Jamie Carragher is right, Liverpool don’t tend to buy superstars. Speaking after the 1-0 win over Spurs, the former Reds centre-back heaped praise on Jurgen Klopp and the recruitment team at Anfield.
“It’s not that Liverpool are just buying players with this special ability that nobody else sees these players,” Carragher told Sky Sports.
“[Andy] Robertson came from Hull City, [Gini] Wijnaldum was relegated with Newcastle United, Mohamed Salah had been at Chelsea, Sadio Mane had been in the Premier League. They are not just going to the best clubs in the world and buying the best players. It’s okay buying players but it’s what you do with them. Sometimes we forget that.
“Once you have that player you have to improve them, and Jurgen Klopp probably doesn’t get enough credit for that, the work he does as a coach. Liverpool are not buying superstars, they are making them.”
This irked a number of rivals fans who seem to be against giving the Premier League leaders any credit.
Their rebuttal was that the Reds had spent world-record fees on players in an attempt to improve. It is true. For a period of time, Liverpool had the world’s most expensive centre-back in Virgil van Dijk and, for about a week, Alisson was the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.
Harry Maguire knocked the Dutch colossus into second spot while Kepa Arrizabalaga ousted the Brazilian No.1 when he signed for Chelsea.
Liverpool did break the bank to land those two players, but their arrivals coincided with Philippe Coutinho’s departure. His decision to quit Merseyside for Barcelona meant Michael Edwards had money to spend. So spend it he did.
But transfer fees aren’t indicative of the quality of a player. Many factors play a part in the fee so simply claiming high-value players are world-class is misguided at best. Market trends, contract length and the demand for certain positions dictate what selling clubs can charge for certain individuals.
BREAKING: Liverpool and Southampton confirm they have agreed a deal for defender Virgil van Dijk. Van Dijk will join Liverpool on January 1 and will wear the number four shirt. #SSN pic.twitter.com/BcYO7kbZg8
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) December 27, 2017
When Liverpool signed Van Dijk, every man and their dog claimed the Reds had overpaid. At the time, the Dutchman was out of form having failed to get a move away during the summer months and he was playing for Southampton. Manchester City reportedly baulked at the fee. And yet, just shy of his two year anniversary as part of Klopp’s starting defence, he was being named as the runner-up to Lionel Messi for the Ballon d’Or. Very few envisaged that to be on the cards when he signed for the Reds. After all, how can one player make such a difference?
Van Dijk impressed enough to garner attention from top clubs while with the Saints but it wasn’t until his move to Anfield that he took his game up another level. Liverpool scouted him enough to realise he could be a game-changer for them. They then backed Klopp to develop him, and he did just that. That is why the former Celtic man is now looked at as a bargain while many are claiming United have had their pants pulled down after watching Maguire at Old Trafford for the past six months.
It was a similar story with Alisson, too. Yes, he was turning out for Roma. Yes, he played in a Champions League semi-final and, yes, he was the first-choice shot-stopper for Brazil. But at the time of his arrival, he was a 25-year-old goalkeeper with one season as a starter for a team in Europe.
Unless you watched a lot of Serie A football, it isn’t likely you would’ve known much about him. To put it bluntly, the narrative surrounding his arrival was that Liverpool had paid twice as much for him as City had paid for Ederson, and he’d had just one good season.
Edwards and the recruitment team clearly saw something, though. For example, it feels as though his shot-stopping ability is unrivalled. With him between the sticks, Liverpool kept the most clean sheets in the Premier League and the Champions League. He helped Brazil win the Copa America and was named as the first winner of the Yashin award – a way for the best performing goalkeeper to be acknowledged.
The Reds didn’t pluck Alisson from an obscure team in a random league. They did, however, note his potential. They made him a key cog in their system and he responded to make the £66million Liverpool parted with look cheap. Kepa, on the other hand, has failed to live up to the hype at Chelsea.
Funny how both Maguire and Kepa are struggling while Van Dijk and Alisson flourished. Almost as if coaching plays a part in all of this.
But this story isn’t exclusive to the big purchases. Many teams overlooked Fabinho and Andrew Robertson. The same summer the latter arrived at Anfield, City spent £50million on Benjamin Mendy. The Frenchman is more known for his social media antics after a series of injuries while the Scotland captain is now ranked as highly as Jordi Alba. United paid £50million for Fred and City paid £65million to sign Rodri while Liverpool managed to land the former Monaco man for £39million. Yet prior to his injury, he was considered by many to be the best defensive midfielder in Europe.
Then there’s the front three.
Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah cost less than Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sane. They cost a little bit more than what United paid for to sign Romelu Lukau and Daniel James. Arsenal spent more on Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang than Liverpool did on Mane, Firmino, Salah, Shaqiri and Wijnaldum.
If the Reds sold Salah now it would cover the cost of Pepe and Aubameyang. That just highlights what clever scouting, shrewd recruitment and good coaching can result in.