When Michael Edwards first came to the front of most Liverpool’s fans’ minds was the summer of 2017, when Edwards’ tenure as Sporting Director exploded into life with the signing of Mo Salah, the first of many extraordinary signings that Edwards has secured as Liverpool’s chief transfer man.
But of course, Edwards has been in the picture longer than that. He was announced as Sporting Director in November 2016 and played a pivotal role in the signing of Sadio Mané earlier in the summer. Even before then, he was one of the key men pushing for the signing of Roberto Firmino, as a now infamous article slating him as a laptop guru reminded us.
To suggest that Edwards had played a key role in the club’s progression even before Jürgen Klopp arrived would be stretching credulity to breaking point, but it’s clear that Edwards had moved through the ranks even before Klopp signed for LFC, and he was well on his way to being named Sporting Director, a role that Klopp wholeheartedly endorsed him for when Ian Ayre announced his departure in March of 2016.
One thing that cannot be denied then, is that Klopp and Edwards have worked closely together now for a few years, and for the entirety of Klopp’s tenure, this Liverpool squad has increasingly had Edwards’ magical touch all over it. It’s as much Edwards’ team as Klopp’s.
Under Edwards’ leadership, the transfer committee has endorsed and brought in Mo Salah, Andy Robertson, Dom Solanke, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Virgil Van Dijk, Naby Keita, Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri and Alisson Becker. That is an impressive roster, with seven of those players considered starters for the club and a staggering six of Edwards’ nine signings since his appointment are considered key players, with Salah, Van Dijk and Keita in particular absolutely elite players in their positions.
To give all of the credit to Edwards for those signings wouldn’t be fair, as Klopp also did a lot of the legwork, and the simple fact that Klopp has been at the club has helped. But in terms of selecting the players and getting the deals done, Edwards has been the key man.
And many of these deals have proven to be impressive in their own right, even beyond how they stack up on paper. Andy Robertson was negotiated as essentially a straight swap for Kevin Stewart and is a testament to Edwards’ intelligent scouting, as well as his ability to get ten million Great British pounds for Kevin effing Stewart. Salah was a negotiation that dragged on, with Liverpool refusing to pay over the odds until Roma, staring an FFP violation in the face, buckled. Oxlade-Chamberlain ended up coming to Liverpool for a bid lower than one Chelsea had already had accepted because he insisted on playing for the Reds.
But Edwards’ two main big deals remain VVD and Keita. VVD was a strange one, as Southampton buckled at the suggestion that Liverpool had talked to their player without their consent, as someone in the club leaked that the deal was done. After that debacle, Edwards, Gordon and their teams made two excellent moves, shutting down leaks in the LFC camp, and repairing the Van Dijk deal. VVD was a Liverpool player before the January window opened, and the club didn’t damage the relationship beyond repair by attempting to sign him in the summer window, or buy an inferior player, despite fans baying for blood.
The other Edwards’ masterstroke was Keita. Liverpool wanted Keita last summer, RBL weren’t playing ball. But Edwards managed to agree to pay his buyout clause a year in advance, somehow beating both Barcelona and Bayern to the punch. The hilarious but probably overstated story that Barcelona lodged a serious bid for Keita, only to be told he was currently undergoing a medical at LFC is another brilliant moment for this club – secured by Edwards.
Moving forward to this summer and Liverpool’s signings might be, on paper, less sensational, but they’re no less impressive. To get Fabinho done and dusted for a decent price within 48 hours of the season finishing, without anyone knowing, was pure Edwards, a mark of how swiftly and efficiently Liverpool were getting the deals done. Xherdan Shaqiri was an easy negotiation, as the Reds simply paid his buyout clause, but another piece of potentially canny scouting – and potentially an interesting gamble – by Edwards.
The main disappointment of the window so far has been Fekir, but that was hardly Edwards’ fault. Whilst we may never know exactly what went down, it’s clear that something unexpected arose during his medical, and Edwards might be many things, but a prophet isn’t one of them (that we know of). Either way, Edwards had picked the right player, got a really good price for him, and hashed out a deal before the World Cup.
And then of course, there’s Alisson, a man who truly fills a gaping hole in this Liverpool team. I think what’s impressive about the Alisson deal is that you would expect by this point Edwards to have picked the just plain wrong player at least once. But by just about every single plausible metric, Alisson was a perfect choice. He ticks just about every box. And whilst he was expensive, it was once again good negotiating from Edwards to get his price down and the deal done – albeit with a bit of sensationalism from the club about how much he had dragged the price down. Also admittedly, Liverpool were fortunate that Real Madrid decided not to make a barnstorming offer, and that Chelsea similarly didn’t drive the price up or put a wedge in the deal.
But as journos have pointed out, Liverpool are a club who have been forced to work in silence. Clubs have taken to attempting to hijack their deals, because Liverpool are a club who are developing a sterling scouting reputation, and their track record in the transfer market is speaking for itself. Moreover, it’s usually a good sign that elite clubs are targeting players Liverpool consider targets independently of Liverpool, and an even better sign that by the time they get there, Liverpool have already secured the player’s trust and services.
Again, not all of this is down to Edwards, as the name and philosophy of Jurgen Klopp plays a huge part in convincing players that Liverpool is the right club to come to. But Edwards is increasingly taking the role as the key man behind the scenes, and is working very hard to build a truly special Liverpool team.
What I like about Edwards is that he’s a good businessman. He recognises that maximising value is the key to selling players, and he was able to get every penny he could for the likes of Phil Coutinho and also Mamadou Sakho, but then also secure the sales of Danny Ings and Divock Origi for (hopefully) nearly £50m between them. And Edwards stealing money off clubs buying Liverpool players, as well as lowballing our targets like crazy, means that the club can afford to spend upwards of £50m on key players like Keita, Alisson and Van Dijk.
To answer the key question at the heart of the article, no I don’t think Edwards is quite as important to Liverpool Football Club as Jürgen Klopp. Edwards’ influence is exerted off the pitch in a way that is all-encompassing, and he is absolutely proving himself to be a pivotal part of this club, but Klopp is still integral to our transfer success, and of course, everything happening on the pitch.
What’s important is that this is as much Edwards’ team as Klopp’s, as he’s the man doing most of the grunt work behind the scenes, and has been working hard to make this club an attractive prospect even before Klopp took the job.
None of this, of course, would be possible if Edwards and Klopp didn’t work so well together, but with any team, there is a captain, a leader, a frontman, and then there’s the workhorse behind the scenes tying everything together.
In essence, Michael Edwards is earning his own statue outside Liverpool, if this team that he’s built can start to deliver on the trophies that he’s promising. Although frankly, he deserves one for getting £50m for Ings and Origi.