Jack Hallows argues that despite their monumental mistake, the Reds may now have no option but to sign Virgil van Dijk this summer.
The Virgil van Dijk saga was undoubtedly the biggest screwup Liverpool Football Club have managed since Fenway Sports Group took over back in 2010. To make such a host of schoolboy errors – especially leaking such key details to the press – is inexcusable and it may just prove incredibly costly.
Southampton’s acceptance of Liverpool’s apology is seemingly set to be enough to avoid the Premier League taking any further action against the Reds but the outcome could still be costly for the club.
While it’s generally felt that Liverpool’s decision to publicly end their interest in van Dijk is genuine and final in nature, the club may just be forced to change their stance. Once it is confirmed that no further action will be taken, it would highly surprise me not to see an official bid finally submitted for van Dijk despite his price tag having risen to the dizzying heights of £75m.
Why? Simply because Liverpool know that whatever the final outcome ends up being, they have messed up. Badly.
The first scenario is that the Reds keep to their word, opting not to go back in and try to sign the Dutchman. The issue here is that FSG then have a £60 million pound cheque burning a hole through their back pocket and an impatient fanbase ready to pounce through a flurry of ill-tempered tweets and strongly worded emails whenever they deem it necessary.
The owners can’t afford to sit on that much money – especially when they’ve practically promised to spend this summer – and will be forced into paying an extortionate sum of money for a defender from elsewhere. Therein lies the next problem. Who do they buy?
Burnley’s Michael Keane has been touted as a potential target but for all his qualities, he’s not a £60m player. Neither is Middlesbrough centre back Ben Gibson. Kalidou Koulibaly commands a £50m price tag but Napoli are known to drive a hard bargain and there’s no guarantee that he’d acclimatise to the Premier League as quickly as a player who’s already had previous experience.
No matter who the club would choose to buy, the fanbase will know they simply aren’t the manager’s first-choice defensive target. I can imagine the response would be almost universal: “He might be good but he’s no van Dijk is he?”
The second option is potentially just as damaging but from a different perspective.
The Reds will have to grovel back to Southampton with their tails between their legs and a blank cheque in their hands and say “we really are sorry but we’re going to need your centre back.” Now, while Southampton would eventually decide to sell van Dijk, it would likely be a fairly painful process with the Saints sure to try and make it as frustrating as possible for Liverpool to get the deal done quickly.
With Jürgen Klopp desperate to get his summer business over and done with before the tour of Asia kicks off mid-July, this is hardly something the club can afford.
Speaking of things that aren’t easily affordable, once negotiations opened, Southampton would be in pole position to ask for whatever sum of money they desired. With Chelsea and Manchester City seemingly no longer interested – Chelsea are also being investigated by the Premier league for their own ‘tapping up’ mishap – there would be no room for compromise or bidding wars.
“Pay us our £75m or hit the road.”
While paying this frankly ludicrous sum to acquire the services of the Dutchman so swiftly after publicly withdrawing any interest would surely damage the club’s integrity – and ego – it would at least appease the most important power the club possess: the fans.
A happy, united fanbase is not to be underestimated and splashing that amount of cash to bring in a player as sought after as van Dijk would be a massive statement of intent from the owners. I recently did a piece on why the Reds would do well to just steer clear of returning for the defender but now, it seems as if they may have no choice.
Signing Virgil van Dijk will be a long, costly, drawn-out process but get it over the line and it may just be the statement of intent that FSG need to save their summer but more importantly, to win back the fanbase.