John Stones to Manchester City: £47.26m. Shkodran Mustafi to Arsenal: £34.85m. Eric Bailly to Manchester United: £32.3m. Mats Hummels to Bayern: £29.75m. David Luiz to Chelsea: £29.75m. Samuel Umtiti to Barcelona: £21.25m. Ezequiel Garay to Valencia: £20.04m. Ashley Williams to Everton: £11.9m. Jannick Vestergaard to Borussia Monchengladbach: £10.63m.
Joel Matip to Liverpool: FREE.
Signing the former Schalke defender on a Bosman this summer was a mindbogglingly smart piece of business from Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.
As the introductory list shows, centre-backs go for serious money in today’s transfer market, especially when English clubs are buying. If some of the names above don’t reveal the story, remember Sunderland turned down £18m from Everton for Lamina Kone…
But as has been mentioned, Matip cost nothing. And that’s because under Klopp’s guidance, Liverpool are forward thinking transfer geniuses. We hatched a plan to sign the Cameroonian back in 2015, aware that he’d be freely available to approach come the turn of this calendar year. The wheels were in motion, phone-calls had been made and by February 15th (my birthday, actually), the Bosman transfer was confirmed.
“I am very happy. Everybody who knows him would have been interested. Maybe he’s not the most famous player in England, but he’s 24 and has played about 200 Bundesliga games for Schalke. He is a top-class centre-half, very young but experienced. You don’t have that too often. To be honest, I knew when I joined my next club, I would think about [signing] Joel,” Klopp told the official website at the time.
This kind of dealing suits Klopp. It’s wily, frugal, clever – it sticks two fingers up at the competition who are forced to splash out multimillions on unreliable defenders in a misguided attempt to keep their heads above water. Klopp does it is his way, and Matip is very much his centre-back.
Despite the introduction of Matip (and Loris Karius at the back), Liverpool’s defence has been criticised this term while the attack is lauded, but Klopp is entirely confident that a backline led by his man will thrive.
“We are not weak in defending. If you want to say this, do it – I don’t care. I know we aren’t,” Klopp told the Telegraph after this weekend’s Southampton stalemate which included our second clean-sheet of the campaign.
“Look how we defend, how Dejan Lovren and Joel defended these counter attacks. I didn’t see much better.”
What’s the more, the stats suggest a Matip influenced defence isn’t doing too badly at all. Remember, we’re yet to lose a game with him in the side.
Since Matip’s introduction, Liverpool have conceded nine goals in ten Premier League matches. (We let in five in the two he missed.) He concedes less than a goal per game and he helped us register a clean-sheet in the EFL Cup win over Derby, too.
Standing at 6 ft. 4′, Matip’s great in the air and has shored us up when aerial deliveries are launched into the box. He chooses when to tackle and rarely goes to ground, while leading Liverpool’s squad for interceptions and blocks. Positionally, Matip is perfect – showing a fantastic understanding of when to push up, when to drive into midfield or when to follow a runner. In terms of his attributes though, it’s his composure that makes him stand out as a centre-back of the highest pedigree. The 25-year-old oozes coolness under pressure when being pressed and has the technical ability to drive into midfield and pick a pass, usually having wrong-footed an onrushing midfielder. His presence helps us maintain possession and start attacks from deep, while he’s clearly been a big help for the occasionally erratic Lovren, too.
What’s more, he’s not even reached his defensive peak, is new to the world’s most competitive league and isn’t even burdened by international football – having ostracised himself from the Cameroon squad.
Perhaps the most impressive tool in Matip’s armoury though is his consistency. Lovren’s ever-improving but his nightmare versus Crystal Palace a few weeks back suggests the Croatian will always have his defensive demons. Ragnar Klavan’s come in and been great, but had a stinker against Burnley, the only Premier League match we’ve lost this term. Lucas is a wonderful servant, but having seen his clanger at home to Leicester, he’s unlikely a long-term option here. Even frozen out Mamadou Sakho induces nerves, rather than calm, even when at his best. Do not underestimate the importance of Matip’s weekly 7/10 performance. It builds confidence, trust and on-field relationships, although he was undeniably a 9/10 at St. Mary’s…
What’s certain is this: Matip is looking like the best bargain of the summer and the cornerstone from which Klopp will build Liverpool’s long-term defence.
When fans discuss the greatest ever Bosman signings since the rule’s inception, the likes of Sol Campbell, Michael Ballack and Gary McAllister are, quite rightly, bandied about. Matip, though, has both the ability and manager to join this illustrious list, which is even more impressive considering the mean price of half-decent footballers in 2016.
(Fees according to Transfrmarkt)