Joel Matip 22 Defender Schalke Cameroon
2013 has been…
A difficult year to judge for Joel Matip. On the one hand, the Cameroonian looks every bit the modern ball-playing centre back, an elegant, swaggering defender who looks great on the ball and glides forwards with long, easy strides when he eschews the opportunity to demonstrate his lovely long passing. On the other, Schalke conceded 23 goals in the first 12 Bundesliga games of the season and Matip is a regular in defence.
It’s a strange situation for a classy player. His individual lapses and his part in the overall defensive malfunctions that have hampered Schalke’s start to the season do detract from a young defender who is, usually, very impressive indeed. He stands up strong in the penalty area, makes key blocks and is decent in the air.
From a starting point of left-sided centre back he has good positioning in the area and reads threats excellently. He’s always looking, always moving, and is fast across the ground but never seems to be busting a gut. Even under pressure, such as during Borussia Dortmund’s unsuccessful search for an equaliser in the Revierderby in March, Matip is the very picture of calmness.
September’s 4-0 loss at the hands of Bayern Munich summed up why Matip has played his part in a struggling back line at times. He looked typically assured generally but was caught out for the second goal, loitering under a cross and marking nobody while Mario Mandzukic headed home.
His game is still infrequently punctuated by silly lunges, a symptom of a desire to get tight at all times when his opponent has his back to goal. When that player has the ball played into feet, Matip often tempts himself into thinking he can nick it if he goes for it quickly. Sometimes he can, sometimes he can’t. Like his passing – sometimes very good, increasingly varied and always assured – it can be a little hit and miss.
That’s the nub of Matip’s weaknesses. He demonstrably has everything – and we do mean everything – one could want in a modern central defender, but the consistency that will inevitably come forth with age and experience is notably absent at present.
Matip scored on his Bundesliga debut as an 18-year-old against Bayern Munich in 2009 after rising through the club’s youth ranks for the best part of a decade. Schalke have known all along that Matip is a quality player in the making, and his emergence into the first team has been an admirable show of faith from a club that won’t always be keen to play a teenager in the heart of defence. There is no doubt he will eventually repay them.
With Fortuna Dusseldorf having been relegated in 2013, Matip will have to find a new victim for his ability to score goals from Schalke’s set pieces. He found the net no fewer than three times against F95 last season but, in general, does not do it enough despite being a threat in the air. His header against Hoffenheim in September was his first since he scored against Fortuna in February, and a player of his quality in the opposition’s area needs to provide a better return.
Of course, his defending is the most important thing and 2014 must be the year he cuts out some of the defensive lapses and adds some leadership to his game. Schalke is a club that demands a degree of success and a tight defence should be the bedrock of that. Skipper Benedikt Höwedes brings that to the table and Matip can learn from his captain.
Matip was born into a footballing family in Bochum and is the son of Jean, the brother of Marvin and a cousin of Joseph-Désiré Job. Though he has a German mother, Joel elected to represent Cameroon internationally and has done so intermittently since 2010. A player of his ability will become an Indomitable Lions regular in no time.
Having helped Cameroon to qualify for the World Cup, 2014 is a landmark year in the career of a burgeoning player. If he can be right on his game for 90 minutes at a time in Brazil, we’ll be hearing even more about him next summer.
"Matip has had his ups and downs in the past year but there is no denying his talent. A good reader of the game and super technique for his size, Matip has consistently won playing time despite competing with captain Benedikt Höwedes and former Dortmund defender Felipe Santana." Cristian Nyari, bundesligafanatic.com
"Only three defenders made more interceptions in the 2012/13 Bundesliga than Joel Matip (106; Sorg, Westermann and Carvajal)." - Opta
C A regular and an obvious prospect, but in a leaky defence