Transfers have their acts just like all stories do with surprises, themes, protagonists, antagonists, and settings among many other elements that combine to tell such a tale effectively. Naby Keïta’s potential transfer to Liverpool is starting to take shape just as Mohamed Salah’s stalled transfer was a simple story of posturing that would lead to a singular outcome: Salah leaving AS Roma for Merseyside’s finest. It was that familiar sound of inevitability; the sound of a deal that was going to happen before June stepped aside for July.
Keïta joining Liverpool seems to be a matter of money despite RB Leipzig’s understandable reluctance to sell a player that Red Bull will make an astounding profit on. The prospect of Virgil van Dijk following Salah to Anfield, however, is slightly more complex. Neither Roma nor Leipzig have a history of selling players to one club in particular with worrying regularity for their fans, and moreover, both clubs are beyond the shores of the Premier League. Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne, and Sadio Mané are all Liverpool players who used to shine in Southampton colours.
For the last three summers in succession, Liverpool have proven to be irresistible for Southampton stars. Rickie Lambert, now playing his trade at Cardiff City, is the only player signed from the South Coast club who Jürgen Klopp cannot count on as part of his restoration project. With the exception of the underwhelming but overconfident Dejan Lovren, former Southampton players in the current squad range from reliable to exceptional. Will a fifth join their ranks?
Virgil van Dijk is the Premier League’s defensive aerial king who towers over opponents, brings the ball out with consummate ease, and possesses the requisite intelligence and physicality to step up when needed. In short, he appears to be the perfect partner for Joël Matip. Manchester City and Chelsea wanted Van Dijk, but both were rejected in favour of a move to Liverpool. Manchester City have long moved on with Javi Martínez supposedly part of Pep Guardiola’s new defensive decor. Chelsea, meanwhile, have agreed a fee for Roma’s Antonio Rüdiger in spite of Antonio Conte’s ardent desire to be reunited with Leonardo Bonucci. The Quickening has occurred not once but twice, yet Liverpool remain far from an agreement with Southampton.
An apology for allegedly (well, clearly) tapping up a player hasn't altered his desire to move to one club and one club only. The Dutch international has recently started following Paul Joyce and Jamie Carragher on Twitter; despite Southampton’s insistence that star players won't be sold this summer, Van Dijk clearly wants out. He wants the bigger club, potential Champions League football, and wages that are rumoured to be between £180,000 and £200,000 a week. Only Liverpool can offer that to him now, and in any case, when two other members of the top six were pushing for an agreement with the player, he decided on Liverpool. It is not outlandish to think that his intention to leave has only intensified since the events of 7 June 2017.
Liverpool fans can crow about the futility of Southampton keeping a player when Klopp and the gang come calling, but a serious approach from Barcelona for Philippe Coutinho next summer would see him join Luis Suárez to make it two former Reds at the Camp Nou. However, the soothing presence of Naby Keïta, Virgil van Dijk, and Mohamed Salah as part of an improved and stronger squad that could cope better with the loss of O Mágico would provide a modicum of comfort compared with losing El Pistolero in 2014. Very few outfits can navigate through multiple transfer windows without being prey to the capricious hierarchy that exists in club football.
A report by Oliver Kay in The Times that confirmed “Van Dijk and Liverpool still hope a deal can be revived” was merely a statement of truth that should be clear to anyone who has followed lengthy transfer sagas before. The difference with Liverpool this summer compared with previous ones is that our hopes are being backed with cash that has already turned heads. Southampton did not prevent Morgan Schneiderlin moving for a world record fee for a midfielder but a purported agreement for a bid of over £10 million. Wages he missed out on for a season? Probably not over £100,000 a week. Compare this with Liverpool’s willingness to pay over £50 million for a centre back, a fee that surpasses that paid for John Stones and David Luiz.
Van Dijk is beginning to push with petty, passive-aggressive actions such as following key Liverpool voices in print and media on Twitter. He may unfollow them later, but this is the beginning of signs that will lead to the 25-year-old agitating for a transfer with only one path ahead: moving to Liverpool. Like Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah, Liverpool are in a position with Van Dijk and Naby Keïta where there are only two clubs at the negotiating table: a potential buyer and an unwilling seller. The rest comes down to money and possibly some form of considered compromise that can be spun as victory.
Liverpool will tread carefully when submitting an opneing offer, club-connected journalists might not be ahead of the story as they were a few weeks ago, Van Dijk may need to create circumstances where Liverpool can be presented as a possible solution to an increasingly unwanted distraction for Southampton and their new head coach, and a player who is entering his prime can secure a lucrative, long-term contract that will set him up come what may. Perhaps none of this ever comes to pass, but those transfer window dominoes have a way connecting to make that familiar sound of inevitability.