What a curious transfer window; after snapping up Robertson, attempting to convince Virgil Van Dijk to join, and registering an interest in Naby Keïta, the Liverpool transfer front went silent.
Then, suddenly after trouncing Arsenal, Michael Edwards and his team sprung into life, wrapping up a seemingly dead deal in securing the services of Naby Keïta for the coming season, on a bargain transfer, before moving onto Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain shortly afterward.
With a day to go, expectations of Lemar and Van Dijk remained, and whilst expected to be challenging, there was a confidence belying it.
Underpinning the whole thing, albeit viewed with a more than healthy dose of skepticism, was the club’s stance on Philippe Coutinho – under no circumstances would he be sold. The club have kept their word on this matter, and it’s reasonable to expect that he will be brought back into the fold soon; however, whilst keeping Coutinho, despite his own transgressions, and an aggressive pursuit by Barcelona, is laudable, it’s hard to feel that Liverpool’s transfer window has been a success.
When assessing Liverpool’s transfer window though, it’s best to look at what the objectives were, at the start of the window, what they were at the end, and how, why and if they changed. For instance, one objective was to add to the midfield, but once Barcelona attempted to sign Coutinho, the emphasis and objective shifted to retaining him above all else, and rightly so.
For me, and most other fans, it seemed Liverpool’s primary objective, and its most necessary addition was that of a suitable starting centre-back. The club did well to identify Virgil Van Dijk early on, and to make contact with him, ensuring he would be open to a move. Indeed the club’s representatives were so persuasive that he made clear his desire to join Liverpool, rather than Chelsea or Manchester City.
It’s certainly been a while since an in-demand player opted to join Liverpool ahead of one of its better-paying rivals, indeed, I cannot actually remember the last time a player did so. It speaks volumes about the club, and its perceived direction and renewal under Jürgen Klopp and is something that actually is hugely significant and positive for the club. Despite this though, Liverpool failed to make a formal bid for Van Dijk, had to publically apologise, and then, despite the player himself handing in a transfer request, the club did not launch a bid, or attempt to force a move, in the last few days of the window.
With regard to Van Dijk, the club’s strategy appears a total failure. Having identified him at the start of the window, and having sufficient funds to secure his services it seems a shambolic piece of work by the transfer negotiating team. But as noted above, objectives change over time, as does their feasibility, and the unavoidable truth of this matter is that Southampton were unwilling to sell, as is their right, with a contracted player.
With that being said, there is still reason enough to question why Liverpool did not pursue another centre-back instead, but as reported online this was a decision by the manager as he wishes to return for Virgil Van Dijk in January or even next summer.
Whilst not the action Liverpool fans wanted, after the mess Liverpool initially made of the Van Dijk deal, it was always going to be extremely tough to sign Van Dijk, without accounting for Southampton’s own insistence on not selling.
Those expecting Liverpool to force Southampton to sell are misguided too – Barcelona attempted to use even more aggressive tactics to force through a deal, which included a public tantrum, a transfer request, a faux injury and incessant media pressure for Liverpool to cave in. Bearing this in mind, expecting Liverpool to do the same, with no guarantee of success is wholly unreasonable.
Hence, in relation to Liverpool’s centre-back issues, it’s understandable why the club could not get the desired outcome, however, that is not an acceptable excuse considering the team and funds the club had to seek out an alternative. That is unless you agree entirely with the principle of a manager’s autonomy, and his stance, to return at a later date.
Liverpool’s (Klopp’s) strategy is risky though and is one they sought to avoid when negotiating with Leipzig for Keïta.
Andy Robertson on the other hand, whilst an underwhelming name at first, seems a solid purchase and provides healthy competition for the rejuvenated Moreno. With Robertson and Moreno on one side, and Clyne and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the other, Liverpool now has variety and depth within the full-back department, a marked improvement from last season, in which Milner played at left-back, and Trent Alexander-Arnold had not seriously broken into first team contention.
