Thiago Alcântara goes against everything we might expect of a Jürgen Klopp and Michael Edwards signing based on pattern, but these differences emphasize the health and strength of Liverpool FC. As Thiago becomes a Liverpool player, signing for a fee of £20 million with a potential of £5 million in add-ons, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the weight of signing a world class midfielder at his level.
Under Klopp, Liverpool have purchased 15 first-team players (not including free transfers and youth signings), and even with 31-year-old Ragnar Klavan as an outlier these players come in at an average age at signing of 24 years of age. Klopp’s Liverpool, then, focus their transfers on the age group just shy of the Premier League’s “peak” age of around 26, with finished articles like Alisson and Virgil Van Dijk both coming in right at that peak.
Thiago is 29, and based purely on age would perhaps be an unexpected signing given the pattern, though his performance levels suggest he is by no means in decline. So how does his signing fit in with Liverpool’s business, and what does it tell us about the state of Liverpool FC?
For some time it seemed obvious that Klopp concentrates on signing players before they prove themselves on the highest stage — think here of Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah coming in as promising players from Southampton and Roma, or of Andy Robertson and Gini Wijnaldum joining the Reds from relegated Hull City and Newcastle. This is not something that has been abandoned as the team accumulates silverware, as the bargain pickup of Takumi Minamino in December 2019 from RB Salzburg emphasizes.
Of course, when it has been necessary Liverpool’s transfer team has spent big to bring in elite talent capable of making an immediate impact in the first team. The signings of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, both of whom came in at that peak age of 26, are the prime examples of this. In these instances where Liverpool spent big on players who immediately featured in the first team, however, they attracted elite talent who would see a transfer to Liverpool as stepping up to a bigger challenge on a bigger stage.
This is another area where a Thiago signing stands out. Thiago comes to Liverpool from Bayern Munich, who took over the European crown from the Reds and who have won the Bundasliga for the last eight seasons (while picking up the DFB-Pokal for the last two seasons as well). Prior to his move to the German giants, Thiago played a part in the dominant Barcelona side who won three La Liga titles and one Champions League (plus a Copa del Rey) during his time with the first team. With this pedigree, this move to Liverpool is more of a continuation on an elite stage rather than a leap forward for his career.
Thiago is therefore very different than any signing Klopp and his team have made at Liverpool, and he is the first player coming in who doesn’t need to show the world he can perform on this stage. Fans caught up in worrying about the club making signings in general might overlook what a Thiago signing means for the club: it speaks volumes about the position of strength the English Champions find themselves in. Though the Reds have been a top side for the past few years, Liverpool fans might struggle to recall the last time a proven world class talent signed for the club. That Liverpool can attract this caliber of player underscores the health of the club, though the Thiago signing alone does not tell the full story.
Unlike his time at Borussia Dortmund, since the loss of Philippe Coutinho in 2018 Klopp has managed to hang on to key players rather than losing them to competitors in other leagues. While having established players sign new contracts is less dramatic and exciting than new signings, having the squad settled and content is a crucial step if the Reds hope to maintain their dominance domestically and in Europe. With it looking like Gini Wijnaldum, the midfielder who played the most minutes over the past two seasons, will stay in Merseyside, the health of the club looks complete.
Thiago comes to Liverpool by choice as one of the world’s top midfielders over the course of the last decade, and has a penchant for picking up silverware wherever he goes. The fact that a player of his caliber strengthens a stable and elite squad — rather than coming in to plug apparent gaps — should excite Reds fans and terrify rivals.