For the last few weeks, Mainz' impressive young shot-stopper has had his future thrown up in the air. BILD, Kicker and Record had all reported that Benfica made a 'very lucrative' offer to Karius, who had been one of the stars to emerge from the Rhineland club's seventh place finish. Johannes Geis, Shinji Okazaki and Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting ran away with the majority of the plaudits for last term's performances, but Karius was also a key member of that side. The heroics of last season under Thomas Tuchel ensured a berth in the third qualifying round for the Europa League. A 3-1 defeat to Asteras Tripolis reflected badly upon the Mainz defence and goalkeeper; but if you look past the score-line, Karius was Mainz' best player. A remarkable double save, along with some confident patrolling of his area, meant the young goalkeeper was a beacon of light on a bleak night in a rainy Greece.
On Tuesday (12th August) morning, he issued a statement on his official Facebook page and detailed the goings-on of the past few weeks. More importantly, however, he committed himself to another season at Mainz. Initially in German, this is the translated version:
"I wish you a good morning.
I wanted to tell you that I've decided to fulfill my contract at Mainz, despite a very lucrative offer from Benfica, in order to finish the whole speculation. I feel very comfortable in the team and I don't see myself at the end of my development here. Especially, now in a more difficult phase, I will take responsibility and not run away from it.
This is a massive boost for new coach Kasper Hjulmand, who hasn't had the most convincing of starts to his managerial career at the carnival club. The Dane came in when Thomas Tuchel's reign ended after he resigned as coach. The former Nordsjælland boss enjoyed a successful pre-season; but the defeat to Tripolis led to heated discussions between players (including Karius) and fans after the final whistle. However, a win against Chemnitzer in the DFB Pokal and a solid start to the season should see tensions ease.
A key part of Hjulmand's 'bedding-in' phase, will be the early season results and a strong defensive showing. His Nordsjælland sides have had some of the best defensive records in the league while he was in charge, with a extremely attacking approach with his full-backs, Karius will need to be vocal and keep them reigned in if there's to be no repeat of the Tripolis performance. His 'sweeper keeping', of what Manuel Neuer is known for, was evident in that game and came out well to clear any possible danger. Sometimes he looked somewhat unsure, but so did Neuer in his younger years, to be the youngest first-choice Bundesliga 'keeper and perform so well can only be positive. Also possessing a strong pair of hands and lightning reflexes, Karius has a bright future ahead of him. However, he is young and mistakes will come, the environment around him at Mainz seems ideal to help him through the tough times and turn him into a world class goalkeeper.
Christian Hiedel, Mainz' put pay to any further rumours by saying, "If Real Madrid had not just signed a goalkeeper, he probably would be in talks there." High praise indeed for such a young man, whether that ever materialises remains to be seen. With Stefanos Kapino to push him on and making the number one spot his own from before the Hinrunde ended, he can only go from strength to strength. Even better news came with Fabian Goll, Karius' agent, claimed that his client could stay beyond this season and sign a new contract at Mainz.
It remains to be seen whether any of the aforementioned topics come to fruition. However, the fact that Karius has chosen Mainz over Benfica is a massive boost for the fans and club alike. Interestingly, it is the second young German to turn down a 'lucrative' deal at the Portuguese champions. Yannick Gerhardt could have made a similar move, but rejected a deal to remain with FC Köln. It's refreshing to see youngsters remain loyal to the club that gave them their first chance and long may it continue, hopefully the Mainz custodian follows in the footsteps Gerhardt and follows it up with a contract extension.