Werner and FSG: Why It's Okay To Be Somewhere In The Middle
It has been a while.
With no football on the radar during the COVID-19 shutdown, Liverpool supporters have been reduced to reminiscing about lifting their ninteenth league title in July. With the Reds looking certain to win the Premier League at a canter this season after thirty years of hurt, the other positive developments for the club came off the pitch, in the transfer market.
There has always been one player who appears to be a dead cert to sign for Jurgen Klopp’s men every summer. Last summer, Nicolas Pepe, and the years preceding that it was Thomas Lemar and Nabil Fekir. The latter had even flown to Merseyside to finalise a move in 2018, and when a leaked photo of him in a Liverpool shirt completing an announcement video did the rounds on the Internet he looked certain to prise a move. However, just as his medical was complete, Liverpool then rejected the player, with conflicting reports being thrown around by the press with regards to the reasons for the club pulling out.
An unerringly similar situation has folded out in recent days. Timo Werner, a 24-year-old striker from RB Leipzig has been widely touted to be one of the finest talents of this current generation. His goalscoring career in Germany no doubt speaks for itself; he has netted 31 times in 40 appearances under Julien Naglesmann this campaign, and 92 in 154 appearances overall since joining in the 2016/17 campaign.
With a record like that, it hardly takes a rocket scientist to understand why he has been so widely touted for a move to Europe’s elite clubs in the last few years since rising to prominence. Manchester United, Chelsea and Bayern Munich have been just a few names who had been reportedly interested in the German’s services. However, as well as those clubs, Liverpool had also been entering the race as early as 2018 – when the 24-year-old delivered an interview in which he stated his desire was to play in the Premier League.
With Klopp’s German connections with Werner prominent, and his confessed adoration of the striker, a move didn’t seem beyond the realms of reality. However, the move had taken an even bigger turn when the pair had even been reported to have met in a Zoom call back in March. Suddenly, every fan of the Anfield club was bracing themselves for Werner’s inevitable move in the summer – with many pondering how he’d fit into the Reds’ system.
RB Leipzig could’ve been forgiven for wanting such an extortionate price tag for Werner, given his deadly and predatory goalscoring instincts in Germany in the last four years. Yet, remarkably, despite the speculation about his hefty price tag, the German club only demanded £49million of his release clause to be paid. With both parties seeming at home regarding the move, it seemed a certainty to go through – with the formalities set to be complete.
But, in a strikingly similar manner to the aforementioned Fekir transfer that never happened, news broke out on Thursday evening that Liverpool would no longer be pursuing the player – with Chelsea instead set to fulfill his release clause and wages.
The reaction to the move has been inevitably horrible, with much of the fanbase divided in two. On one hand, are the perennial ‘FSG Out’ brigade, who have been voicing their consternation over the lack of transfers over the last 12 months in the fear of rivals retaliating next season. On the other side of the spectrum, are the more positive sets of supporters – namely perhaps ones who have been around following the club for decades. They strongly believe that there are no grounds for complaint with regards to the lack of money being spent, with the club having made significant strides on the pitch with several records shattered and trophies won.
Rewind to summer of 2019. Liverpool have just finished second in the Premier League, finishing with a record 97 points but still not winning the league to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who were particularly rentless in the title run in. However, the season ended with the small consolation of a sixth European Cup win against Spurs, ending the wait for a first trophy under Klopp.
The general consensus was, the club should’ve built on an extraordinary season in which they fell agonisingly short in the league, by strengthening their depth. Yet the summer’s activity in the transfer market was muted, with young players Harvey Elliott and Sepp van Den Berg arriving at Anfield, as well as stalwart goalkeeper Adrian from West Ham.
Many supporters had voiced their chagrin at the lack of major signings, given title rivals Manchester City had swooped for £70million midfielder Rodri from Atletico Madrid, and £60million for Joao Cancelo from Juventus. Because of the lack of arrivals on L4, Man City now become everyone’s favourites to complete a third title win in a row.
Yet what happened next is hardly oblivious to Liverpool supporters at all, 12 months on and the club is now primed to win the Holy Grail; what all of the club’s fans have craved so painfully since 1990. So, considering this side of the argument, maybe they have a point.
Another is the argument against FSG; that they have seemingly stripped the club of its identity by refusing to move for big-money players. Whilst, the lack of transfers last season and the loss of Werner’s services will be a body blow for the club, it’s hardly the case such that they’ve not given Klopp the funds to spend. For all of the criticism over their furloughing move in April, the developments of Anfield and moves for the aforementioned key players of Klopp’s squad says otherwise. When you compare Fenway Sports Group’s track record since taking over in 2010 to that of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who nearly forced the club into administration, it suddenly puts things into perspective.
But, of course, that’s only half the story. Since 2018/19, needless to remind, the club has won the Champions League, the Club World Cup, the Super Cup and is destined to win the Premier League title this year regardless of circumstances. The rewards of the success on the pitch wre translated to financial rewards off of it; in February, the club announced £533million had been made in turnover for the financial year 2018/19. Add to that the record kit deal secured with Nike months ago, and claims that Liverpool pulled out of the deal due to ‘financial reasons’ seem incredibly bemusing.
Also, perhaps more worryingly for the Reds, is regarding their prospective attacking predicament during next year’s African Cup Of Nations. With Mane and Salah due to jet off during January and February next season, their loss will take a clear toll on the squad. Although recent reports are speculating that the tournament may yet be pushed back to 2022, if at any point next season the duo get injured/ruled out. Liverpool’s other front three options include Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino, Roberto Firmino and Rhian Brewster (with Xherdan Shaqiri likely to leave this summer along with Harry Wilson). Especially with the club to be in the title race again next year, this could potentially be a make-or-break period for the side.
You only need to rewind back to Liverpool’s depressing January 2017, when only 3 points was picked from 12 available without Mane’s services. Of course, Liverpool have very much evolved as a team under Klopp since then, but the concerns over the lack of depth available up top without the spark of Mane or Salah are justified looking at it that way. Werner would’ve been the ideal option during such an arduous period, even though it may have required a potential rejig of the current 4-3-3 system to fit him in as a first-team starter.
So, whilst this fanbase very much remains split over Werner’s move to the Frank Lampard’s Blues instead of joining the Reds, there is one thing that needs to be remembered. There is always a middle ground; you don’t have to be a sheep amongst the ‘FSG Out’ brigade, nor do you have to adopt some of the forceful views defending the aforementioned owners and Klopp. Both views are not mutually exclusive, so let’s get this saga out of the way and roll onto seeing Henderson’s trophy shuffle in July.