The Jürgen Effect
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Downing to Mané
Poulsen to Keïta
Carroll to Salah
Above, are just three examples of how the type and profile of Liverpool FC’s transfer targets have shifted under Jürgen Klopp in comparison to Hodgson and Dalglish, at the start of FSG’s tenure.
After several unsuccessful transfer windows which saw high spending, but minimal real gains in terms of quality and improvements to the team, Liverpool FC’s current transfer policy appears to be heading in a very different direction to that which preceded it.
Liverpool’s transfer policy under Hodgson and Dalglish was remarkably misguided, as unsuitable players were brought in, at prices that overestimated their value. But with Liverpool residing outside of the Champions League qualification spots, and with a lacklustre team, from which key players were departing, it was always going to be a challenge attracting the right type of player to make an immediate improvement to the team. But it seemed for a time, at least, that there were certain micro-objectives that affected the transfer policy, such as building a distinctly English team, or searching for cut-price deals in spite of the practical necessities, or even simply going after quantity instead of quality.
Downing, Carroll, Adam and Henderson all feature as examples of the first type, whilst Assaidi, Borini, Aspas, Alberto, Coutinho and Sturridge are all examples of the second. Can, Lambert, Lallana, Markovic, Lovren, Origi, Moreno and Balotelli collectively personify the quantity approach.
The list above includes some fantastic players, some very good ones, but also some very poor ones too: a hit-and-miss transfer policy was never the objective.
What we can see though is the progression and evolution of Liverpool FC’s transfer policy over the years, as the club and management came to terms with the demands and requirements of the Premier League. But even after Brendan Rodgers achieved a second place finish with Liverpool, the club failed to secure its primary target – Alexis Sanchez – and instead defaulted onto a regressive transfer policy, as players, like Balotelli, were brought in, despite not being one of the manager’s main targets.
The following season, the board were happy to back Rodgers with funding and secured his top target – Christian Benteke – for a sizeable £32.5 million. Not only this, but the club also purchased Hoffenheim starlet Roberto Firmino, who turned out to be an inspired choice, but not one Rodgers was enthused with.
Jürgen Klopp’s arrival set transfer policy on a different course to his predecessors though; it may have seemed like much of the same as Liverpool failed to secure Alex Teixeira from Shaktar, but the interest in Teixeira was already a subtle change in policy – as Liverpool actively targeted players which addressed a deficit within the team, and who were also of Champions League quality.
The summer of 2016 saw Liverpool sign Sadio Mané, who, for 2016-17 was nothing short of a revelation, winning Player of the Season, and bringing pace, variety, goals and much more to the Liverpool forward line. It’s extremely surprising that he was not Klopp’s first choice, given his performances, instead, it was Mario Götze. The key difference between Liverpool’s transfer policy approach in the summer of 2014 and that of the summer of 2016 was that the club had developed a full and proper transfer strategy. Instead of missing out on a primary target and falling back onto a lesser player, or searching for a cheaper, but not necessarily an equally good alternative, the club and management had identified contingency targets that would immediately improve the team, and suit the style and vision for the future.
Klopp expected nothing less than full autonomy over transfer policy, and his team has been given just that. The club and ownership have recognised the needs and demands of them when it comes to transfers, and are now fully supporting Klopp in his pursuit of his primary target Naby Keïta.
Whilst the Van Dijk deal broke down, in an embarrassing fashion, broadly speaking, Liverpool have got down to business in an efficient manner. For instance, Klopp initially wanted Julian Brandt, but upon learning that Brandt intended to stay at Leverkusen, the club swiftly moved onto chasing another quality winger – Mohammed Salah – and secured his services, despite him costing over £10 million more than Brandt was reportedly expected to cost.
Liverpool’s pursuit of Naby Keïta, like the Firmino transfer, is a concerted effort to purchase the type of player the club has previously missed out on, and regretted, as a rival club snapped them up at Liverpool’s expense. Surprising to most fans though is the size of the fee the club are committed to paying. Supporters are quite aware that Liverpool’s top four rivals, besides Spurs, all have greater financial resources, however, the willingness of the club to commit to high spending, in spite of this, is a vindication of faith in the manager’s successes in the previous season, and a confidence in his skills to produce further or greater success in the coming seasons.
Unlike the January of 2013, in which Liverpool managed to secure deals for both Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho at cut-prices, the club has now realised that these high-value deals are a rarity, and the likelihood of them is rather slim, but also that there is a need and requirement to pay the money when the time is right – it seems Jürgen Klopp has helped bring about that realisation.
For the club now, the challenge is to take full advantage of being in the Champions League and having a globally recognised manager at the helm. However, as far as this transfer window, thus far, is concerned, the club’s transfer policy appears to be finally on the right path, thanks to Klopp, and the board’s and owner’s support for him. As fans, we can only hope the club has definitely learned from past mistakes, and are now shopping in a distinctly different one to which it was a mere few seasons ago.