Just pay them what they want and get the deal done. It’s a common refrain amongst armchair footy fans, watching their favourite club like it’s all just a big game of Football Manager. Pay a little more, get the deal done, then go out and win all the trophies. Simple and sorted.
The reality of course is that it’s far from simple. There’s a limit to spending, there are budgets and Financial Fair Play factors. There’s knowing that if you overpay in one place it may mean missing out somewhere else, or not having the flexibility to offer a breakout star at the club better wages in six months.
As the summer transfer window progresses, though, it’s hard not to look at Liverpool’s continuing pursuit of Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keïta and not want to say that; to not want the club just to go and do that. Because as the transfer window progresses, it’s becoming clear there isn’t going to be room to haggle.
Liverpool got in early for Mohamed Salah and, with Roma needing to make a major sale before the end of June, they haggled their way to a £36M deal. On Van Dijk and Keïta, though, faced with talk from both clubs that they value their players at around £70M, progress has been slow.
It’s been slow because even just a month ago, those fees seemed to many to be ridiculously high. It’s been slow in part because Liverpool will have been hoping that the transfer window would have proven them to have in fact been ridiculously high, giving the club room to haggle a little.
Instead, the window has proven the exact opposite, and £70M for each of Van Dijk and Keïta seems more reasonable by the day—to the point it wouldn’t be surprising to see their clubs up the asking price. Even with the help of the players agitating to get a deal done, £70M no longer looks unreasonable.
Or at least in football terms it doesn’t. In broader terms it’s all rather ridiculous. In a world where in the past week Manchester United have agreed to pay up to £90M for Romelu Lukaku and City have stumped £50M for Kyle Walker and Swansea have rejected a £40M bid for Gylfi Sigurðsson, though?
In that world, £70M for Van Dijk and £70M for Keïta no longer looks like a club trying to warn off a potential suitor for a star player—it just looks like the cost of doing business. Liverpool had hoped that the market and those two players’ desire to join the club would give them room to haggle.
Instead, it looks as though they might be lucky to get them at prices that even a month ago looked ridiculous and excessive. If Liverpool really do want to get the deals done, the way the market has gone over the past week has made it clear that, like it or not, they’re going to have to pay up.