Liverpool face a tricky task in their reported transfer hunt for a left-back. Getting the age right is absolutely key this summer.
The Liverpool Echo claimed last month that the Reds have ‘leeway’ with one signing this summer. That’s at left-back – but no ordinary left-back.
Instead, Liverpool want a player who can cover the defensive spot while also offering something on the left-wing. They want a two-for-one player, in other words. That won’t be simple.
Those players exist, of course, but a specific talent will cost more money. More than that, the dual-position factor isn’t the only thing they’ve got to get. The player’s age is a very key thing and won’t be simple to get right.
Not too young, not too old
The ‘problem’ is Andy Robertson. The Scot is, in our estimation, the best left-back on the planet and thus completely established at first-choice. He’s also 26, which makes him very difficult to buy around.
Ideally, Liverpool would bring in a young player who will take over from Robertson when he slows down. But that might not be for five or six years. Can you expect a player to wait? Will the player even be any good without first XI football for that long?
But you still want the player to be young. You don’t want them to come in as someone in their prime because that just doesn’t add up.
Anyone at Robertson’s age and at a reasonable price just won’t be very good. And as they’re in their prime, they won’t improve, meaning every game they play is simply a downgrade on Robertson.
With a younger player, however, you play them with the idea that they’re learning and improving. Down the line, you should end up with a much better player who initially arrived for cheaper.
But if the plan is they take over from Robertson, they’d have to be around 18 or 19 right now. At that point, why not just take a punt on Neco Williams covering the role?
The best left-back option
The best option, then, is probably to go somewhere in between ‘prime’ and youth talent. It’s essentially accepting that the ideal player isn’t there and hoping to simply develop a player in case Robertson slows down faster than we think. You’d develop them in the hope you never use them, however.
Jamal Lewis is a fine example. He’s 22, meaning he’ll enter his prime in a couple of years. Now, Robertson will still be around and still likely be the best there is at that time. Few games for Lewis, then, but he’s just gone down with Norwich City – you’d think Liverpool would be an easy sell.
It’s hard to see him developing into an elite player without regular football, of course. But he’d really be at Liverpool as a fail-safe for Robertson. If the Scot suffers a bad injury, there’s a perfectly competent replacement. If Robertson suffers a terrible dip in form, Lewis would get his chance.
There is no perfect transfer at left-back right now. Pure squad player seems like the best-case scenario, though, even if it isn’t very exciting.