“THE truth, just like you, just like me, is never that simple.”
Forgive me the indulgence of starting this with a quote from a friend’s debut album (Hightown Pirates’ ‘Dry and High’ out on June 16, trust me, you’ll love it) but it’s absolutely pertinent to what we’re going to talk about here — the subjective nature of the truth.
Growing up, the Daily Mirror was always the paper of choice in our house. And yet there was one thing that always slightly riled me about the paper: it may have employed some true greats of journalism in John Pilger and Paul Foot (and now the estimable Brian Reade) but the back pages? Loved Manchester United beyond reason. It’s the ‘70s and ‘80s, The Reds are winning everything in sight and all the Daily Mirror could talk about in its sports pages was how incredible Manchester United were despite the fact that they won nothing and had managed relegation, at the feet of a delicious Denis Law backheel, while we were very much in our pomp. Little wonder that the most common term for the paper among my generation, despite our still buying it, seemed to be the Daily Manc.
These feelings have been brought to mind by their reporting of the Virgil van Dijk saga (we might as well call it a saga, all transfer stories are sagas). The Mirror reported that van Dijk was on his way to Manchester City. Despite interest from ourselves and Chelsea, despite the certain knowledge that the Dutch defender is Jürgen Klopp’s ‘top target’, van Dijk had opted to play for Pep Guardiola. I know this, I checked it, I suffered the endless adverts on the paper’s website purely to check this fact.
The next day, the daily version of the paper had changed their tune claiming they had previously reported that the boys from the Etihad were only ‘in pole position’. It’s almost as though none of us would ever think to look at previous reports.
The change may have been brought about by the Liverpool Echo’s sports team reporting that the transfer wasn’t cut and dried as yet, that Liverpool were still willing to match any offer put forward by City, or Chelsea, or whoever’s name enters the fray. We were out of the race, we’re back in the race — the race never changed.
The fume, though? The fume starts straight away, doesn’t it? This is so Liverpool, this is Fenway Sports Group not willing to pay the price that it takes to secure their manager’s chosen target, this is the owners unwilling to pay the wages it takes to get the best, this is the transfer committee, this is the lack of negotiating skills which used to belong to Ian Ayre but have now transferred to Michael Edwards despite the fact that they’re obviously different people with different skill sets, this is the new CEO stating that we wouldn’t spend £100 million despite the fact that what he had actually said was that we wouldn’t spend £100m just because City spent it. It wasn’t about not spending, it was about not spending just because others did it. It’s about good business sense, it’s about not becoming Leeds United.
Since then, van Dijk has reportedly chosen Anfield as his preferred destination, fancy that?
So nothing had actually happened. In exactly the same way that nothing had happened with Ryan Sessegnon.
Sessegnon, we once again knew, was Jürgen’s first choice for left-back; a 17-year-old wonderkid who had proved himself with a season in the Championship for Fulham. He wasn’t one for the future, he wasn’t to be placed into the under-23 side for development as seems to be the case with Dominic Solanke, he was for now, he was ready. And then he was going to Spurs. And the fume started again.
This is Liverpool, isn’t it? This is what we do, we tell the world about our targets and everybody else comes in and gets them. Strange that nobody seems to use that argument when United don’t secure their ‘top target’, isn’t it? The Antoine Griezmann deal, supposedly completed in January and nothing more than a formality, falls apart, possibly due to the striker feeling he owes Atletico some loyalty after the imposition of their transfer ban, and nobody reports the story as United missing out. No, their interest has ‘cooled’. Perhaps they’re simply better at playing the media game than us, perhaps people are simply willing to believe them because of the perception that if United’s pulling power can’t pull a player then it must be purely due to United’s own choices. Perhaps nobody believes it at all and the whole world is laughing at them. The truth, obviously, is somewhere between.
But we were talking about Sessegnon. He was definitely ours, we were definitely getting him and then he was Spurs bound. Except nothing has actually happened there, has it? And now there are reports that United are interested in Sessegnon. Which might be difficult if he’s signed for Spurs. Except, again, he hasn’t. It’s not like City and their ‘oh look, here’s two lads we’ve signed for £90m’ approach; nobody has signed anybody yet.
