THERE’S a conspiracy theory doing the rounds that Liverpool’s owners have secretly known all along that they would be selling Phil Coutinho this summer.
It follows that Liverpool’s care-free £70million level bidding for the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita is happening safe in the knowledge that potential deals will be retro funded by the sale of the star Brazilian.
The evidence cited is Fenway Sports Group’s somewhat parsimonious net spending over the past few transfer windows. Liverpool even made a profit on the ins and outs last summer. The previous two years saw Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling leave to fund summer purchasing. That many fans suspect that our American owners are interested only in keep the club ticking over and riding the relentless TV money gravy train, is not an entirely irrational concern.
FSG can, and maybe should, file their own defence against these accusations. They have the opportunity to emphatically do so this summer by securing Keita and van Dijk, while simultaneously resisting Barcelona’s attempts to acquire Coutinho.
The paranoid argument is that FSG don’t intend to hit these targets, that they are luring us into a false sense of belief that they are born-again investors in our project, is a flawed one.
Jürgen Klopp heaved a talented but tired, and often reduced, Liverpool squad over the line and into fourth place last season. It was a mission accomplished, but only just. The manager had been concerned as early as November 2016 that he was short of bodies. He said that he needed wingers ahead of the January transfer window. By the turn of the year Coutinho was injured, Daniel Sturridge was struggling and Sadio Mane was away on international duty. Roberto Firmino, a player used to a winter break, was playing game in, game out.
Towards the end of the campaign both our main Brazilians struggled to get into games at times. Midfielders Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson went missing with injuries for long spells. Mane’s season ended on April 1 with a knee problem sustained in the derby. At the back, Lucas Leiva saw more game time than he’d envisaged as Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren proved consistently injury prone.
In his end of term summations Klopp conceded that he had been short of players. He noted too that Liverpool would be facing the additional demands of European competition in 2017-18. A squad already lightweight in numbers clearly needed at least as much new quantity as it did additional quality.
Liverpool will lose the deputy left back, and have already lost the most trusted deputy centre back. Lovren and Matip need more than covering. If Liverpool sign van Dijk they will be replenishing the squad as much as improving it.
The departed Lucas and Kevin Stewart also backed up in midfield when resources were diminished. If Keita is signed he brings the midfield level to par as much as he takes the team up a dimension.
Build a case then for Mo Salah being Coutinho’s de facto replacement in the front three, and Liverpool will have spent (if they sign Keita and van Dijk for £140m) a total of £190m while shifting Coutinho for around £110m.
Let’s then assume the rest of the books are near balanced by selling unneeded extras like Mamadou Sakho, Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic. If all this happens then FSG will find it hard to resist the accusation that they always intended to sell Coutinho.
The problem with this doomsday prediction (or analysis) is it would mean Liverpool open the forthcoming season with no more quantity in the squad than they finished the previous one with — a season in which the squad was already thin and heading into a new one which requires additional resource for the Champions League.
FSG may be bottom line motivated by default but they aren’t stupid. Nor is Klopp. If the plan was always to sell Coutinho and replace him with Keita then the Liverpool manager was a party to it. And this is where things start to not add up. Literally. Klopp demanded quantity as much as he did quality. Adding Salah, van Dijk, Keita and Andy Robertson is only replacing Coutinho, Lucas, Sakho and Moreno. At best it gives one more first-team option. The manager was looking for four or five more to cope with the workload in 2017-18.
Selling Coutinho doesn’t fund Keita and van Dijk, it creates a further requirement for adding to the squad. If Coutinho goes, Klopp is banging a table for at least two more top attacking players. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has already been earmarked but he has never been intended as a replacement for Coutinho.
Selling our ace Brazilian and selling him now, with just over two weeks until the season starts wouldn’t just represent a loss of quality to the squad, it would represent a planning disaster.
Cynics wouldn’t put such incompetence past Liverpool’s back of house team, but the suspicions of Machiavellian plotting just don’t wash.
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