Tapping up is football’s equivalent of smoking marijuana.
It’s illegal, but falls between that slender cleavage of crimes by the letter of the law and crimes actually worth reporting. You’re not going to dial 999 because you see someone lighting up on the street or smell cannabis’ pungent odour creeping over a hedge in your local park, partly because nearly everybody’s tried it at least once in their lifetime.
Those who paid thousands of pounds to go to university probably spent a large chunk of it frying their brains, listening to Pink Floyd records and ordering a smorgasbord of extra-large pizzas at four in the morning.
Tapping up is a similar deal, at least in the sense that everybody does it despite it being against UEFA laws. In fact, in football’s modern economy, you’d be mad not to ask a certain player if he wants to join your club before tabling a £50million transfer bid, for the sheer embarrassment and time-wasting rejection would cause. Thus, my next question is obvious – why did Southampton threaten to blow the whistle on Liverpool over their pursuit of Virgil van Dijk?
Liverpool and Southampton have a cosy relationship in the transfer market; Liverpool sign Southampton’s best performing players after any given season and the south coast outfit pick up a large wad of cash in return, usually double or triple what they paid in the first place. In fact, Southampton have made a near-£80million mark-up on the five players to move to Anfield over the last three years.
Likewise, there is no question Southampton tap up players as well, which is why they’ve managed to get their hands on some of the most promising prospects on the fringes of European football – such as van Dijk, former Celtic team-mate Victor Wanyama, Sadio Mane and most recently Sofiane Boufal – since returning to the Premier League. To think their deals have been conducted with complete honesty and transparency would be naïve.
Yet, Liverpool tapping up van Dijk despite their well-established relationship with Southampton smacks of one thing – taking the St. Mary’s outfit for granted. The working assumptions at Anfield are that Liverpool are a bigger club than Southampton – and therefore any Southampton player would want to sign for them – and perhaps most condescendingly of all, Southampton will toe the party line, obediently nodding their heads around the negotiating table until a transfer fee that both clubs can live with is agreed.
That’s the perception anyway, one of arrogance, assumption and snobbery, and it couldn’t be summed up better than Liverpool icon John Aldridge’s recent take on the VvD saga, suggesting he would be able to force a move to Liverpool by going on strike.
He didn’t quite instruct him to do so, but it’s nonetheless an incredibly disrespectful comment to make about another Premier League club – one that actually finished two places above Liverpool just two seasons ago – and Aldridge must know his voice carries weight in the Liverpool community.
“Players and their agents hold all the power these days and if he says he won’t kick another ball for Southampton and demands a move, it will happen. Tapping up goes on all the time in the game and even if Liverpool went a bit far in their pursuit of Van Dijk before they spoke to Southampton, I don’t believe this transfer story is dead in the water. Van Dijk needs to make the next move and I reckon he will tell Southampton that he wants out and he wants to go to Liverpool.”
Would Aldridge be making the same kind of statements if the shoe was on the other foot? Well, his comments surrounding Raheem Sterling’s arduous move to Manchester City suggest probably not. In 2015, he said…
“His agent’s got to realise the predicament he’s got this lad into. The way he’s gone about handling the situation with Raheem is pathetic. Surely the agent could have sat down and come to an amicable arrangement with Liverpool. This lad is still serving his apprenticeship as a footballer. He is better off where he is and his agent should see this. I feel sorry for the lad because obviously he knows the agent well, he believes everything he says, and he is leading him down the garden path.”
He also insisted Sterling is “too young to think for himself.”Of course, there are differences between the Sterling and van Dijk situations, not least including their ages and the influence of the England international’s controversial agent Aidy Ward. But claiming a young Liverpool player would only want to join Manchester City because he ‘can’t think for himself’ doesn’t stack up well against suggesting a Southampton player should go on strike to force a move to Anfield.
And then there’s the small matter of what Aldridge said about Fernando Torres when he left Liverpool for Chelsea in January 2011…
“Fernando Torres is a fake and a fraud who has spat in the faces of the Liverpool supporters who idolised him. He seemed to embrace Liverpool’s values but now we know he didn’t mean it. It wasn’t real and I’m sure he will be saying the same things about playing for Chelsea. Torres is simply a mercenary who has gone for a huge pay rise.”
Not to mention his recent fears about Liverpool becoming a feeder club for Europe’s elite – the exact situation Southampton currently find themselves in…
It seems any player wanting to leave Liverpool either has no control over their own fate or is the scum of the earth, but those who want to join the club should consider refusing to honour their contracts to make sure a deal gets over the line.
That’s a disturbing contradiction, especially considering the Reds haven’t been the biggest club in England for nearly three decades, and although Aldridge was speaking freely as an individual rather than a representative of of Liverpool Football Club, his comments encapsulate the exact thinking on Merseyside – that any deal they desire involving a Southampton player is essentially a foregone conclusion.
What likely infuriated Saints most, however, is the fact they should be in the driving seat over van Dijk’s departure. He’s one of the best defenders in the Premier League, if not the best, will undoubtedly have intrigued most of the major clubs in world football ahead of the summer and signed a six-year contract extension at the end of the 2015/16 season.
Southampton have a right to try and sell to the highest bidder or, if they truly desire, keep the Netherlands international at St. Mary’s for the next few years. Liverpool attempted to bypass that and get their hands on the wheel by tapping up. Now, after failing to do so, one of the club’s voices in the media believe it’s time for the player himself to force the move.
I’m sure Aldridge had no intention to cause offence, he gave an honest answer to an honest question. But his response epitomises the arrogance that often surrounds Liverpool and most particularly their relationship with Southampton. You certainly wouldn’t find Aldridge suggesting Philippe Coutinho should go on strike to force a move to Barcelona, so why is it acceptable for the Liverpool legend to make those declarations about a Southampton player – or for that matter, any player from another club?
Southampton have every right to feel aggrieved; they’ve created a transfer model that accepts the realities of the modern game, but that doesn’t mean they can be taken for granted. Alrdidge, meanwhile, has such a subjectively superior opinion of Liverpool he’s become tied up in his own hypocrisy – and inadvertently, the Premier League’s most controversial transfer saga so far this summer.