The ultimately failed pursuit of RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita (at least for this year), and the prolonged agony over a deal for Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk, which is still to come to fruition but very much still on the agenda, especially after news of a transfer request, have been the sources of much frustration amongst Liverpool fans this summer.
Jurgen Klopp’s insistence on only signing the perfect player, should they exist, is undoubtedly an admirable approach, but is equally one that can appear to be a quest towards the unrealistic.
The ‘perfect’ player is, of course, subjective, but targeting players who will come into the first eleven straight away is the obvious way to improve a team that has just finished fourth in one of the best leagues in the world. The sticking point is when players you target transpire to be unattainable – what then? Move on to a lesser alternative, or do without?
With Naby Keita, the elected path was to move on and forget about signing anyone else. The reasoning was clear: there is no one quite like Keita, a player whose talents are a unique combination of defensive interceptions akin to some of the best holding midfielders in the world and dribbling and technical ability similar in style to Andres Iniesta. There are no second choices to choose from, so why waste time trying to find one?
Liverpool are confident that they will be able to capture the Guinean next summer, with Ralf Rangnick, the German club’s sporting director, already admitting that Keita is unlikely to pen a new deal that would remove the £48 million release clause that allows anyone who meets it to sign the player in the summer of 2018. For now, they are prepared to do without him, or anyone else.
With Van Dijk, Liverpool remain confident that they will be able to go back and secure a fee with Southampton despite the PR disaster that took place earlier in the summer, with the south-coast club desperate not to let him go, especially not to the Reds. It remains to be seen what impact the transfer request will have on the club’s resolve.
There is still more than three weeks to go until the transfer window closes (or ‘slams shut’, as is customary), but if Van Dijk proves to be unattainable too, Liverpool will not sign a like-for-like alternative. No Van Dijk means going into the new season with only Joe Gomez and Ragnar Klavan as backup to Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren – a surprising selection, to say the least.
With both of Liverpool’s top targets proving difficult or impossible to get, not lining up another player for either position could be perceived as a huge gamble. But this is not some Fenway Sports Group (FSG, Liverpool’s owners) conspiracy, often suggested – usually farcically – in the depths of Twitter, but the decision of Jurgen Klopp.
The same Jurgen Klopp that is revered – rightly so – among supporters for the work he has done since arriving in October 2015. Instead of using the decision as an ill-informed stick to beat FSG with, more trust should be placed in what the manager wants to do.
As hard as it might be to accept right now, when the ‘obvious’, if ridiculous, suggestion of simply throwing more money at RB Leipzig and Southampton is bandied around, as if that would magically make both clubs send the players on their way with their best wishes, Jurgen Klopp knows what he wants.
The German is the man who knows his squad best, and the man who has a track record of getting these decisions generally correct, even when many were questioning them at the time.
James Milner at left-back? Don’t be daft.
Except he was good. A reliable option, who, whilst not the perfect modern full-back and too heavily reliant on his right-side, was a consistent performer who played a big part in Liverpool qualifying for the Champions League in Klopp’s first full season in the Premier League.
Sadio Mane as a back-up option for Mario Gotze? He’s not on the same level.
Except he was Liverpool’s player of the season and was desperately missed when he was away with Senegal in January, whilst the German World Cup winner spent most of the season out with a metabolic disorder (not his fault, and not something that could have been predicted, but even if he had been fully fit, how many would swap him for Mane now?).
Gini Wijnaldum for £25 million? He was relegated with Newcastle United and only performs in home games!
Except he was instrumental in Liverpool’s midfield last season – home and away – and scored vital goals, including breaking the deadlock at a crucial time in the final game of the season at home to Middlesbrough, when Liverpool could not afford to drop points, and the tension was mounting.
In short, however odd his decisions might have seemed at the time, Klopp generally gets things right. An innovative, outside-the-box solution is not always a bad idea. Whisper it quietly, but launching mega bids left, right and centre is not the only option, and they do not always succeed.
There has been the odd thing that he got wrong – not buying a replacement for Mane in January when the club knew he would be away for a long, crucial period, for example, could have been more costly – but there is a reason that Jurgen Klopp is the manager of Liverpool and Barry from Wavertree, who can’t understand how Jordan Henderson is a Premier League player, despite the fact he is the captain of one of the biggest football clubs in the world, isn’t.
Football is a game of opinions, and discussion around these sorts of talking points is something to be encouraged, but there comes a point when getting wound up because an alternative to Naby Keita has not been found gets silly.
If Liverpool fail to get Virgil van Dijk in before the end of the window, the decision has been made – by Klopp, no less – to go into the new season with no one else lined up to come in.
Fans might question it – feel free to, within reason – but if last summer proved anything, it is that Jurgen Klopp knows a thing or two about football – trust me, and, more importantly, trust him.
Matt Addison writes a column each week for @AnfieldPress, covering all of the major talking points in the world of Liverpool FC throughout the season. Follow him on Twitter at @MattAddison97.