This time last summer I was wondering what exactly James Milner added to our midfield that Jordan Henderson didn’t already give us, why we would loan Lazar Markovic out when our only other wide option was a 19 year old Jordon Ibe, whether we had only signed Adam Bogdan based on one decent game he had against us, and what Brendan Rodgers’ masterplan was to implement Christian Benteke into our side.
The summer before that was equally baffling. There were numerous decisions that left me mystified, such as signing Dejan Lovren for £20m when we’d turned down the chance to sign him from Lyon for £8m the previous year, the seemingly purely sentimental purchase of Rickie Lambert, and massively overpaying for Adam Lallana to make him our big summer signing in a summer when we had the appeal of Champions League football to offer. However, if those all sat well enough with you, it was also the summer we signed Mario Balotelli. That one doesn’t need any elaboration.
So strange transfer activity is something we’re used to as Liverpool fans. However, the hope was that with Jürgen Klopp now running the show, we’d start to see more shrewd, intelligent use of our funds. There have been many theories about how our infamous transfer committee may occasionally interfere, and that may be the source of our erratic behaviour in transfer windows. But my take on it is that the manager has always had the main say, and the first and last word on every transfer.
We had a pretty promising start this summer, with Joël Matip already acquired on a free transfer, Marko Grujić bought and returning from his loan spell, and Loris Karius brought in for a bargain fee due to his release clause.
Sadio Mané was the strange one, as it immediately rang alarm bells simply due to us once again negotiating with our go-to club Southampton. And once again, they seemed to get themselves a very good deal. But you just had to put that down to Klopp getting his man no matter what the cost, utterly convinced that Mané is the man to give us what we’re missing up front. And, to be fair, in this market £30m isn’t the sky-high fee it used to be, and is probably the loose equivalent of £15-20m of two or three years ago due to the huge television deal that has come in to give clubs more spending power.
So we can just put a pin in all that for now. The transfer – or non-transfer – that has really had me baffled, has been our relentless pursuit of Udinese’s Piotr Zieliński. Liverpool have been weak in central midfield for a few years now, and everyone assumed it would be one of the first areas Klopp would look to address when he got the chance. The fact that we targeted Zieliński backs this up, but he’s not really the controlling midfielder we’ve been craving. He usually played on the right hand side of a midfield three during his two-year loan spell at Empoli, and was allowed to a lot of attacking freedom.
It was actually his midfield partner, Leandro Paredes, who pulled the strings in midfield, and ironically would probably have been a more suitable transfer target for us. Zieliński likes to get on the ball and bring it forward, and roam into advanced areas as attacks develop. If that is what we felt we needed, we already have Henderson and Milner who do it as work-horses, Joe Allen who does it as a technical midfielder, or Philippe Coutinho or Adam Lallana if we wanted more of a playmaker to start from deep.
Of course, if Zieliński was a top quality midfielder, you’d just accept that we’re bringing in a great player and will make use of him where possible. But, decent as he is, I’d hesitate to describe him as any stronger than that. Udinese deemed him not good enough for their midfield, and he failed to get into any of Poland’s starting line-ups at the Euros. What’s more, you’ve got to wonder exactly how highly we rated him, if we’re so hesitant to pay the £15m he’d cost despite seemingly making him our first choice target for midfield.
Then yesterday, my bewilderment developed as we made quick strides to target Georginio Wijnaldum after finally accepting defeat in the Zieliński saga. Wijnaldum is a similar player, so it certainly seems that Klopp sees a drifting, ball-carrying midfielder as a gap in our squad. Yet, the Dutchman is being touted as costing £20m+, a fee that we are reportedly happy to pay. It surely doesn’t make much sense to baulk at paying £15m for your main target, but then be happy to pay an extra £5m for your second choice?
Another story dragging on is our attempts to sign Ben Chilwell from Leicester. Like with midfield, we know that left back is a weak area for us, and we desperately need to improve it. On an individual basis, you can see why we may not want to pay the £10m for Chilwell, as a young, inexperienced player in the last year of his contract. But if, out of all the left backs in world football we could realistically go for, Chilwell is the one our scouts have decided is the best fitting to improve us, is it really so much? Would we rather have a glaring weakness at left back and £10m in the bank, or just pay the sum and improve the squad? Or if we don’t think Chilwell is worth £10m, why aren’t we moving on to a better left back who is? What we know for sure is that Alberto Moreno can’t be relied on, so we’re only shooting ourselves in the foot if we dig our heels in.
We also seem to be gathering a stockpile of centre backs without having any outstanding ones we know we can rely on. Lovren has yet to fully win me over despite a steady season last year, and Mamdou Sakho is constantly getting niggles. The £4m move for Ragnar Klavan isn’t a bad one, but word is that Klopp still wants more cover after that. Failing to shift Tiago Ilori and Andre Wisdom for whatever reason would then add them to the list of Sakho, Lovren, Matip, Klavan, Gomez, and the one more new signing to give us eight centre backs on the books. Surely that’s overkill?
Only the end of the transfer window will end speculation and tell us for sure what business we’ve managed to get done. And even then it will probably take until the end of the season and beyond to properly judge whether we’ve been successful or not. I’m sure supporters of every team scratch their head occasionally in perplexity of what their club is doing. But the safety net for me is that I know we’re acting under the guidance of a manager who has been there and done it all before, so it may not be surprising if a lot of what we do goes completely over my head until I get to see it in practice. On paper it may not seem to add up, but as long as it comes together on the pitch, none of us will be complaining.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)