TRANSFERS are difficult to keep a secret nowadays. Very rarely are the press caught out with a shock announcement for a first-team player coming to Liverpool. There are just too many people, not to mention too much money, involved in any potential transfer for it to stay out of the papers (even if the true stories are joined by a few that leave the football clubs in question scratching their heads as to who dreamt them up).
We have known Liverpool’s main targets this summer for a while. They have been repeated by those that know these things on a weekly — even daily — basis ever since the season finished (and in many cases even before). However, the confirmed news overnight on Tuesday that the targets are the targets, and that in many cases bids have been lodged, led to a strong online reaction with many claiming Liverpool lack ambition.
It looked like the final nail in the coffin for anyone hoping for a big star under the radar (which incidentally is the tag line of my debut album). Was it an overreaction based on information we already pretty much knew? Well, yes, this is the internet. But was the reaction wrong? I’m not sure it was. I largely agree that the names are rather worrying when we consider what the current Liverpool squad needs. It currently looks heavy on depth but low on genuine quality.
Are the names that we are being linked with really a solution to that? The kind of players that will turn us from getting to finals to actually winning them? Or, are they yet more 6/10 players (being generous having watched Piotr Zieliński for 45 minutes the other night) to replace the ones that will leave?
The argument against this reaction, of course, is that ‘In Klopp we trust’. Basically, Jürgen Klopp has built a career from developing promising young players signed for modest sums, and we should leave him to it. And, in fact, that is what he was brought in to do.
I’m not sure this argument completely washes, a view discussed on this week’s subscriber show, The Gutter.
Firstly, we shouldn’t assume that we can just throw any young player at Klopp and he will turn him into Marco Reus (who cost a reported £14.5m by the way when Dortmund signed him). If that was the case then we shouldn’t sign anyone and just give him the academy. They need to be the right young players — those with a high enough potential to turn into top-class footballers.
We also shouldn’t assume that, because Borussia Dortmund had success in a certain market, with a certain transfer policy, that Liverpool will too just because we have taken a manager and his coaches. Klopp himself admitted in his first press conference at Liverpool that he is used to having a limited role in identifying players. That he worked and works under a recruitment structure.
At Borussia Dortmund that was headed by Sporting Director Michael Zorc. A man who “stands for Borussia Dortmund like no-one else” according to Dortmund CEO, Hans-Joachim Watzke. Since Klopp left Dortmund have continued to sign and develop talented young players. Liverpool’s record under our current transfer structure is far less impressive. Do we trust them to start finding the right players just because the manager has changed?
It is also wrong to speak of all young players in the same way with regards to their experience and what they are ready to do for the first team of a top club. This summer Borussia Dortmund have signed 19-year-old Ousmane Dembele, who turned down Liverpool, 18-year-old Emre Mor, who was fantastic for Turkey against the Czech Republic and Portuguese starting full back Raphael Guerreiro, also thought to be targeted by the Reds.
They are young players, but ones coveted by scouts around the world and, more importantly, players you’d fancy to hit the ground running for their new team. You just don’t get the same impression with the likes of Ben Chilwell and Zielinski, both of whom spent their last seasons on loan from their parent club because they weren’t deemed ready for teams where the pressure is much lower than it is at Liverpool.
Liverpool have targeted a high level of player too, admittedly. As mentioned earlier, they lost out on Dembele to Dortmund. They’ve also been turned down by Gotze, when he had been keen, and it doesn’t look like Mahmoud Dahoud is going to come either. So there does seem to be a consensus within Liverpool Football Club that a certain level of player would be useful. They are just struggling to get them to join.
This is likely to be, partly at least, a knock-on effect of not being in Europe (Liverpool, not the UK…). The seeming consensus that we will challenge for the title just because we have less games worries me. The 2013/14 campaign is seen as the evidence, but we bought poorly that summer, too. The difference was we already had Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho, Sterling, Gerrard and Henderson.
Only half of those are still at the club and their replacements are nowhere near the same quality. For a repeat of 13/14 we need not just less games but also a better starting 11. Do the players we are linked with make you feel that is likely? Or are we just buying yet more bodies for ‘the squad’. It feels to me the latter. But, much like the country’s future, I guess only time will tell.