Part 2: Transfer Business
The arrivals of Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Andrew Robertson last summer and then—eventually—Virgil van Dijk mean there was a lot to like about Liverpool’s business over the past year, but with the season now ended do you count the club’s transfer dealings an unqualified success or are there still places where they came up short?
Klopp is putting together quite an impressive transfer record with Liverpool. Like I said yesterday, I am very excited about this summer’s transfer window, but last year’s success almost makes me nervous. Did we use up all our luck? Was nabbing Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Robertson, and Van Dijk and coming away with a net gain too lucky? We lost Coutinho, it’s true, but he was always going to go, and we wrung Barca dry for him, which I appreciated in a deeply vindictive way.
It wasn’t perfect, though. The biggest mistake was not finding a replacement for Coutinho. They had to know he was going to go in January, and not planning for his departure cost us in the spring. With Emre Can on his way out, it’s crucial that Liverpool rectify this mistake with plenty of quality depth in midfield and attack this season. Nearly as frustrating was the terrible hash they made out of the Van Dijk transfer in the summer. They fixed their mistake by January, but how much did those lost months cost us? It wasn’t the first time this transfer committee got pinged for tapping-up a player either, but I’d like for it to be the last, please. Or if it’s all apart of the game or whatever, at least do it better.
I have no complaints about the transfer dealings from last summer and from the mid-season window—that’s how well they did. Yes, the timing of Van Dijk’s arrival was unfortunate, but it takes two to tango, and ultimately there’s not a lot to be done if the other club insists on the whole cut off nose/spite face thing.
I thought the way the Coutinho situation was handled was an immense gamble at the time. And I don’t think that assessment has entirely changed. I will say that Klopp apparently has an almost unreal understanding of what makes his players tick, and it probably didn’t seem like that big a gamble to him. Regardless of how the final turned out—and who knows what effect Player X might have had on this squad mid-season—I think you’d have to say Klopp won that gamble.
I think we pretty much got everything right in the transfer market, personally. There’s a case that we should have done more, with the squad looking awfully thin during the last month or two of the season. But the club has clearly taken a “don’t panic” view of the market, with a preference for not signing anyone over signing the wrong player. Arsenal, for example, panicked over the Alexis Sanchez sale and spent a lot of money on two ageing players who haven’t quite set the world alight at the Emirates. I’m much happier sitting on the Coutinho money for six months than just splashing it on whoever was available at the time.
In terms of who did come in, everyone is rightfully happy with the performances Salah, Robertson, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Van Dijk have put in. I do think Solanke isn’t quite getting his due credit, with poor finishing maligning some excellent all round performances (expected goals and assists pegs him as better than Salah this season, albeit in a tiny sample size). If he can fix that one area of his game, I think we’ve got a really good player on our hands.
This is easy. This season’s transfer dealings, in terms of the names that eventually came through the door, have been an unmitigated success. Recall the hit list that leaked prior the opening of the last summer window: Ryan Sessegnon, Julian Brandt, Virgil Van Dijk and Naby Keïta.
Who did we ultimately bring in? Andrew Robertson, Premier League record goal scorer Mohamed Salah, Virgil Van Dijk, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Naby Keïta, albeit on a delay. Except for missing out on a potential superstar in Sessegnon, Michael Edwards was able to secure every target or better. Sure, we can quibble about the timing on the Keïta and Van Dijk moves, but Ox arguably was the (wildly successful) stopgap for the Guinean while Van Dijk was worth the wait and was in the frame for the most important parts of the campaign down the stretch.
We picked the right people and got everyone we wanted or better. If there was any failings it was in not recruiting for depth in midfield and attack, with injuries to Ox, Emre Can, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson for large chunks of the campaign causing problems down the stretch.
Player identification is A+. The transfer team do a fantastic job of picking the right players for the kind of football Klopp wants us to play. The actual acquisition part may need some work—though having already signed Fabinho, maybe they’ve sorted even that—and despite getting two excellent players in van Dijk and Keïta, the fact that we had to wait six and 12 months for them might just have been the difference between 4th and 2nd in the league and 2nd and 1st in the CL.
Dominic Solanke hasn’t been particularly useful, and with depth up top being so shallow, not fortifying on that end could be considered a mistake, as could the risk of allowing Coutinho to go unreplaced, but this largely comes down to the specifics of the market.
At this point, I think it’s safe to say when Klopp along with Michael Edwards and the transfer team—formerly much maligned but so crucial in the signing of Salah and Robertson last year—come to a consensus, any new signing is going to work out. It’s an oddly confident place to be in after years of transfer misses and failed compromise targets. If there is a problem in the last year’s recruitment, then, it’s that the single-minded focus on getting that one right guy can sometimes lead to not getting anyone.
In the end, sometimes, it still works out—see eventually getting Van Dijk in January. At other times, both last season and since Klopp’s signed on, it’s led to a lack of depth that’s cost the club, and there’s a good case not having a capable attacker to replace Salah against Madrid is a big part of why Liverpool lost the Champions League final. Given Liverpool can’t match the spend of a club like Madrid—or City or Barcelona or PSG—though, that’s something we probably just have to come to terms with.