Are Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp right to stand still in transfer market?
Lack of signings makes sense, for now at least
It is quiet at Anfield this summer. Too quiet, perhaps?
The sum total of incoming transfer business so far is one player: Sepp van den Berg, a highly-rated 17-year-old centre-half. Harvey Elliott, a 16-year-old and the youngest player to ever appear in the Premier League, may follow from Fulham. Whether Liverpool sign anyone old enough to buy fireworks in this country remains to be seen.
It is not as if there are not spaces to fill. After the departures of Alberto Moreno and Rafael Camacho, there is no competition or cover for Andy Robertson at left-back. Daniel Sturridge’s exit leaves a vacancy in the forward line. Simon Mignolet could stay, though a new backup goalkeeper will be required if he leaves.
And yet, no major arrivals are expected. Persistent speculation surrounding Lille’s Nicolas Pepe, who would likely cost in excess of £60m, has been forcefully dismissed. Jurgen Klopp is happy to stand by a squad which won the Champions League and recorded the club’s highest-ever league points total. Is he right to be?
The only area of the first-team squad that could benefit from a major signing is the forward line, as cover for Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino. Last season, not one of those three suffered a lengthy injury. With all of them playing tournament football this summer for the second year running, Klopp will do well to be so fortunate again.
Liverpool’s only senior cover up front is Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri, who will be sidelined for some time after reporting back to Melwood carrying a calf problem. With Mané involved at the Africa Cup of Nations until mid-July and also potentially missing the start of the season, there is a clear short-term case for an extra body in attack.
But Klopp usually ignores such short-term impulses. Remember, there was no alternative to Virgil van Dijk in the summer of 2017. There was no immediate replacement for Philippe Coutinho the following January either. The last sticking plaster he signed was Steven Caulker.
How about a long-term case, then? Up front, but also across the rest of the squad, a number of key players are approaching their peak. Salah and Mané are 27-years-old. Firmino will turn 28 in October, just as Van Dijk did last week. Jordan Henderson celebrated his 29th birthday in June, as Georginio Wijnaldum will in November.
This is a result of clever squad-building by sporting director Michael Edwards, who planned ahead of the curve for years to deliver a group of players in this sweet spot of youth and experience. That planning produced this truly great team, the champions of Europe no less, and a season that was two points short of being arguably the club’s greatest.
The calculation now, it would seem, is that the same group of peak-age players can reach a similar level of performance one year on without significant additions. It is probably the correct assumption. But as Klopp, Edwards, director of research Ian Graham and others at Melwood know, the cliff edge is coming.
This time next year, the squad building will need to start again. To remain competitive, signings at level of Van Dijk, Alisson and Fabinho may need to be made, and they may only be possible if difficult decisions have been taken elsewhere. As owner John Henry recently confirmed to The New York Times, those three players do not join without Coutinho’s sale.
That, simply, is the financial position that the club is in. Rank their revenues against the rest of Europe’s elite over the last five years and Liverpool place on the lower rungs, lagging behind Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United in terms of income. Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are stronger commercially.
Winning the Champions League should help, but Liverpool still need to be smarter than their rivals. That means acquiring more undervalued talent like Wijnaldum or Robertson, as and when it is required. It could also mean selling one of Salah, Mané or Firmino in a year or so, while they can still command a Coutinho-level fee.
And it may also mean sitting out of the current window, to replenish resources ahead of busier summers to come. From Henderson’s signing in 2011, this squad was eight long and uncertain years in the making. Patience, prudence and taking a long-term perspective has brought Liverpool back to the elite. This season, the hope is it will sustain them there too.