Joel Matip is fast transitioning from cult-hero to Liverpool legend.

The popular defender’s five-year stint at Anfield since arriving on a free transfer from Schalke has been dominated by his wretched injury record.

Matip is continuing to grow in stature at Liverpool

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Matip is continuing to grow in stature at Liverpool

Matip has missed 96 games for Liverpool since his 2016 arrival but he has enjoyed one of his longest periods in the side this season.

Since returning from an ankle injury last summer that sidelined him for six months, the 30-year-old has proved an influential figure – sitting out only two games, both illness, in the club’s 63-match season.

Matip was named Premier League Player of the Month for February and instrumental in Liverpool winning the domestic cup double as he finally gets the recognition that his teammates have long since felt he deserved.

After the Cameroonian played against AC Milan in September, Jurgen Klopp said: “Look, I cannot help people who don’t see the quality of Joel Matip.”

Matip had already shown flashes of his quality prior to this season, most notably for his Franz Beckenbauer-esque dashes out from defence.

Matip developed his renowned flair for dribbling coming through the ranks at Schalke

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Matip developed his renowned flair for dribbling coming through the ranks at Schalke

The centre-back was encouraged to be confident on the ball as a youngster by Schalke Under-19s coach, Norbert Elgert.

The 64-year-old, who also mentored the likes of Mesut Ozil and Manuel Neuer, even played Matip for half a season as a striker.

Matip’s ability on the ball led him to making his Schalke debut as a teenager against Bayern Munich in midfield where he was named man-of-the-match.

And his flair for dribbling has led to many of his teammates, including Virgil van Dijk, baffled by FIFA 22’s lowly rating of his skills.

The Dutchman said: “68 dribbling? Are you kidding EA Sports? I’m starting a petition to have Joel Matip with 85 dribbling at least!”

Virgil van Dijk wasn’t happy with what defensive partner Matip got on FIFA 22

Liverpool FC

Virgil van Dijk wasn’t happy with what defensive partner Matip got on FIFA 22

Van Dijk, like many Liverpool fans, were as much in love with Matip for his personality as his defending on the pitch.

Matip greatly endeared himself to Reds supporters for his part in the club’s incredible 4-0 comeback win against Barcelona back in 2019.

The centre-back hilariously revealed later that he ended up spending more time shadowing Lionel Messi that night than he meant to after the match.

He told 11Freunde: “When I came into the doping test room, there was a guy sitting there pretty depressed – Lionel Messi.

“You know each other from the pitch, but it’s not like you sit around with them every day in a small room like you’re getting coffee.

“Everyone is celebrating, and I’m sitting in a cubicle with Messi.”

Matip was forced to undergo a drug test next to Messi after knocking Barcelona out of Europe

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Matip was forced to undergo a drug test next to Messi after knocking Barcelona out of Europe

Matip is the only Liverpool player without a public Twitter or Instagram account yet he arguably has the biggest social media presence at the club.

A month after one of his best games at Anfield against Barcelona, a page was set up called ‘No Context Joel Matip’, which posts his best moments.

The account, which counts Van Dijk and Allisson among it’s 90,000 followers, is also shared frequently on Liverpool’s players WhatsApp group.

Van Dijk, who Alex Oxlade-Chamberlan dubbed ‘the main instigator’, even pranked Matip by wearing one of the page’s custom t-shirts that had his teammates face on it during a club photoshoot this summer.

Posts from ‘No Context Joel Matip’ have included everything from the defender dancing to his frustration at refereeing decisions.

Van Dijk is one of Matip’s biggest supporters

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Van Dijk is one of Matip’s biggest supporters

The man himself told Liverpool.com in 2019: “It’s funny and I think I make a lot of people laugh, so it’s not too bad.

“I can laugh about myself, that’s absolutely no problem. I’m looking at this and I say, ‘Ah, that’s quite funny’.”

Few could have expected Matip to have proved one of Liverpool’s most popular players let alone grab an assist in a Champions League final when he joined a defence consisting of Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan.

And he could forever etch his name among the legendary defenders on Merseyside with another contribution in the 2022 final with Real Madrid.

Matip told the Times: “If you’re going to surprise people, better do it in a positive way.” Cult hero? “It is not the worst thing I heard.”

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