Liverpool’s group of midfielders looked thin at the start of the transfer window, and even now, still does. Despite the addition of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the retention of Coutinho; Adam Lallana is still injured, and will be sidelined until November, whilst Can is entering the final months of his contract, and Jordan Henderson’s fitness, after struggling for the past two seasons, is unclear.
AS Monaco’s Thomas Lemar seemed a perfect fit for Liverpool’s midfield, with his dynamism and creativity aspects which would have added depth, quality, variety and a different dimension to Liverpool’s midfield and wingers.
The gripe with the club here is not that Liverpool did not sign someone else, or fail to agree terms with Monaco, but why did the club leave the transfer so late? Starting negotiations with a few days left in the window, was always going to be a struggle, especially as Lemar was expected to be unavailable on deadline day to sign a contract or undertake a medical, as he was expected to feature for France.
Two considerable bids were made, and the player was clearly interested enough to turn down Arsenal, in favour of Liverpool – but poor decision making to spring bids in the last few days of the window have cost Liverpool the depth and quality it needs for the season. If Coutinho continues to sit on the sidelines, or is relegated to the Under 23s, Liverpool could well be finding themselves 60 minutes into a Champions League fixture in which the only feasible midfield option, from the bench, could be James Milner or Marco Grujic – two good players, but hardly two game changers.
The lack of support for Liverpool’s forwards is surprising too. The club and manager identified a weakness within the squad – the need for width, and a reliance on Sadio Mané, and to their credit, brought in Mohamed Salah who has settled in well. But if Oxlade-Chamberlain, a player with an injury record worse than Daniel Sturridge’s, at his age, is deployed in midfield where is the depth and room for rotation with the wingers, whilst if Oxlade-Chamberlain is utilised as a backup winger, what happens when he is injured, or the midfield group is short on players?
It’s a bizarre situation and compounded by the departures of Ryan Kent, and Divock Origi, the latter of whom was expected to leave, provisional to a new incoming player. Now Liverpool are left with Sturridge as the second choice striker, a talented, but inexperienced Dominic Solanke as the third, and a player who has just come back from two ACL injuries, Danny Ings as the fourth choice. Should Roberto Firmino get injured during an important point within the season, Liverpool would be in serious trouble, and it was plain to see, even before Liverpool let Origi leave on loan.
In fairness though, it’s hardly as if the entire window was a failure: bringing in Salah, Solanke, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Robertson all seem like solid deals, whilst wrapping up Keïta for next summer is a genuinely stunning piece of business, the same sort of which Bayern Munich are renowned and praised for.
The club has attempted to try and meet the lofty ambitions of the fans, with monumental bids submitted for Keïta and Lemar, so any reason issues within the window can hardly be with the owners, FSG, rather simply Michael Edward’s team for moving so late, and Jürgen Klopp for not sanctioning a move for a player other than Van Dijk. The club was prepared to pay 70m GBP for him, but knowing the needs of the squad, and the likelihood of a move, Klopp should have instructed Liverpool’s transfer team, to look and spend that money elsewhere.
It’s undoubtedly a frustrating end to the transfer window, but one which certainly has some promise about it. The context of the market must be taken into account though when assessing how Liverpool did, and with the hyperinflation of prices, constant Catalan media pressure, and the struggles of rival clubs, such as Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, who all failed to secure a centre-back, amongst other factors this window is not a total failure.
Nonetheless though, whilst it was not a total failure, there is a strong sense of a missed opportunity – with Van Dijk and Lemar, Liverpool would have had a squad capable of mounting a sustained title challenge, and managing the pressures of three-game weeks. It really did feel, for a few days, that Liverpool were close to having one of the best transfer windows ever, and setting themselves up perfectly for a hugely challenging season.
Only time will tell, and I, like all fans with similar concerns wish to be proved wrong, but right now, in this moment at least, it feels as if Liverpool have let a great opportunity slip through its fingers, and it may well come back to bite the club over the coming months.