Liverpool have already signed Darwin Nunez, sold Sadio Mane and tied Mohamed Salah down to a new deal – all before flying off for their pre-season tour. It’s been a characteristically efficient summer of business for the Reds.
The departure of Michael Edwards as sporting director raised concerns that Liverpool may lose some of their edge in the transfer market, but his successor Julian Ward has wasted no time in showing that he is a more than capable replacement.
The signing of Nunez from Benfica for a projected club-record £85m fee was wrapped up in a matter of days, with Ward jetting out to Portugal to seal the deal ahead of rivals Manchester United, seemingly unperturbed by Mane’s surprise decision to leave Anfield. Within a week of signing his replacement, Mane’s exit to Bayern Munich was confirmed.
Liverpool’s outlay on Nunez marked a clear change in transfer strategy, as they broke the club’s transfer record with a deal that could potentially rise to €100m for the 23-year-old Uruguay international. Jurgen Klopp said in 2016 that if such figures became the norm in football “I wouldn’t be in a job anymore”.
In the background, Liverpool were able to secure the arrival of two teenage prospects. Attacking midfielder Fabio Carvalho signed from Fulham while right-back Calvin Ramsay joined from Aberdeen.
But, perhaps the most important business of all by Liverpool this summer, was managing to agree to a new contact with Salah after almost a year of protracted negotiations. The Egypt international, who has signed on for three more years at Anfield, has become the highest-paid player in Liverpool’s history, earning £350,000 per week.
Here German football expert Rafa Honigstein assesses Klopp’s summer business on the Transfer Talk podcast…
Has there been a change in Klopp’s transfer strategy?
I don’t think [Klopp’s comment on spending] was a joke, I think it was genuine six years ago. I don’t think he could foresee the acceleration in wages and transfer fees. I think it shows where Liverpool are that they can spend that kind of money. They had to sell in the past, they couldn’t hold on to their best players. It was a situation he was very familiar with at Dortmund, every year they would lose one player and every year you would be constantly rebuilding and losing a little bit of momentum and rhythm as a result. And now they’re in this fantastic position, Mane has gone, but they kept the one they really wanted to keep in Mo Salah and brought in one of the most exciting young strikers in Europe. It’s a fantastic situation to be in.
Why were Liverpool able to convince Salah to stay?
I think a couple of years ago there were rumors that Salah might leave and there was almost an acceptance that he would come to a point where Liverpool can’t quite pay the wages and can’t quite compete with Barcelona and Real Madrid. To be perfectly honest, if either of them had come in we might have seen that situation because they can pay up to £500,000 – a third more [than his new Liverpool wage] – at least they did [previously]. But because the financial situation has changed for Barcelona and because Real Madrid have had other interests this year, I think Liverpool and Salah found themselves in a situation where the case for renewing was overwhelming and that’s why the agreement was found. It might have gone differently if Mane had decided to stay and signed another contract. But as it played out with Liverpool generating a bit of money and Nunez coming in, to get three more years out of a 30-year-old Mo Salah, I don’t see any downside.
How will Salah’s deal impact Liverpool?
The only problem potentially is, does it create a knock-on effect in the dressing room? Does it create a bit of envy in the dressing room? That comes down to Klopp’s management and the perception that exists in the dressing room. If there is a sense that Salah is worth every penny and the club have done the right thing and he keeps scoring consistently, then there’s not going to be an issue. If his form drops then things become more complicated, but we have not seen much sign of that. He was a little bit tired maybe after AFCON in some spells, but with a full season and some rest for him coming up during the World Cup as well because Egypt haven’t qualified – it should be great.
Has it always been Klopp’s style to bring in the best young players?
I think it’s a combination of things. Jurgen Klopp’s style of football is very demanding and it’s easier for players in their prime or getting into their prime, rather than the players getting into their 30s, to play it. That does necessitate a certain playing style, I think a certain mentality as well. Younger players tend to be slightly more mouldable, listen more, are more prepared to buy into an existing context rather than say, ‘I’ve won this and this and this, surely you’re going to adjust to the way I play’, and that’s never going to happen at a Jurgen Klopp team.
But it’s also testament to the amount of smart moves Liverpool as a club have made. They signed the likes of Andy Robertson, developed fantastic players internally like Trent Alexander-Arnold, and why wouldn’t you play those guys if you know they are so good at such a young age. It’s not just the manager saying I want young players, it’s the ability to play really good football at a young age, both through clever recruitment and really good work in the academy, that gives Klopp the possibility to give these guys a chance.
I think now what Liverpool have is a really fine blend between young players, more experienced players, players from the academy, players who have been brought in from abroad. And I think that creates a machine-like mindset of, ‘We are going to go and win most games’. You saw how close they came to winning absolutely everything last season, and I think they are in that position for the next – it’s just a wonderful position to be in. I think, as a manager, I would have also renewed because you can see there is still so much joy to be had with this side going forward.
Is Mane an automatic starter at Bayern?
Yeah, he will make it more difficult for people like Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, Leroy Sane, Jamal Musiala and even Thomas Muller to get into the side. The reason that they signed him-other than the opportunistic element that he was available-was because Julian Nagelsmann loves his attitude and relentlessness of him. Bayern sometimes can find it a little bit easy in the Bundesliga because they are so superior that we saw in the second half of the season they lost a little bit of sharpness and when it came to beating Villarreal in the Champions League they couldn’t quite remove raise their game. And with Mane there setting the tone, he gives you that consistency, that work rate and humility that will have a positive effect on everybody else. His way of playing is contagious and he can play in a variety of positions.
The big question is, do Nagelsmann and the rest of the board consider him a good enough replacement as far as playing through the middle is concerned in the post-Robert Lewandowski era or do they need someone else as well? There’s a debate going on because it’s been in Bayern’s DNA almost for the last 40 years to have a big, strong No 9 of some sorts and it would mark a departure to go the Liverpool system of three forwards who are all wingers and no 10s who can all play in different positions. I think Nagelsmann would favor that, but there are some people on the board who think they need a No 9 who can score even if they are playing badly. I think Mane will be an automatic starter and an absolute superstar for Bayern next season.