Liverpool are out of the Jude Bellingham race. Some will hold out for another twist to the long-running transfer saga, for it to turn out to be simple posturing over price and payment structure in their negotiations with Borussia Dortmund for the young English international, but as the dust settles it appears likely that this news can be taken at face value.
The club have decided that £130M or more spent on one player is simply too much, no matter how good that one player might be, and that given the scale of the rebuild needed it would be reckless to commit that amount to his signing. Stripped entirely of any larger context and viewed in isolation, that argument might even carry an air of plausibility.
The problem comes when you set that superficial plausibility up against the club’s refusal to address its clear need to rebuild the midfield over the past two summers—while telling the world part of the reason for doing so was there was only one target that would do and that target was Jude Bellingham, who even last summer would have cost at least £100M.
Liverpool have been publicly chasing Bellingham for the better part of two years, and fans have been given the very clear impression he was seen as transformative, similar to Virgil van Dijk a few years ago. Even more so, perhaps, given his age, a 19-year-old who’s one of the first names on England’s teamsheet and grew up idolising Steven Gerrard.
Bellingham turns 20 in June, and England’s generational midfielder was meant to return to the country this summer to become the Reds’ new midfield anchor—and probably in time its captain, too—not just for years but for a decade or more. That was the story fans have been sold for two years. That it would come with a hefty price tag was always known.
The £130M being talked about now that Liverpool say they’re out is higher than the prices talked about last year, but it can hardly come as a shock. It’s been clear £100M would be the floor for this transfer for since at least last summer—and taking into account transfer inflation and a post-Covid rebound for the market, higher was always far likelier.
There is no imaginable universe where the club could’ve expected to sign Bellingham on the cheap. Backing out now like acting surprised at cost is, more than anything, insulting to fans who have had the prospect of Bellingham dangled in front of them for two years to excuse delays to the midfield rebuild—bar a deadline day loan of Arthur Melo, at least.
It’s not just the fans likely feeling deflated today, either. For the club’s English contingent in particular, the promise of Bellingham’s arrival at times seemed almost as intoxicating as it was to the supporters, with Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold spending the past few months leaning into the possibility of Bellingham joining in the summer.
Then there’s the timing of the news, all of Liverpool’s journalists briefed at a time that feels almost as if it’s intended to do maximum damage to what faint hopes of a top four finish are left to this struggling, inconsistent side. This isn’t a team or fanbase that needed to be any more deflated with nine games left in their season. Today, they very much are.
Some will continue to hold onto hope that this is all posturing and negotiation, and perhaps it is, but that’s a hard hope to square with the fact that the club will have known—given everybody on the outside most certainly did—their need for midfielders and the kind of price tag the player would come with by the time the summer of 2023 rolled around.
Liverpool held Bellingham out as The Answer for two years. They knew what they were getting into. They knew they risked an aging midfield’s decline negatively impacting results. It will take some doing now for this to be remembered as anything but a colossal failure of recruitment, with everyone from Jürgen Klopp to the owners holding a share of blame.