It is largely considered a certainty that Liverpool, the reigning European, World and — in a matter of weeks — English champions will not stand pat in the transfer market in the summer. Thus, every day the seemingly obvious Timo Werner transfer remains unannounced, rumour mongerers, professional and amateur alike, grow ever more impatient, and as a result, new and inventive hearsay must appear.
Most recently, former Sunderland goal machine Kevin Phillips told Football Insider that Erling Braut Haaland, the Norwegian prodigy who moved from Red Bull Salzburg to Borussia Dortmund just two months ago, would be a perfect signing for Jürgen Klopp.
“Mane and Salah are not out and out strikers. It might be an area Klopp looks at in the summer. It is a slight issue,” the Sunderland legend claimed. “They lack an out and out goalscorer.”
“Haaland – imagine him playing for Liverpool as their number nine. Mane and Salah playing off of him and Firmino just behind. Wow. Imagine that front four. I could see him there. I think his movement – he can travel with the ball and hold it up.”
“If you sign a player like that you make it work. It would be an awesome front four.”
Now, this idea falls apart for three reasons. The first is the notion that Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah are not strikers. The two shared the Premier League golden boot last season, and Salah is the holder of the single-season record for goals scored in the league, as well as the highest number of goals scored in 100 games for Liverpool. Both look set to break the 20-goal barrier again this year, as they sit 3rd and 6th in the goalscoring charts with nine games to go.
While the two Africans may nominally start in wide areas, the way Jürgen Klopp structures his attack ensures that they both end up within in the frame of the goal as any given attack terminates, explaining their prolific records. Bringing in an “out-and-out striker” alters that dynamic entirely and means that you have no Firmino to pull centre-backs out of position in order to open up space for the de-facto goal getters in the team.
Dropping Firmino into an attacking midfield role behind a front three with a more central striker is not a new idea — in fact Klopp has utilised it on a number of occasions — but it is clear that it is not, and likely won’t be, his first choice. Bringing in a player for that specific role — particularly at the exorbitant fee Haaland is certain to command — thus seems extremely inefficient, a word not particularly compatible with how Michael Edwards does his work.
Secondly, while Haalands top-line goalscoring numbers are outrageous, netting a goal every 57 minutes for the Germans since arriving in Dortmund, the underlying stats do not suggest this is in any way a sustainable output. A conversion rate of 47% is about twice what can be expected from an elite striker, and a 57% overperformance on his expected goals is similarly unlikely to continue, with 20% the benchmark for elite attackers.
Whether this overperformance is down to random chance, tactical oddities or unmatched talent is difficult to say, but fans with a incredible long-term memory may recall Paco Alcácer’s 2018/19 season at Lucien Favre’s Dortmund, where the Spaniard produced 18 goals, one every 66 minutes, at a 35% conversion rate and about 80% over his expected goals. Needless to say, the former Real Madrid man has since regressed to his regular numbers.
Finally, and most importantly, Haaland is represented by Mino Raiola. Liverpool does not deal with Mino Raiola. An anecdote passed on to this writer tells of a negotiation the Reds had with a young prospect just last summer, where Raiola suddenly turned up unannounced as the player’s unofficial representative, and the Liverpool officials simply got up and left the room. The Reds have been burned by the Italian before, and do not intend to make the same mistake again.
There are other considerations; price, personality, and wages, to name a few, but the above three go a long way towards explaining why any word about Haaland being Liverpool bound are in all probability entirely made up.