A world record fee. It’s not something you get very often. Certainly it’s something not many Liverpool fans expect to hear in conjunction with their club, not in a world where clubs like Manchester City can throw around money like they’re printing their own and the continental giants target the world’s very best.
It’s what Liverpool and the club’s fans got, though, with the signing of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton in a deal that will see the 26-year-old Dutch centre half join the club on January 1st. The fee will, based on most reliable reports though unconfirmed by the club, be at least £70M and could reach £75M.
As Jürgen Klopp’s first choice defensive target—the one player at the position in all of football the Liverpool manager wanted to sign and who he was willing to wait six months for without signing an alternative after missing out on him in the summer—what matters most is that, in the end, Klopp got his man.
If Liverpool fans trust, as the club’s owners quite clearly do, that Klopp is the man to return their club to greatness, then all that matters is that the manager got the one player he really wanted. The cost, the delay even, doesn’t really matter set next to that. Still, £75M is an awful lot of money for a centre half.
It’s maybe not, though, quite as much as many would intuitively think it. That’s thanks to transfer fee inflation, which has taken off wildly in recent seasons, especially in England where increasing television revenues have spiked fees and wages paid and fuelled wild spending sprees by even many bottom-half sides.
So. About transfer inflation. In 2002, Rio Ferdinand became both the most expensive English player and most expensive defender when Manchester United paid £34M to sign him from Leeds. Taken in isolation, it’s a number doesn’t seem so high now—yet with 15 years having passed, it very much is.
Based on the calculations done by The Tomkins Times last summer—which may be a touch outdated now given transfer fees only ever seem to inflate but at the very least won’t be expected to have lowered—Ferdinand’s 2017 fee equivalent would be a little more than £136M. Or nearly two Virgil van Dijks.
Chelsea’s Ricardo Carvalho, signed for around £20M two summers after Ferdinand, would cost around £100M at 2017’s prices. More recently, in 2014, Manchester City paid £40M for Eliaquim Mangala. Inflation has been so rapid over the last three summers that his equivalent fee today would be a hefty £73M.
What Liverpool have paid for Van Dijk is a great deal any way you come at it—there’s no way it looks cheap or a bargain in any light. But other clubs have paid more, in real money-value terms, and spending what Liverpool have on Van Dijk certainly looks better than spending the equivalent on Mangala.
And, in the end, he was the player Jürgen Klopp wanted and the club’s owners backed their manager to go and get him. That, really, is the only thing that matters at the end of the day.