Having made 217 appearances for seven clubs, it’s easy to forget that Steven Caulker is still only 24 years old. For a time, before he left Tottenham for Cardiff, he was considered perhaps the brightest English centre half of his generation. Things have all gone rather in the wrong direction since then, but Liverpool will be hoping their newest signing can rediscover some of his past promise at Anfield.
"It was very important for us," said manager Jürgen Klopp of the club’s decision to push through a move for a defensive reinforcement before any more time had ticked away in the January transfer window. "Four weeks ago, we didn’t know we’d have a problem with centre halves because they were all in the race. At the start of the season, Joe Gomez was also in the squad, so a fifth centre half. And then the situation changed completely.
"Now we’ve had to make a decision whether we want to get another player for the position. The situation is Martin Skrtel is not available for around the next four, five weeks. Then we have a problem with Dejan—it’s a little muscle injury. I think he’ll be available in one, two weeks. Then you have Mama with a little knee issue. He can play, but it’s not perfect and you cannot play him three or four times in a row. It’s the same for Kolo."
Nobody saw a defensive injury crisis coming. As Klopp pointed out, the club started the season with five centre halves and where they would all find enough minutes seemed the only real concern. Now, it wouldn’t be a shock for them to go the rest of the month with just Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho available—with the former increasingly showing his age and the latter hugely talented but nearly as injury-prone as Daniel Sturridge.
Even if Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren do stay healthy when they return, there’s a need for an extra defender now and a good chance any centre half that can stay fit will see at least occasional minutes the rest of the way. Enter Steven Caulker, who the club turned to after spending the first two weeks of the window failing to get a deal done for either Neven Subotic or Joel Matip. And a player Klopp hopes will hit the ground running.
"We looked for Premier League experience because it is a short time and you need that experience," said the Liverpool manager of his priorities when looking at options. "We looked for a good header, too, because that’s what we need. We want to press the opponent and so they have to play long balls. When they play long balls, you need people in the last line who can help you with headers. We’ve found that with Steven Caulker.
"He was not in the best situation at Southampton, didn’t play too much, but this is January and we want to have the best solution for us and we’re absolutely convinced that Steven is the best solution for us. I’m looking forward to working with him. He will be here today and we can start working, so everything is good."