.

He has featured in 17 of the Reds' 41 games in all competitions this season, with only half of his eight league appearances seeing him start the game. In total, he's amassed only 924 minutes in those games. That's just over 10 full games of football. Injuries have albeit had an impact on Touré's availability, but it's still clear he's not particularly high in the pecking order.

At the minute, Touré probably finds himself fourth-choice at least - with Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel all ahead of him - while Matip's arrival only pushes him down further. With the potential scope for further defensive reinforcements over the summer, his game time looks increasingly limited.

Furthermore, given that Touré has shown no indication of wishing to retire at the end of the current campaign, it remains to be seen whether he'd willingly stay on Merseyside knowing he would largely be restricted to playing in the cup competitions, even less so than he is already.

But are Liverpool doing the defender a disservice by not looking to extend his stay for yet another year? On the basis of his performances this season, as well as considering his impact in the changing room, it might actually be a mistake to let Touré go.

Experienced centre-back a faultless stand-in for most of this season

Injuries to Sakho, Lovren and Skrtel have presented Touré the chance to play in games he otherwise wouldn't play in at times this term, but in those games, he has always been one to count on and one of the best performers in a red shirt.

Away at Stoke City, in the first-leg of the Reds' Capital One Cup semi-final, the defender was a major reason why the visitors came away with a one-goal lead. When, due to the success of Jürgen Klopp's gameplan, Stoke opted to revert to long ball tactics - Touré had no problems whatsoever, coping as admirably as he did against the likes of Marko Arnautović and Bojan for the first 70 minutes.

Touré was imperious alongside Lucas Leiva away at Stoke in the League Cup in early January. (Picture: Getty Images)
Touré was imperious alongside Lucas Leiva away at Stoke in the League Cup in early January. (Picture: Getty Images)

His comments afterwards, insisting that he refused to come off the pitch late on despite clutching his hamstring, because it was "only cramp" as he explained: "I had to stay on. You don’t want to give up and leave your team on their own at this time in a game" make up an excellent account for his approach to the game.

Whilst he'll undoubtedly have had years of media training, being in the spotlight for so long, to be taught to win the fans over with such comments - you get the sense that his words have real meaning. When he adds, "I'm playing for one of the best clubs in the world at 34. Not many players can say that. I enjoy every minute and I'm proud to be in this squad of players.", his words have value. He genuinely means it and, just like the supporters, he genuinely just loves football.  

Stoke wasn't a one-off display, mind. He was just as impressive against Manchester United, although Wayne Rooney's late suckerpunch condemned Touré and co. to defeat on L4 that afternoon. Once again, he put his body in front of everything and excelled in one-on-one challenges, having done similarly (despite occasionally struggling against Olivier Giroud) versus Arsenal earlier the same week

His tactical intelligence, to be in the right positions at the right time to make up for his lack of pace, or his ability to step up at the right time and catch an opponent offside - as well as his leadership qualities, as shown in the fact he marshalled the defence with Lucas Leiva so well at the Britannia, demonstrate the kind of qualities that his fellow centre halves at the club don't necessarily have. Or, at least, they don't boast those abilities to the same degree and experience.

Despite his age, Touré has continually proved himself a reliable back-up option. Furthermore, never once has there been any issue with his squad role. Unlike his brother Yaya, he's not the type to spit his dummy out at something he doesn't like, or even when games are few and far between.

Touré a unique, and popular, character off the field 

You get the feeling that not just his professionalism, but his winning mentality - boasting so much silverware from his spells at Arsenal and City - still very much remains integral to the man and the player that is Kolo Touré, and that seems to have an infectious effect on those around him. 

See, for example, the never-say-die kind of confidence instilled into the team after his arrival in 2013. Is it a coincidence that a player with such an illustrious career and a hunger for success came into the club and within a few months, a young and largely inexperienced team looked confident and capable of winning a league title? No, it's probably not. And that's something to think about, because Touré said - in as early as November of that season - that they could go on and win the league.

A player of immense likeability, Touré is a handy option to have - offering something different to his competitors for a centre-back berth with his wealth of experience - but he's also a character so clearly popular in the squad.

His header in the 6-0 win over Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday was just the latest addition to a growing highlights reel that includes that bizarre mazy run against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and that smirk after missing an open goal in the 5-1 win over Arsenal in 2013-14. Oh, and let's not forget that time he collided with referee Mike Dowd away at Fulham the same season either. 

Jürgen Klopp would be making a mistake in letting go of someone with such vast experience. (Picture: Getty Images)
Jürgen Klopp would be making a mistake in letting go of someone with such vast experience. (Picture: Getty Images)

That header against Villa, as he said so himself, was more important to him than it was in the context of the game, or to the context of the season. Rarely are teammates so happy to see another player score as the Liverpool team were after that moment, which surely speaks volumes of the kind of character the man is off the pitch, as much as he is on it. "The nicest guy in football" some say, and who is to argue?

On the surface, he's a jovial character enjoying his last few years of playing the beautiful game, but he's also steely-eyed, cold-hearted winner when he needs to be too. It's that which is what Liverpool would miss if he were to leave.

Whether Touré is offered the chance to stay as a player, or even (although unlikely) in a behind-the-scenes capacity, remains to be seen - but it wouldn't be unwise to keep him at the club in some way, shape, or form.