Ozan Kabak looked quite promising for Liverpool last season; the youngster responded to the tough task of coming into the team part-way through a season and taking on the mantle of a senior centerback, and he did really well in that context.
Given this — and the centerback crisis of 2020/21 — it might seem baffling that the club has turned down the offer to sign him for £8.5 million. Indeed, many fans (including myself) are a bit upset at the choice, since a talented defender at under £10 million seems like a no-brainer.
The club might be wiser than us here, however. Liverpool can only register 25 senior players, and eight of these must be “home grown,” meaning the player must have been registered for an English club (or Welsh Club) for three years (36 months) prior to turning 21 (though the end of the season in which they turn 21 also counts). Notably, Under-21 players do not have to be registered.
Liverpool have seven Home Grown players at the moment: Coaimhin Kelleher, Joe Gomez, Ben Davies, Nat Phillips, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Andy Robertson does not count as Home Grown since he played in Scotland before doing only one year at Hull before the cut-off.
Liverpool also have seven centerbacks at the moment: Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joël Matip, Ibrahima Konaté, Nat Phillips, and Ben Davies. Given the Home Grown players constraints, it makes sense that the club would be weary to take up another space on the 25-man roster with an eighth central defender, despite the horrors of last season.
Remember, we’re down a central midfielder who has put in the most midfield minutes for a few seasons running, and we know we’ll be missing Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané for a brief period in January due to the African Cup of Nations (AFCON). It’s a heart and head moment — squad constraints mean it doesn’t make sense for the club to add another centerback even if the money, and the recent past, makes that seem very appealing.
What is also suggested by the Home Grown players issue is a few more sales given that the squad at present exceeds what we can register. Given that those sales were likely always going to happen, we might wonder if some of the reticence to get Kabak on the cheap might be because the club knows other non-Home Grown players might be on their way in...
Who knows — but don’t despair. Konaté’s signing tells us we certainly have money for the players that suit us, and passing on Kabak tells us we don’t feel a desperation to sign players that only seem suitable.