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The TLO Roundtable: Liverpool’s 2016 Summer Transfer Window in Review

Was Liverpool’s transfer window a success? We review the summer of 2016 and look ahead to what comes next.

Arsenal v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Liverpool’s transfer window has drawn mixed reviews from fans and pundits, with some pointing to early bargains and others focused on net spend and positions many believe needed to be strengthened and weren’t. We asked the staff of The Liverpool Offside to give their take on the transfer window. Was the summer of 2016 a success, or did it end with Liverpool still lacking at key positions?

Liverpool wanted a marquee signing and look to have found one in Sadio Mané. Improvement in defence was required, so in came goalkeeper Loris Karius and centre back Joël Matip. Greater dynamism and goals from central areas should be addressed by the arrival of Georginio Wijnaldum. Alex Manninger and Ragnar Klavan are squad players, while Marko Grujić is a midfield prospect.

Seven players in with far more leaving as Jürgen Klopp strengthened and tightened up his squad without European football this season. Klopp has a six-year contract for a reason, and while his aim is to make Liverpool as competitive as possible this year, he can afford to wait for the players he really wants if they aren’t available right now.

Mahmoud Dahoud, Ben Chilwell, and Christian Pulisic were targeted. Liverpool weren't willing to meet the asking price for Chilwell, while the other two were unavailable this summer. If those transfers happened, the club would have spent more than was brought in. There is no conspiracy or lack of ambition. This is Klopp's way of working.

That James Milner is starting ahead of Alberto Moreno suggests there is a problem at left back. That Liverpool cannot control games in midfield hints at a lack of composure in central areas. Klopp tried to bring players in to remedy that, and will presumably do so again.

Liverpool bought some good players early enough to be part of pre-season, sold unwanted players for excellent fees, and grudgingly kept Mamadou Sakho. We know Liverpool have moved forward a step. Now it’s time to see how big that step is.

I like that we got all of our business done quickly, and I think it's given Klopp a chance to begin to make these individuals into a real team and that we’re already starting to see that come together.

I think Mané was good business and will turn out to be a real steal. The jury is still out on Karius due to his injury, but no matter how things pan out, I'm happy at least that we went out and addressed a key position of need by getting a new goalkeeper. I also have high hopes for Wijnaldum and Matip.

I'm admittedly disappointed about the lack of a left back signing, but when it comes to defensive midfield, was resigned to not getting one of them months—nay, years—ago. With that said, I am genuinely excited to see more of this team, so I think that's a good sign.

I try to look at our transfer window without focusing too much on what the club have done relative to the competition. Not that it’s irrelevant, but because obsessing about the competition is sometimes counterproductive—we have to worry about our own shop first. My questions after each transfer window tend to be: what would I have wanted to accomplish within the window, and to a lesser extent, what does the actual activity tell me about the manager’s objectives?

From that perspective, I’m reasonably satisfied with our business. We addressed some key areas of need in Karius, Mané, and Matip; added a competent deputy in Klavan; and secured a bright prospect in Grujic. Wijnaldum remains a puzzle to me, not in terms of quality, but more in how he will be used. Most importantly, we found new homes for players who were never going to see serious playing time with the first team. I said towards the end of last season that I felt Klopp was gathering information, and I suspect that’s still true to a degree.

My sole regret—and time will tell if I’m being overly pessimistic—is that, given the squad’s spotty injury record, we don’t really have dedicated, experienced cover for Emre Can (speaking of, what the hell even is a “capsular injury”?), Clyne, or Jamberto Milreno. At least not the kind of cover I feel confident about. But it’s Klopp’s first summer in charge, and perhaps you can’t win ‘em all.

At the end of July, it was a solid B+ window, and I don’t think a month of inactivity or a mad dash by others towards the end of it to throw money at average players and positions of marginal need—Everton spending £30M on the inconsistency of Yannick Bolasie or Tottenham piping them with £30M for Moussa Sissoko as a depth signing—changes that. Liverpool got their business done early, and they got it done on the cheap.

In light of the way transfer fees continued to rise in August, Sadio Mané now looks a relative bargain. And the club had some genuine bargains, too, in Loris Karius and Joël Matip. Take away Karius’ release clause and Matip’s availability on a free and that’s £45-50M worth of players in the current market. Bump Mané up to £40M and he wouldn’t look badly priced. A lot of Liverpool fans have been bothered about ending up with a net profit, but it’s not like the club weren’t getting important, high-quality players in—they just weren’t paying the going rate.

So the club got its shopping done early. And got some genuine bargains to strengthen positions of need. Yet, despite the manager’s protestations that controlling midfield depth wasn’t needed and James Milner is a left back, sitting on the outside it’s hard not to view those as weak areas that haven’t been addressed. Certainly the club had time and money to do so. So Klopp must be happy. And mostly I am, too. But I’m also a little nervous about what happens if Emre Can struggles with injuries this season.

