With Liverpool’s summer business around the 2018 World Cup so far a success, Jack Hallows revisits each summer since the last edition of the tournament.
It looks as if, after a number of years packed full of struggles and failures, Liverpool have finally gotten to grips with the transfer market.
The club have spent big, big money on signings that the manager not only wanted but needed in an effort to help build upon last season’s Champions League runners up and Premier League top four finishes.
Best of all? They’ve done by going about their business in an efficient, fairly under-the-radar manner.
However, it wasn’t always such smooth sailing for the Reds.
With 2018 being a World Cup year, what better way to reinforce how far Liverpool’s transfer dealings have come, than by looking back on the evolution of the club’s business since the last edition of football’s most prestigious tournament?
2014/15: Rodgers nightmare
Incomings (£117m total spend):
Adam Lallana (£25m), Dejan Lovren (£20m), Lazar Markovic (£20m), Mario Balotelli (£16m), Alberto Moreno (£12m), Emre Can (£10m), Divock Origi (£10m).
Outgoings (£78.7m total transfer revenue):
Luis Suarez (£65m), Oussama Assaidi (£4.7m), Daniel Agger (£3m), Pepe Reina (£2m), Martin Kelly (£1.5m), Suso (£1m), Jack Robinson (£1m), Conor Coady (£500k).
To be honest with you, I actually started the summer of 2014 with a real positive mindset.
Liverpool had just been inspired to a second placed finish in the league, coming oh so painfully close to a first Premier League title courtesy of some breath-taking attacking football and a certain Uruguayan madman.
I felt that even if Liverpool chose to cash-in on Suarez – his exit was rumoured even before the World Cup had begun – that Rodgers would invest in some top class talent to replace him. Sure enough, Barcelona came in for the striker but it looked to be no huge concern as Alexis Sanchez who, at the time, was tearing it up in the World Cup for Chile, was tipped to go the other way.
The Reds had also managed to tie-up a deal for Southampton captain Adam Lallana who had just come off the back of an immense Premier League campaign on a personal level, scoring nine goals and assisting six.
Rodgers’ and Liverpool’s combined inexperience at these heights would inevitably come out to play however and eventually £120m was primarily shelled out on ‘potential’ and of course who can forget the ridiculous deadline day decision to sign Mario Balotelli.
The window was a complete and utter nightmare for Rodgers and the season that followed wasn’t much better.
If only Daniel Sturridge had stayed fit or you know, Rodgers had devised a plan B.
I think the biggest surprise honestly was that Rodgers didn’t choose to buy anyone in the Winter, despite his horrendous summer window.
Whether that was down to FSG simply losing faith in the former Swansea manager or down to his own stubbornness I’ll never be sure but it most certainly contributed heavily to his eventual demise.
2015/16: Different year, same old mistakes.
Incomings (£78.9m): Christian Benteke (£32.5m), Roberto Firmino (£21.3m), Nathaniel Clyne (£10m), Danny Ings (£6.5m), Joe Gomez (£3.5m), James Milner (Free), Adam Bogdan (Free).
Marko Grujić (£5.1m – winter signing)
Outgoings (£59.2m): Raheem Sterling (£44m), Fabio Borini (£8m), Iago Aspas (£5m), Sebastian Coates (£4m), Steven Gerrard (Released to LA Galaxy), Glen Johnson (Released to Stoke City), Brad Jones (Released to Bradford City).
Other than signing Roberto Firmino, I’m convinced the best piece of business out of the above is that the club managed to convince Sunderland that Fabio Borini was worth £8m.
Okay, enough of the jokes I’m sorry.
Rodgers generally didn’t do too badly during this summer. Raheem Sterling was sold on after a falling out with the manager and some poor conduct on behalf of his agent and despite the club being out of the Champions League as quickly as they’d gotten back into it the previous campaign, they still spent a decent outlay given where the market was at the time.
Roberto Firmino has become one of the club’s most important players and has to be seen as a success, while Nathaniel Clyne, James Milner and Danny Ings for a combined fee of £16.5m was really shrewd business at the time. Even now, the two former remain important figures at the club.
Unfortunately, however, Rodgers once again made the same old mistakes.
A significant outlay was sanctioned to sign Christian Benteke from Aston Villa despite everyone but his new manager questioning how the big man who scores headers and doesn’t do much else, would fit into a team that doesn’t cross the ball.
Also, Adam Bogdan. Need I say more?
Rodgers’ decision to then attempt to shoe-horn James Milner into midfield without really giving him a role to play and tinker with a 3-5-2 formation that took the best parts of Firmino and Clyne’s games and removed them entirely left many wondering why he’d spent the money in the first place.
The arrival of Jürgen Klopp in October to replace Rodgers brought with it the breaking down of the infamous ‘transfer committee’ structure that was in place at the club during this time.
Klopp declared that the final say on any and all transfers would be his own and he made the decisions to replace Ian Ayre with Michael Edwards and his now coveted laptop to help with the scouting and signing processes.
