Late last summer Jurgen Klopp spoke passionately about Liverpool’s transfer ethos, an ethos he had long placed great belief in going all the way back to his first club Mainz. There would be no marquee signings, he insisted. Instead the Reds would target players best suited to his intensive style of football. Team players. Hard working players.
The Anfield faithful were understandably frustrated. They saw Klopp’s former prodigy Ilkay Gundogan move to Manchester City. They rolled their eyes as Mario Gotze once again slipped from their grasp. The back pages of tabloids meanwhile were dominated by Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba going to that lot up the M62 for mega-bucks.
They remained frustrated even when Liverpool picked at their familiar carrion of Southampton this time relinquishing them of Sadio Mane for £34m. The Senegalese winger was a fine purchase but still failed to get the collective pulses racing, or at least not on the scale that they’d vainly hoped for. Yet they understood. Jurgen Klopp doesn’t sign superstars. He makes them.
One year on and despite now having the considerable lure of Champions League it seems increasingly likely that Liverpool are persisting with their sensible mandate with history very much repeating itself. Concerning their problematic left-back vacancy latest reports put Gael Clichy and Hull’s Josh Tymon in the frame, talented defenders both but hardly of a stature that renews season tickets in abundance. Elsewhere Manchester City continue to pursue Monaco’s brilliant Benjamin Mendy: for ten times the price, sure, but also arguably ten times the promise.
If this sounds like barbed criticism of Klopp’s transfer policy then unquestionably it is not. His track record in identifying the ‘right’ player for his team – particularly during his first four years at Dortmund – is beyond dispute. Furthermore Liverpool are hardly intent on unnecessarily penny-pinching with big-money pursuits of Virgil Van Dijk and Roma’s Mohamed Salah proof that the Merseyside giants are happy to flex their financial muscle should it benefit them accordingly.
Yet we go back to that one word, the word that signifies something far more than pragmatic upgrading and common-sense recruitment: marquee.
Perhaps Liverpool have been put off from taking such outlandish risks on outlandish talents since they brought Mario Balotelli back from Italy, he was a marquee name solely filled with hot air. They were certainly burned badly by their costly failed investment in Andy Carroll who, at £35m, now seems a perfectly reasonable purchase but has become a barometer of folly to compare all others to.
With arch-pragmatist Klopp at the helm and FSG playing banker it’s not feasible to expect such extravagances again anytime soon. Instead they have identified five areas in need of improvement and they will target five players who ideally fit the Liverpool ethos and who are available within their financial structure.
There will be no tumbling down a rabbit hole in search of a one-man wonderland and there will absolutely be no todger-measuring with their closest rivals.
Which is fine of course. Indeed it is more than fine: it is commendable.
Yet there is an argument to be made that perhaps it is in Klopp’s and the club’s best interests not to eschew the fantastical. Just the one mind. A bank-busting, headline-grabbing signing that raises the eyebrows and flutters the fanbase’s hearts.
I am putting no names forward here and purposely so. Despite it being about the need for an individual to flourish in a unit it’s not about who that individual might be. It’s about the type. A marquee name. A marquee player.
What they offer only Coutinho and Firmino can presently: the ability to unlock defences and produce the spectacular when cohesive toil has hit a brick wall. These special few lift morale both in the camp and across the nation on their arrival; they inject a belief that something amazing might be possible before a ball has been kicked. Granted they hog the spotlight but that only allows team-mates to forage successfully in their shade.
Like Liverpool supporters I understand Jurgen Klopp’s aversion to such types, really I can. But it would be a crying shame if his side click this year with the same ferocity and adventure as they did the first half of last only to fall short due to an absence of individual magic.