Transfers are more often than not a total crapshoot. To borrow from great sports philosopher Jerry Maguire, they’re like popcorn in the pan. Some pop. Some don’t. And even more confusing, some pop a couple years later after they’ve been written off.

All of which is to say that I think we did reasonably well. Replacing Simon Mignolet was a top priority, and something we managed to pull off on the cheap. Of course, Dejan Lovren’s head is the blunt instrument of the football gods, unleashed whenever misery needs to be inflicted on a whole fanbase. So it was with Southampton. Then Liverpool. Then Dortmund. Now Liverpool again.

Mané and Matip, though, look like the real deals, and it’s too early to pass judgement on Wijnaldum. We clearly tried and failed to bring in targets in the center of the park, and for some reason Klopp thinks it’s cool at leftback in this moment. So, I’ll trust the boss. Do I wish more had been done, particularly in the glaring areas of weakness? Sure. But equally, I’m happy Klopp & Co. aren’t just throwing money around on targets they don’t really want.

We didn’t do anything weird this year. That at least feels good. The players who have gone weren’t surprises. And the club brought in new players that Klopp wants to work with and that he believes improve the team.

I don’t get bothered about the money. Whether a player is free or expensive doesn’t affect my outlook. And I don’t like to think about any players having to “live up to” their transfer fee. I like round pegs in round slots. Square pegs create drama. And the next thing you know fans are screaming for a triangle. Klopp brought in some very good round pegs over the summer in Matip, Karius, and Mané. Klavan is very assured, experienced defensive cover. Grujic is young and promising. Wijnaldum is a bit of a question mark, okay, but he’s a proven goal-scorer in the league and definitely has the manager’s trust.

The season will have ups and downs. They always do. But we are going to be watching a very talented squad grow together under the manager’s tutelage. Mistakes will be made. But I’m all in on supporting Klopp’s long-term plan. Time. Patience. Growth. I’m giving this window a score of bacon on a scale of lettuce to a bunch of bacon.

As fans, would we have all liked to have two-starter caliber players in every position à la Manchester City and Chelsea? Of course. But viewed in isolation, you have to give Klopp pretty good marks for this window. For the first time in a long time, we could all see a concrete philosophy, unity of purpose, and decisiveness in the manner in which the transfer window was conducted: Klopp identified the targets early who would fit his vision, pursued them with vigor, and signed them with quickness. There was no waffling, no haggling, and no Tottenham/Arsenal swooping to capitalize on our dithering (though there were perhaps a few bidding war losses to Borussia Dortmund). We were mostly done by August.

We scream left back, but Klopp surveyed the market and in his assessment—you know, as a multi-Bundesliga winner and Champion’s League finalist—there wasn’t the combination of quality, fit, and value in the market that, in his estimation, compared favorably to his options currently in the squad. We moan about depth, but in every signing save for Alex Manniger and Ragnar Klavan, Klopp has brought in players with the quality or potential to start on any given day, not simply benchwarmers. We also forget about how versatile some the players in his squad are along the back line and how easily Joe Gomez had usurped the LB spot from Alberto Moreno at the start of last season before his unfortunate injury. Gomez, once back to full fitness, takes that spot again for me.

Due to our poor showings in Europe and the league over the past few years, Liverpool doesn’t play in the same transfer league as the Citys, the Chelseas, or the Uniteds. As a transfer destination, our first goal should be to aspire to rival teams such as Atletico Madrid and Dortmund for players, teams that are perennial and ambitious achievers lacking the same marketing glamor as their more illustrious domestic counterparts. And from that point of view, you’d have to say we’ve done smashingly for an 8th place team that isn’t playing in Europe.

I feel pretty secure in our signings, and I like that we got them out of the way quickly and on the cheap. We didn’t spend a ton, we didn’t bring anyone in out of the blue in a desperation move, and we got things done with enough time for the squad to get some time in together in pre-season. I’m not envious of the clubs that did all their work on Deadline day.

Honestly, I think I’m happier with who we were finally able to find homes for and saving us some money in the process. We may have taken some losses on individual sales, but we made space and got unwanted wages off the books. Clearing out a lot of deadweight is almost as important as the depth that we built, and I’m really glad we were finally able to do that with no real hurt feelings and bad blood.

Would I have liked a left back? Yeah, maybe. Some part of me hoped for a miracle signing they’d been keeping secret all this time, like when we signed Roberto Firmino and it barely felt like it took more than a day, but I’m not surprised that didn’t happen. And I’m trying this new thing where I tell myself these guys doing the deals actually work with and know the team better than I do so… maybe I’ll trust their judgement. I know, it’s hard. But we’ve got 35 more games to play and another window four months from now. I think we’ll be okay.

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