Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren has continuously been linked with a move to Italy this summer.
The Croatian centre half, 30, was a rumoured target for A.C. Milan, with the Rossoneri apparently eager to lend a central defender this summer.
Now, however, it appears the San Siro side have competition for the former Southampton and Lyon man’s signature from their Serie A rival’s, AS Roma.
According to a report in La Gazzetta Dello Sport, Roma have turned their attentions towards Lovren after being frustrated in their attempts to prize Toby Alderweireld from Liverpool’s Champions League final opponent’s, Tottenham Hotspurs.
Roma, whose owner and chairman James Pallotta is a personal friend of Liverpool chairman Tom Werner, hope that their close working relationship with the Reds can help them sign Lovren for a reasonable fee, with a figure of €18M mooted.
Liverpool signed Mohamed Salah from the Giallorossi in the summer of 2017, before returning and acquiring the services of Alisson Becker the next summer, and now Roma hope the transfer traffic goes in the other direction.
Lovren, who arrived at the Reds from Southampton for £20M in the summer of 2014, is a divisive figure among the Liverpool fan base.
Many argue that the Croat, who reached the World Cup final with his nation in 2018, is much improved from the accident-prone and lapsed mind player that arrived and was tasked with being Brendan Rodgers “defensive rock”. There is a prominent school of thought that suggests that being partnered next to the vocal and commanding Virgil van Dijk curbs Lovren’s many reckless footballing tendencies and lessens and simplifies his defensive remit.
Other’s, however, are adamant that the defensive unit, organisation and alignment has improved rather than Lovren individually and his many errors — such as two in the Champions League semi-final of 2018, ironically against Roma — are glossed over because they have not always cost the team points.
What is indisputable, though, is how frequently the Croat is injured. Since Lovren has joined Liverpool, he has missed 34 league games in total — almost the equivalent of a full domestic campaign — with a succession of knocks.
With a deal that runs through to 2021 and which earns the former Southampton man in excess of £100K a week, the European Champions are shelling out a significant amount of money for a player who — thanks to the form of Joel Matip and Joe Gomez — is their fourth choice centre half.
The reports from Italy tally with what the respected Liverpool reporter for The Times wrote earlier in the summer. Joyce, one of the most trusted sources of Liverpool news, suggested that Lovren would be available if a fee of £25M was met by another.
From a financial perspective, it would make sense for the Reds to cut their ties with Lovren this summer.
Of course, if the Croat, who came through the Dinamo Zagreb academy, leaves then he will need replacing. His replacement may already be at the club, however.
Sepp van den Berg, 17, signed for Liverpool from Dutch Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle in the summer for a fee of £1.3M which, provided performance related clauses are met, could rise to £4.4M. Due to his age, it was assumed that the towering centre half would be a signing for the academy rather than the first team. After all, it is extremely rare for players in a position as cerebral as centre half to be given an opportunity at a young age.
Having been handed the number 16 shirt and playing regularly in the Reds’ pre-season tour of America — once his interminable wait for international clearance ended — it appears that the red-headed centre half, who has been named in Liverpool’s extended squad for this coming weekend’s Community Shield with Manchester City — is viewed as a first-team player.
The Dutchman may not have Lovren’s experience, but he does possess latent ability and malleability. Whereas Lovren has hit his peak as a footballer, van den Berg — who has already played 26 times in the Dutch top league — has the scope to improve exponentially.
And who better for the Dutch U19 international to learn from than his compatriot and fellow left-sided centre half, van Dijk.
If there is an idyllic scenario to blood a young defender, it is from a position of strength. With Liverpool the Champions of Europe with a team possessing the world’s best centre half, van Dijk, arguably the best goalkeeper, Alisson, and a borderline world-class defensive midfielder in Fabinho, there is no better time for van den Berg to learn the ropes.
With natural talents in spades, Sepp van den Berg could replace Lovren short term and in the long run prove yet another shrewd piece of transfer business from Michael Edwards and co.