MORE than a month has passed since the bubble of optimism growing over Liverpool’s summer ambition was burst in an instant.
Just as it seemed the much-mentioned “statement of intent” was being readied with Virgil van Dijk set to become the world’s most expensive defender, a statement of a different kind floored fans high on hope.
It was only 60 words but with “regret”, “apologise” and crucially “we have ended any interest in the player” among them, it appeared unequivocal; the white flag waved, the towel thrown in, The Reds tapping out. Announce van Dijk? Absolutely no chance.
READ: Gareth Roberts on the Virgil van Dijk debacle and the question of competence in the transfer market
That someone, somewhere, sometime got something wrong remains a fair assessment. When stealth, steadiness and quiet confidence were the order of the day, someone donned the size nines, switched all the lights on and started screaming through a megaphone.
While one of the key rules of transfers appears to that there are really no rules – or certainly none the different protagonists really care about enough to adhere to – the dot joining still suggests Liverpool leapt over the line of acceptable conduct; whether that was a leak, a strategy or a mistake.
Now though, with a month or more of water under the bridge, how is that website statement on the situation around van Dijk looking?
Reports in the Sunday tabs, especially during silly season, should always be taken with a vat of salt poured over them. But the suggestions at the weekend that van Dijk has made it clear to Southampton that he only wants to join Liverpool were food for thought.
When Southampton made the drastic step of reporting Liverpool to the FA for alleged “tapping up” last month, reports on the south coast talked of the club “taking control” of the situation.
It was an interesting line.
Having returned to the Southampton over and over again in recent years, it’s clear Liverpool is not going to be a popular club with Saints fans. When a club comes knocking for your team’s top talent think about how it feels. John Henry’s “What do you think they’re smoking…” stance regarding Arsenal’s approach for Luis Suarez was greeted with clenched fists and defiant delight by Liverpudlians. You can bet Southampton’s actions regarding van Dijk prompted a similar response from the St Mary’s faithful. Their boys gave us one hell of a beating.
What do you think they're smoking over there at Emirates?
— John W. Henry (@John_W_Henry) July 24, 2013
But now the dust has settled, now the tapping up investigation has conveniently disappeared as quickly as it was threatened, what have Southampton been left with?
Ignoring the whos, wheres, whys and hows, it’s pretty clear the original claims around van Dijk were well sourced and accurate. Hence Southampton’s anger at them appearing in the public domain before negotiations had even begun.
Ultimately though, the boardroom behaviour is likely to have changed little in the player’s mind. The Dutchman will likely remain an admirer of Jürgen Klopp, his plans, his approach and his club, Liverpool.
Equally, Klopp, who had identified the defender as his top target, is unlikely to have had a change of heart regarding the 26-year-old’s abilities to improve a defence perceived to be the Reds’ weak spot.
So what happens between now and the fading hours of August 31 when Jim White’s day-glo tie is flung to the bedroom floor? Will would-be-manager and player-to-be continue to make eyes at each other across the room? Or will one or the other neck that drink and pop the question?
It’s back to the idea of control. Southampton’s board may well have taken control in their eyes. But what new manager Mauricio Pellegrino has taken control of is a key player that wants out – one potentially not tuned in mentally, one who could conceivably upset the team dynamic. Would he rather have the money to spend?
It’s been all quiet at the Liverpool end, understandably so. But while no-one would expect further showings of hands on van Dijk perhaps more telling is the lack of links to viable alternatives in his position.
If Klopp had put van Dijk top of his shopping list and now felt he was out of reach, why have there been no credible links to the next man down on that list? If he’s identified a dominant centre-half as key to his plans – and was prepared to countenance a world-record fee for a player in that position – isn’t it fair to suggest he wouldn’t be sitting on his hands for a month knowing there is no way it can be revived?
"The player wants to sign for Liverpool….I don't think this is dead."@JNorthcroft spoke to us about Van Dijk: https://t.co/zXANQvmzTr pic.twitter.com/iEFvR30jkK
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) June 21, 2017
Van Dijk pushing for a move could change the dynamic. A transfer request paints another picture. A bid from another club could change the dynamic, too.
