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At the end of December, many fans saw Liverpool’s current position as a golden opportunity – Liverpool could attack on three fronts, in both cups and in the league; Matip and Coutinho were expected to return to the team shortly, and Mané’s departure to the AFCON was seen as something that could be coped with either internally, or through buying another player. Now, here we are, at the very end of the January transfer window, without a single addition to a squad that looks bereft of confidence and the zing that characterised the Liverpool team earlier this season. Why, in such a crucial period, and with key fixtures littered over the coming two months, did Klopp fail to add to the squad?
It’s probably best, when trying to answer this question to start with a solid fact. Namely, that Liverpool and Klopp clearly did wish to add to the squad, and wished to add a high quality player to the squad – Julian Draxler – but were unsuccessful in their approach (i.e., the lack of transfer activity on Liverpool’s part was undesirable). Perhaps the reason Klopp failed to add to the squad was one of the same reasons as to why Draxler decided to join PSG instead of Liverpool.
Much was made of Draxler allegedly choosing ‘money’ over playing for Liverpool, but with footballers it rarely is ever that simple. The most likely reason Draxler chose PSG ahead of Liverpool, is that the ‘Liverpool Project’, that is, Liverpool’s current direction and ability to challenge at the highest level, is not fully developed, or is not equal to PSG’s. Simply put, Draxler has a greater chance of domestic and European success with PSG, and would be playing with a very talented team. So instead, he chose a team more suited to his ambitions.
At this current moment, despite being in a relatively good position in the league, Liverpool still do not appear to be a club that a player can join and immediately satisfy their ambitions to win titles or cup competitions. It is extremely important that we focus on the first phrase “at this current moment”, as considering Liverpool’s transfer policy in context is crucial to understanding why Klopp has not added to his squad.
Liverpool’s transfer policy since the turn of the decade has quite frankly been poor. Liverpool lacked the attractiveness of rivals, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, all of whom were in the Champions League and battling for trophies. As a result, Liverpool’s standing in prospective players’ eyes was unimpressive – there was no real reason for a player, playing for a foreign side in the Champions League, to choose Anfield as their new home ahead of the Etihad or Stamford Bridge for instance. Fernando Torres and Raheem Sterling both citied their ambitions to win trophies as their driving factor to leave Liverpool and join a rival. Whilst Liverpool’s failure to qualify for Champions League football last season was seen as a defining factor in Mario Götze’s decision to not join.
The issue is that Liverpool, right now, do not look like a team that will consistently win titles, and thus, the quality of players that Liverpool need to purchase to raise the level of the team will not yet consider an offer from Liverpool seriously, because they do not believe they can win the titles they desire, or believe they deserve to win, as a good player, at Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp acknowledged in recent weeks that buying ‘any’ player would not be the solution for the club’s current difficulties, he instead explained that if the ‘right’ player was available, he would make a move. Strangely enough, this is arguably what Liverpool fans have been craving for years; a manager who makes the ‘right’ signings, targeting players that will genuinely add to the team, provide variety, and improve it – the way Sadio Mané did for instance – rather than spending frivolously on multiple players of underwhelming quality. Under the three managers preceding Klopp, only four players have really been signed of the quality that fans would expect from a Liverpool side that can challenge for titles: Suarez, Coutinho, Sturridge and Firmino. Considering that Coutinho and Sturridge were cut-price deals, we can conclude that signing top quality players for LFC is a hard task, especially without European football, or consistently challenging at the top-level.
What Klopp is attempting to do though is raise the level of the team, and the stature of the club, so that players who wish to satisfy their ambitions of being a league or Champions League winner, can do so at Liverpool – this is not an easy task by any means, nor is it one that can be done in a short period of time. But, rather importantly, we can see this approach working, slowly.
The tying down of Philippe Coutinho to a new long-term contract, is a turning point for Liverpool. In the interview that he gave after signing his contract, Coutinho discussed how he felt he could and would achieve his ambitions at Liverpool, under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp, and how Liverpool was the right club for him. This is arguably a watershed moment, a top-quality player has opted, despite reported interest from Barcelona, to commit his future to Liverpool, whereas in the past players would either not do so, or as Suarez did, push for a release clause that one of the big-three (Bayern, Barcelona or Real Madrid) would be happy to meet.
This now signifies a turn in attitudes towards Liverpool, and their perceived ability to win titles or cups, but this needs to be backed up by a strong league position at the end of the season and in coming seasons, for players of the highest quality to consider joining Liverpool. Although, we must remember that this is a long-term goal, and one that cannot be met immediately – one season in the Champions League is no guarantee for prospective players.
This perspective certainly has its merits, but may not be the only reason as to why Klopp and Liverpool did not make any additions to the squad this January. One factor could arguably be that Klopp felt his squad was already too congested – we saw earlier this season, Sturridge, Origi, Can, Lucas, Klavan and Moreno were all situated on the bench – and whilst not the strongest bench in the league, it certainly offered variety and depth. Perhaps Klopp was concerned that once Coutinho, Matip and Mané returned, he would not have space within his starting XI and squad for another player, especially one who would not be a marquee signing, and a definite starter.
Money is also undoubtedly a factor, Draxler was certainly offered a much more lucrative contract at PSG, but in most cases, ambition usually outweighs the value of money to a top player; and arguably Klopp is right to not want to sign players who value money as the most important factor, as they may not provide that extra edge, in a game that requires total commitment – although the point certainly can be made that perhaps purchasing players of high value, and with high monetary demands is important in the short-term to convincing other players that Liverpool FC is a serious club with serious ambitions, as Manchester City did; whether this is sustainable, desirable or simply an alternate route is also very much debatable.
We must also consider the simple fact that clubs are unwilling to sell their top players during the middle of the season too – the availability of top players, of the specific attributes and quality on the market that would add variety and suit the Liverpool team and its style is restricted. Rival clubs have also struggled to make headway in recruiting new players during January, whilst some managers may proclaim they are satisfied with their squad, there is always room for improvement, and perhaps the lack of activity in January is telling of a rigid and competitive transfer market.
Undoubtedly, Liverpool fans and Klopp himself may feel as if the January window was a missed or wasted opportunity, but we need to look at it within the wider context. Attitudes towards Liverpool FC as a genuine title contender are changing, and over the coming two to three seasons, we should see more ‘Klopp’ signings, and incoming players that match Liverpool’s long-term ambitions; as for now, we can only be patient, and hope Klopp can lead the team into a position so that in the future Liverpool can go out and purchase the players that it needs to add to the team.