Unfortunately, however, the club made us wait to see just how this new transfer structure would work as Klopp’s only immediate signing of the winter window was the baffling choice to bring in Steven Caulker on loan. Oh, Grujić joined too but was immediately loaned back out so I don’t know if that counts.
2016/17: Building Klopp’s foundation.
Incomings (£61.9m): Sadio Mané (£30m), Gini Wijnaldum (£23m), Loris Karius (£4.7m), Ragnar Klavan (£4.2m), Alex Manninger (Free), Joël Matip (Free).
Outgoings (£76.6m): Christian Benteke (£27m), Jordon Ibe (£15m), Joe Allen (£11m), Martin Škrtel (£5.5m), Luis Alberto (£4.3m), Jerome Sinclair (£4m), Tiago Ilori (£3.75m), Brad Smith (£3m), Sergi Canos (£2.5m), Jordan Rossiter (£250k), João Teixeira (£250k), Samed Yesil (Released to Panionios), Kolo Touré (Released to Celtic), José Enrique (Released to Real Zaragoza), Joe Maguire (Undisclosed).
I don’t care what you say, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool didn’t have the foundations laid down until his first summer window in 2016/17.
Even though he spent three-quarters of the previous campaign in charge, the squad was very much still Brendan Rodgers’ making and the players took a while to truly adapt to the German’s intensity and brand of football.
It wasn’t until this summer that we got the true first glimpses of Klopp’s vision and how he would look to turn Rodgers’ group of misfits into an outfit of Champions League regulars.
Truthfully though, this wasn’t the most overwhelming summer – due in part to the club’s failure to reach the Champions League after being beaten by Sevilla in the Europa League final.
Klopp did begin his efforts to sort out the club’s much maligned defence, selling the ageing Kolo Touré and disastrous Martin Škrtel and replacing them with the shrewd acquisitions of Loris Karius, Ragnar Klavan and Joël Matip. All of whom he’d watched plenty of during his time in the Bundesliga with Dortmund.
Gini Wijnaldum was an eyebrow raiser for £23m from a freshly relegated Newcastle while many doubted the ability of former Southampton man Sadio Mané to live up to his £30m price tag. Doubts over both however, were short lived.
While looking back on it, this wasn’t the most exciting transfer window, it was a step forward for the club who looked to be starting down the road of buying targets that Klopp wanted to sign and rather than question the price tags, allow the players to prove their worth on the pitch.
There was also a newfound ruthlessness in the club’s decision to simply clear out the deadwood. 16 players were either sold or released as Klopp sought to get them off the wage bill and the German made his stance very clear: “if you don’t show me how you can benefit me and my vision for this club, then I don’t want you around the squad.”
It certainly paid off in the end with Liverpool qualifying for the Champions League play-offs on the final day of the season, finishing ahead of both Arsenal and Manchester United.
Interestingly, despite the need for further attacking cover midway through the season, Klopp opted to not dip into the market during the winter window – something that was becoming a worrying trend for Liverpool.
Where this differed from Rodgers however, was that this was seemingly the manager’s choice, rather than the club choosing not to spend. A sign of the trust between the owners, Michael Edwards and Jürgen Klopp.
2017/18: Mixed fortunes but ultimately Mo’ success for Klopp.
Incomings (£149.9m): Mohamed Salah (£36.9m), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (£35m), Andrew Robertson (£8m), Dom Solanke (Tribunal)
Virgil van Dijk (£75m – Winter signing)
Outgoings (£140.25m): Mamadou Sakho (£24m), Lucas Leiva (£5m), Kevin Stewart (£4m), Andre Wisdom (£2m)
Philippe Coutinho (£105m – Winter sale)
If any transfer window typifies the phrase “making the most of a bad situation,” then it’s probably the summer of 2017.
If what you read at the time is correct, then Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp went into the summer with four main objectives. Sign Virgil van Dijk from Southampton, sign Naby Keïta from RB Leipzig, sign Mohamed Salah from AS Roma and keep hold of Philippe Coutinho despite PSG and Barcelona sniffing around.
They managed just two of those – well, technically three but Keïta didn’t actually arrive until this summer.
While the window started in impressive form as the club poached a young talent from Chelsea in the form of Dom Solanke and added extra pace and firepower to their ranks with the signing of Mohamed Salah, things went awry very quickly.
The club were far too pleased with themselves after convincing Virgil van Dijk to snub interest from Manchester City and join Klopp’s project and well, you know what happened next. Alongside this, Ralf Rangnick became a name that I personally never want to hear again as negotiations over a deal for Naby Keïta rumbled on and on.
In the midst of all the frustration, Andy Robertson joined from Hull for just £8m and you can imagine the fume that this caused from the uneducated amongst the Liverpool fanbase who have twitter accounts. Spoiler alert, he went on to be one of the best left-backs in Europe over the final six months of last season.
