Every time I read (or write) about the latest Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe speculation, there’s part of me that really wants to believe it!
Watching them in the Champions League this season has been one of few enjoyable things about football in 2020/21 – but let’s get it straight: if Liverpool don’t qualify for next season’s tournament, our chances of buying either go from slim to zero.
Mbappe has a contract offer from PSG of around £25m/year on the table, which is just under £500k/week – double what Liverpool’s top earners get as basic.
Haaland is financially more realistic, but Borussia Dortmund will still demand £150m for his services.
And for all the Nike, LeBron James and RedBird Capital £530m investment, FSG are not spending that on a player unless someone is exiting.
I have no inclination of touting Mo Salah and Sadio Mane around Europe for a cash injection to arm spending, like what happened with Coutinho in 2018 – so this piece is on the basis of FSG sticking to trading patterns. You can only go on the evidence.
So what exactly does FSG’s transfer history show us…?
Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp do not spend a lot of money without getting a lot back in. According to Transfermarkt, the best authority on all things regarding player cost, Klopp has spent a net total of £110m since the 2016/17 campaign, which was his first summer in charge.
Manchester City are on £568m. United, £498m. Arsenal, £308m. Even Sheffield United, £116m, have a bigger net-spend in that time, despite spending three of those seasons in the Championship.
Leeds United's net spend over the past five seasons is £83m. That's only £27m less than Liverpool's (£110mm) and they were in the Championship for four of them.
— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) March 24, 2021
Even when you consider the Coutinho money, we’re still way behind our rivals. It’s crazy what Klopp has achieved on such a budget – and equally crazy that when he needed some urgent help in the market this January, he was made to wait until deadline day for a 20-year-old loanee and a player whose contract was expiring in the Championship.
But that’s by the by. What this shows us is that Klopp will likely be armed with a mid-table budget, plus whatever he and Michael Edwards can make in sales.
Obviously, I know the transfer process is far more complex than this. There is no concrete budget, with LFC always open to opportunities, while transfer fees are amortised over the duration of a contract for accounting purposes. For example, Thiago’s transfer fee is cited everywhere at £20m, but we only paid £5m for him this year.
That being said, it’s not that tricky to roughly predict the numbers Edwards and co. could be working with this summer – based on past windows under FSG.
Liverpool need a centre-back (well, duh), a striker to replace/compete with Roberto Firmino and a central midfielder of class to step into Gini Wijnaldum’s boots. Probably a winger, too.
FSG, will allow Klopp to bring in these players, providing we balance the books with some outgoings.
Who’s for sale – and how much money could it make Liverpool?
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a brilliant lad and the dressing room will be a sadder place without him, but he’s gone stale at Liverpool. He simply doesn’t get enough chances and needs a move for his own benefit. A West Ham-type could pay £20-25m, happily.
Divock Origi, club legend, is in the same boat. £15m and we’ve done well.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s a good player, but not one who consistently delivers. More importantly, we have Harvey Elliott who can do his job better coming back from Blackburn Rovers. £10-15m is not out of the question.
Marko Grujic, £15m. He’s just qualified for a Champions League quarterfinal with FC Porto, after all. Harry Wilson is an annoying one. Previously, he would have fetched £20m-odd. Now, clubs have realised he’s available for nothing on loan every year. His deal expires in 2023. If we can get £8-10m we’ve done well. Sheyi Ojo, £3-5m. And the interesting one, Taiwo Awoniyi. Five goals in Bundesliga this year, aged 23. He’ll never make the grade for us, but £8-10m or so seems fair for a striker yet to peak who has found the back of the net in Belgium and Germany.
If Edwards manages to sell all of these for the money I’ve speculated, we’ll be laughing – as it equates to £95m… But there’ll be a few for whom no buyer emerges – and we’d consider recouping £60-70m in sales during another covid-affected summer as positive.
A centre-back, a midfielder, a winger and a striker – who’ll come in for the money?
Let’s look at the profile of players Liverpool have bought under Klopp – usually. We’re going to ignore the Alisson and Virgil van Dijk deals, as they were a direct result of the Coutinho sale.
Normally, it’s players under the age of 25 who’ve started to show serious promise at a non-elite side in a top-five league. Joel Matip, Sadio Mane, Gini Wijnaldum, Mo Salah, Andy Robertson, Fabinho, Naby Keita, Diogo Jota…
There are exceptions, but this is the usual profile, and actually, the profile with which we’ve had the most consistent success.
So, the centre-back… I actually think Liverpool will go quite boring here and take up the permanent option on Ozan Kabak for £18m. He’s not been perfect, but he’s decent and he’ll already be settled in. Hypothetically, that’s options of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Kabak and Nat Phillips next season. With Fabinho as an emergency. Another option would be Marseille’s Duje Caleta-Car, if Kabak fails the rest of the audition, but I’m very much hoping he doesn’t.
In midfield, we need someone around 25-years-old, who can dribble his way out of a phone-box and perfectly obey Klopp’s tactical instructions. The reason Wijnaldum plays more than Naby Keita is because he’s incredibly disciplined. Declan Rice and Youri Tielemans are good, but they’ll cost a Premier League premium. I like Fabian Ruiz at Napoli – a beautiful technician – aged 24. He’s tall, too, which our midfield needs – and Serie A clubs sell when pushed. If not, Yves Bissouma is a nice option. He’s aggressive and has a superb engine which needs replacing. One of these would cost between £30-40m, I reckon.
Raphinha is the perfect wing-forward option. He’s following the trajectory of Mane: doing well in a smaller European league, signed by a smaller PL club and showing flashes of genius, before switching to Liverpool under Klopp. Leeds will want proper money, but the player would likely jump at a move and his agent Deco has already made noises about a summer transfer. £40-50m would do the job.
Now, the striker. Here’s a name you may not have heard much about, but I like it. Dusan Vlahovic at Fiorentina. The Serbian is 21-years-old and has 12 Serie A goals this term. Linked with Real Madrid and Rb Leipzig, Vlahovic is a very, very skilful left-footer with power, speed and a knack of being in the right spot at the right time. He can do that Harry Kane thing, too, where he drops deep and acts as the link-man for onrushing wing-forwards, which would suit Mane and Salah perfectly. He’s not yet a household name, and many Reds will be confused by my choice, but he’s a potential star. £35m is the figure mooted in the papers. Patson Daka is also creating headlines, but Liverpool likely won’t want another player who’ll be absent for a period during the AFCON.
Dušan Vlahović has taken big steps in his development this season. Better with his back turned against the goal, smarter movement, better decision-making, more involved in the game. On top of that he’s still a clinical finisher. Big potential in the 21 y/o Serbian international.
— Maxi (@MaaxiAngelo) March 21, 2021
So there you have it – Kabak, Ruiz, Raphinha and Vlahovic. Four players under the age of 25 with enormous upsize potential who will have the benefit of Klopp, Pep Lijnders and genuine minutes next term. And by my almost guess-work, around £130m cost – not an unspendable amount given the number of players we’re hoping to move on…
Of course, maybe we’ll go and spend £150m on Mbappe or Haaland – but it’s smarter to work on the assumption that Liverpool will follow tried and tested patterns developed under FSG.
Let’s see what happens – although there’s a Champions League to win first – which might slightly alter proceedings!