THIS summer’s transfer window – at home but maybe even more so in Europe – was bonkers.
For the first time in a while, Reds fans weren’t quite so rude about Sky Sports’ Jim White or so sniffy about the whole affair as Liverpool participated in the madness right to the last minute. Announcing a £35million deal on deadline day was a far cry from Ian Ayre turning the Melwood lights off days before the window “slammed shut”.
The summer sideshow – a distant cousin of the beautiful game – has become an entertainment event in its own right, appealing to the money-minded transactionist, but also to the traditional supporters who consume gossip like rabid dogs under a dripping tap. Then it all comes to an abrupt halt as Jim’s mad yellow tie gets flung like an ultraviolet lasso across the Sky studio. Even at home these days, it feels slightly effeminate to merely close a window or pull gently down on a skylight without the need to call Everest or Safestyle for a quote.
Perhaps only Paris Saint-Germain with their insane Qatari outlay and the purchase of Neymar for a zillion quid have trumped Liverpool for intrigue over the summer. However, the bottom line is that The Reds, in relation to this season at least, went only 1/3 of the way towards spending a publicly advertised £200m war chest. The anomaly for Liverpool, in contrast to the instantaneous Parisian loan of Kylian Mbappe, is the fiscally savvy capture of Naby Keita from RB Leipzig for next year but for the moment his worth remains rooted in Germany.
In terms of new recruits, Mohammad Salah from AS Roma is the star attraction; already ensconced in red, a woolly-headed speed merchant of the highest class looking a snip at £36.9m plus addons. What Salah brings to Jürgen Klopp’s preferred front three makes him the most exciting Roman guest in Liverpool since the Papal visit of 1982.
The earlier captures of Andrew Robertson and Dom Solanke from Hull City and Chelsea respectively offer promising youthful reinforcement. Both have already featured impressively and will have a part to play on all fronts.
The £35m investment in Arsenal’s versatile Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also an ambitious move, albeit with some debate as to where he fits into Liverpool’s first-choice front six. Nonetheless, it is a sensible signing for variety and cover should injuries, tiredness and/or loss of form strike in midfield or upfront amid the added burden of high-octane Champions League football.
For obvious reasons, Catalan overtures towards Phil Coutinho – who remains Liverpool’s most coveted player – and Fenway Sports Group’s mulish refusal to release the Brazilian has dominated the headlines over the last few weeks. Even if the statement issued by the owners has somewhat backed the club and Klopp into a corner as Barcelona’s pursuit of an unhappy player has accelerated, a firm stance is to be celebrated; dispelling a gathering notion of Liverpool as a selling club.
The outcome is that Coutinho remains a prize playing asset albeit that Jürgen has to manage his reintegration, mood and performance – a task that falls indisputably falls under his job description.
The fans, fickle and emotional as ever, will forgive at the sight of the first mazy Latin dribble and Klopp will be aware that his treasured team dynamic and group spirit is fostered in the most brotherly way by winning games. The challenge of unravelling teams committed to a low-block defence that still demands Coutinho’s guile and vision isn’t going away. For supporters and manager alike it is 12 months too early to be burning shirts and bridges.
What leaves the sourest taste is the unquestionable failure to augment quality and number of resources in the crucial position of centre back. The riches available to Klopp upfront and in the middle of the park only serve to heighten defensive concerns.
The failed pursuit of Virgil van Dijk is less of a saga than it was an unmitigated cock up.
That the manager presumably identified the Dutchman as his first and foremost target is clear admission that he wasn’t entirely satisfied with Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip. The established pairing each have their virtues. The Croatian and Cameroonian are neither tyros nor complete duffers. If they both stay fit (which is debatable) they might build on a respectable partnership that last season brought a top-four finish.
The eagerness of the club, mindful of previous failings, to announce a deal not yet done; whether to stall a bidding war or ward off other suitors was amateurish in the extreme. The subsequent apology by way of a public statement might have been necessary to escape tapping-up sanctions. The further addendum ending interest in the player wasn’t only ill advised but smacked of a half truth and left little room for further manoeuvre.
The prospect of a deal being revived at the last minute – never ruled out by the usual trusted sources and ramped up by the Merseyside rumour mill – appeared to distract the manager from seeking a viable alternative. We all know Klopp likes to stick to his guns but any assumption that van Dijk was the only centre half in the world who could improve on what Liverpool’s existing first-choice pair is open to serious question. Some will trot out the usual question asking who is available but The Reds have spent the entire summer in pursuit of two prime targets that weren’t.
In a key position, Liverpool now face the prospect of up to 50 matches in the league and Europe alone with Ragnar Klavan and the promising but completely untested Joe Gomez as cover. Anyone still scarred by the madcap defending in the defining 3-2 defeat to Swansea last season has a right to be slightly worried. Anyone still mindful of mayhem inside The Reds’ penalty area at Watford a few weeks ago is entitled to beg the question.
We trust to luck and are ignoring, some might say recklessly, the vagaries of that long, taxing English season. If the scale of the club’s ambition is another top-four finish – a potential indictment in itself – they might get away with it.
If you’re content to wait until Klopp gets “his” man you may remain sanguine. If you’re tired of waiting on another year, anticipate the usual January bluster and fully understand Southampton’s entrenched contempt towards Liverpool FC, one has every reason to cite the van Dijk chronicle and the reluctance to switch attention elsewhere as the difference between a successful and underwhelming transfer window. Remember the context of what was promised; the necessity and wisdom of purposely leaking such intent and the oafish strategy attempting to deliver on that promise.
Some of the above might seem sacrilegious to the club and manager’s devotees but while several aspects of The Reds’ summer business deserve much credit, no one should be immune to criticism. Under previous regimes, supporters’ scrutiny and critique has kept Liverpool floating around the top echelons even amid the harshest of modern times.
To end on a positive, it’s definitely not all bad. Exciting challenges lie ahead at home and overseas. On their day, this side are fantastic to watch. They have the beating of anyone. They thrashed Arsenal 4-0 last weekend and played some brilliant attacking football with the imprint of the manager’s attacking philosophy written like a message through Blackpool rock.
If only the fallout of that secret seaside sojourn hadn’t resulted in such clumsiness and subsequent intransigence, we might be expecting even greater riches from 2017-18.
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