Yes, but, we gave our targets away, we’re too public, we always do this, everybody knows who we want.
We all know everyone’s targets. And they can’t all come off, partly because there’s a couple who have been linked to multiple clubs. We’re no different to anybody else here. Everybody has reported targets that they don’t achieve, it’s just that we only look at ours and then fume when they don’t arrive.
Benjamin Mendy. Poor Monaco, they’re clearly selling their entire first team squad. It’s reported that we’ve missed out on Mendy who has favoured City over ourselves. It was reported that we’d missed out on him before anybody had really linked us to him. We’re missing out on players that we were possibly never really in for.
Then the news from Twitter is that Roma, who were definitely selling us Mohamed Salah for somewhere between £35-40m, are saying that there is no deal on the table. The Metro have decided, through what appears to be a slice of mistranslation, that we are actually aiming to purchase players — plural — from the Italian club. Sources are reporting that Emre Can’s contract will be sorted, or not sorted, or has been sorted, which would mean that Juventus would miss out on one of their reported targets. Un fumo di Twitter will undoubtedly follow.
It’s the summer, we’re all bored at the lack of football, the Champions League final seems like years ago and the papers need their clicks; there will be targets reported, there will be targets missed. There have always been targets missed; Alex Texeira, remember how important he was going to be? Remember how we fumed over the fact that we wouldn’t pay the price his club demanded? Does anyone really remember who that club was? Who he went to? Anybody have any stats on his performances of late? No. Possibly not a disaster, that.
Christian Pulisic. We didn’t really know much about him. He went from being a 17-year-old that our manager wanted to pay too much for to the messiah in the time it took Dortmund to turn us down.
Look at the past: we didn’t get Tony Woodcock, we didn’t suffer. Charlie Nicholas was the epitome of the drawn-out saga before choosing Arsenal, we survived. Ian Snodin went to the lads across the park. I genuinely, honestly, have no recollection of us ever actually being interested in signing him, I may not have been paying attention.
And there are the sagas that were ‘successful’, the players that we chased at length and secured: El Hadji Diouf, Salif Diao, Anthony Le Tallec, Florent Sinama-Pongolle, Alberto Aquilani, Phil Babb. No disrespect to any in that list (other than Diouf, obviously) but we’re not remembering them with any fondness, are we? Not really. Not compared to players who arrived with little real fanfare: Sami Hyypia, Stephane Henchoz, Rob Jones, Gini Wijnaldum, Sadio Mane. Sometimes the players you didn’t expect much from are the players you love most.
Want to know what makes me most optimistic? Jürgen, obviously.
In an interview on the club’s website he says this: “I’m really optimistic for our future, not because I’m crazy but only because I know what we have, I know what we will get, I know what we can get, and I know that we really have a super bunch of people — knowledge, character — not just the players, all around.”
There will be players we sign, there will be players that we don’t. Some will do a job for a season, others will be loved for decades. Some will choose other clubs and be stars, some will choose other clubs and not have the career that they thought would follow — Salah at Chelsea, anyone?
Jürgen knows what we have — a side that managed 76 points, despite a two-month long wobble, and played some fantastic football.
Jürgen knows what we will get — that’s WILL get, that’s targets already secured.
Jürgen knows what we CAN get — that’s other lads that he’s got in his sights.
Jürgen, basically, knows what he’s building.
So, sit back, enjoy the summer. Accept the fact that the papers, the websites, the ITK lads (in between their GCSE exams) will all report on players that we’re linked with and some will be right and some will be wrong, and some we’ll secure and some we won’t and the fume for those we don’t secure will still be massive but the truth, as ever ‘never that simple’, will be somewhere in the middle.
Bear this in mind at all times, though: the clubs we’re challenging for these players, the clubs who may get some of these players, the clubs who miss out as we get some of these players, are City, Chelsea, Arsenal, United, not Everton, Spurs, West Ham, smaller European clubs. If our first secured target is Salah then we’ve signed Roma’s most influential player of last season which is quite an advance from the last lad we signed from that city. If it’s van Dijk then we’ve secured one of the league’s, and possibly Europe’s, most sought-after centre-halves.
We’re at the top table again, that, at the very least, is progress.