All of a sudden the stalemate is forgotten and Liverpool may decide they don’t have to “respect Southampton’s decision”. Meanwhile, Southampton can present clear evidence they have an unhappy player on their books on one hand and a record fee being offered on the other.
They get to argue they played hardball. And they get to argue they ultimately made a common sense decision.
Message controlled. Evil Liverpool paying over the odds after unsettling the player. Sensible Southampton cashing in on a problem child to boost the squad and back the manager.
Saints’ position could also soften with a ready-made replacement recruited.
The transfer market is fluid and valuations can quickly shift. If a selling club can see the glow of a £60-70million fee in Southampton’s safe the likelihood is a price of a player post any van Dijk deal would dwarf the fee being asked for now.
Perhaps the pleas for patience aren’t just the smokescreen many claim. Perhaps the deal can still happen. Perhaps everyone can emerge from this mess smelling a little bit rosier by the time the window pain is over.
Do Liverpool intend to make a statement? We’ll have to wait and see. And that’s the hardest part.
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Interesting take on it Gareth, hard to argue with much of it to be honest.
My optimism that the deal will still be done is more than likely wishful thinking on my part. but I do think people are overlooking the how much of a financial hit Southampton are asking Van Dijk to take by refusing to sell him this year.
Even the most conservative estimates suggest that he will be able to command a deal worth over £100k more per week to him than what he earns at St Marys; that’s £5.2m over a year or £26m over the course of his contract.
Now unless Southampton are willing to offer him a new deal on those terms they can’t reasonably ask him to ignore a lucrative move to a bigger club where he can compete for honours and play champions league football.
The upshot of this being that while it’s no guarantee that he’ll be a Liverpool player next season, it’s far more likely than not that he will be a Southampton player.
I want LFC to be tapping players up. We’ve not had much luck in the past with transfers but it’s likely we’ve talked a lot of good players into joining us this summer. It’s a much better policy though it would be nice if we weren’t the ones made an example of, as per. Suppose we know have to learn how not to get caught. That’s a safe bet though. It’s hard to imagine leaks in the next few windows.
The reality is Saints can’t keep a captain who doesn’t want to play for them. Imagine Henderson saying he wants to play for City and still being our captain. Obviously, we could take the armband off it but then it’s just getting nasty. A clear rift in the team.
I think we did the right thing offering the apology. Now the PL are off our backs it’s served it’s purpose. We can torture Saints now and do what we want. Saints need VVD to hand in a transfer request. It’s the only way to climb down with a statement saying ‘those bastards can do one if they think they’re getting him cheap’. It’ll look like they’re winning a little bit. They won’t be though because we’ll have their best player again. I’d expect the transfer request a week after they return from Austria.
You simply can’t give your all when you want to be somewhere else. I’ve used the analogy before but if your head has been turned by another woman it suddenly becomes hell being with the one you’re with.
UNBELIVABLE….The sheer arrogance of Robins statement that Liverpool are free to torture Southampton shows why the FA should step in and give them a transfer embargo.
Pat, you need to understand the basics of football. The top players play for the top clubs and the further down the league you go the less quality there is. It’s quite simple. There’s a footballing hierarchy and teams shouldn’t be standing in the way of players who want to progress unless they can convince them to stay. It’s not natural. We’re not in the former communist Soviet Union. We live in a society that allows people to better themselves. As for Southampton I think they’re pathetic scummers who’ve spat their dummy out of the pram. They tap players up all the time, everyone does. It’s common practice. Wanting a transfer embargo is exactly the kind of cry arse attitude I’d expect from Southampton. Your like those kids in school who look for any excuse to run to the teacher telling tales and only get gratification in life when you’ve got someone in trouble. Very sad. Southampton need to take a leaf out of Portsmouth’s book. They’re real men and not a bunch of whinging tits.
Offer Sakho to them. and 40m. Job done. then send me 1% for having the idea :)
IMO if Van Dijk really wants to leave he’d hand in a transfer request formally. Done and dusted.
It hasn’t happened, so maybe there’s a question of “did he really want to leave?”.
I think he did, but I also think the Klopp should’ve told him to hand in a TR when he tapped him up – if he was going to tap him up, he could’ve at least done it properly.
Now, however, its all about £65m being offered.