There was brief excitement as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain snubbed the chance to remain in London and receive extra pay from Chelsea for the chance to work with Klopp, while the news that Liverpool would be signing Naby Keïta, as long as he remained in Germany for another year was both wonderful and a slight gut punch.
In fact, almost all of Liverpool’s transfer business over the course of the 2017/18 season can definitely be summed up in that manner.
To say Mohamed Salah was a success is the understatement of the century and had Sergio Ramos not resorted to UFC to stop the Egyptian in the Champions League final, we could have been talking about a real contender for the Balon D’or this year.
Andrew Robertson as mentioned was superb when given his chance, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain became a firm fan favourite by season’s end and of course, Virgil van Dijk finally joined in January for £75m – once again snubbing Manchester City such was his belief in the vision Klopp pitched to him during that infamous Blackpool meeting.
On the ‘gut-punch’ end of the spectrum, we were made to wait a year for Naby Keïta by an angry German man, the apology to Southampton was the most embarrassing thing I think I’ve ever seen our club do (okay after thinking about it maybe not but it’s definitely up there) and our beloved Philippe Coutinho jumped ship halfway through the season for the Nou Camp.
Ahhh, only Liverpool hey?
2018/19: Lessons learned and boxes ticked.
Incomings (£175m): Alisson (£65m), Naby Keïta (£52m), Fabinho (£45m), Xherdan Shaqiri (£13m).
Outgoings (£30m): Danny Ings (£18m), Danny Ward (£12.5m), Emre Can (Released to Juventus), Jon Flanagan (Released to Rangers), Jordan Williams (Released to Rochdale).
We know from previous summers that Jürgen Klopp likes to get the bulk of his business done early in transfer windows – especially on the incomings side of things.
Even in the winter window of the campaign just gone, an agreement for the transfer of Virgil van Dijk had been agreed before January 1st, while Philippe Coutinho’s sale was sanctioned just days later to ensure there was ample time to buy a replacement if deemed necessary.
Even for Liverpool though, to have both Naby Keïta and Fabinho wrapped up to come in for day one of pre-season was impressive.
We already knew Keïta was coming after a deal was struck last summer but following the disappointment of the Champions League final, the club moved quickly and efficiently to get a move for Fabinho finalised. Nobody saw it coming, not even the usual mouthpieces of the club and it set a precedent for the rest of the summer.
While the £13m move for Shaqiri was one that had been banded about by journalists and looked nailed on to happen, the club once again moved quickly and stealthily to snare Alisson from Roma.
Just days after the ECHO claimed Danny Ward and Loris Karius would duel it out for the number one jersey and David Maddock of the Mirror claimed that interest in Alisson had been cooled, the Brazilian was a Liverpool player and Ward had been moved on to Leicester.
After last summer’s van Dijk debacle, the club had evidently learned their lesson and it looked as if once knowledgable journalists would be left to feed off scraps, false leads and radio silence.
In other words, the club were not only doing better business but smarter business.
Where the release of Emre Can to Juventus had previously been seen as a disaster by some on social media, Fabinho’s arrival has meant Liverpool fans have forgotten the German quicker than I forgot how to use a quadratic formula after I left school.
The goalkeeping situation has been addressed emphatically while Shaqiri and Keïta will lend a new dimension and extra depth to Liverpool’s attacking ranks.
In fact, if the club had managed to successfully re-structure a deal for Nabil Fekir back before the World Cup, it’s my honest belief that this summer would be talked about as the perfect transfer window.
I still expect some more outgoings to occur as not for the first time the likes of Divock Origi, Pedro Chirivella, Lazar Markovic and Simon Mignolet find themselves surplus to requirements.
If the club manages to recoup even £40m for the aforementioned players then that will be some more stellar business by Michael Edwards and co, especially after raking in £18m for Danny Ings.
While as previously stated, the further addition of Nabil Fekir – or a suitable replacement – would’ve made this the perfect summer transfer window, it’s hard to argue that the Reds haven’t done some superb business.
Areas that needed strengthening have been addressed and while the club haven’t specifically ‘replaced’ players who have departed, they have evolved into a position of not needing said players in order to sit in good stead.
Whether it be changing the roles of certain players such as Daniel Sturridge or through the new signings – Shaqiri and Keïta in particular adding major flexibility to the way Klopp can line up this coming season – the club look to have negated the possibility of previously frustrating situations arising.
The continued learning from lessons and blunders of the past has also been increasingly evident this summer, with key business done early in the window and behind closed doors, while key positions and problem areas have been addressed.
Perhaps most importantly though, the club have not lost any vital players for the third summer running, entering the new campaign with Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah tied to fresh long-term deals and Sadio Mané expected to follow suit.
All without release clauses in their contracts.
Where the club had been forced under Brendan Rodgers to move players on to meet financial demands or simply just because Liverpool was not a big enough name to ward off the giants of the game, Klopp is making us a potentially final destination rather than a first big step.
All in all, the summer of 2018 has been a monumental improvement over the last time Liverpool navigated the transfer market during a World Cup year.