Former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, following his departure, made a point of bringing up a player who got away. Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli, a player Rodgers wanted but that the club had been convinced could be had at a bargain fee that caused them to drag out negotiations with Milton Keynes.
It gave Spurs the chance to swoop, paying just £5M up front plus potential add-ons. Alli now looks well on his way to becoming a star, and Rodgers has been quick to remind people of that. Now he’s added a second name to the list of players he wanted at Liverpool: Southampton’s star defender Virgil van Dijk.
“He could have jumped from Celtic to Liverpool,” Rodgers told the Evening Times. “It’s about where the player is at, at the time of their ability. Some club want to see the players tested first, but if there is enough belief in the player then that counts. The key for scouting is trying to predict when the player is peaking.
“You could see with van Dijk he was quick, strong, good on the ball and decent in the air. So what more do you need to see? You could see him playing international football. When I was at Liverpool I asked about van Dijk and he was at Groningen and then at Celtic, but I was told he wouldn’t be for us at the time.”
Hindsight, of course, makes it easy to point to what perhaps should have been, but for every van Dijk—a player Rodgers was interested in that the club didn’t pursue—there will be a Sadio Mané, who the club’s scouts and transfer committee identified as a potential key target heading into the summer of 2014.
At the time, Mané was the best attacking player in Austria, coming off a season when he had scored 13 goals in the league and a further five in Europe. Rodgers wasn’t convinced by the level Mané was performing against, and the eventual compromise saw the club sign Lazar Markovic from Benfica for £20M.
And for every Dele Alli, who Rodgers pushed hard for and in the end didn’t get, there will be a Christian Benteke—who he fought for to the point of making the club’s signing of Roberto Firmino, who the scouts and transfer committee wanted, dependant on the successful signing of Benteke at any cost.
Perhaps, in a world where both sides got the players they wanted and who have turned out in the end to be successes, things would have gone differently.