One of the biggest gripes for Liverpool supporters in recent years has been the club’s largely dismal record in the transfer market. Top players were lost to other clubs or to retirement (in the case of Steven Gerrard it was a little of both, as to most UK football supporters the MLS is essentially a glorified retirement home) and the replacements were invariably of a much lower calibre. Frankly it’s impossible to be successful under such circumstances.
There was plenty of blame to go around and supporters would regularly argue among themselves as to whether it was Rafa Benitez messing up or Rick Parry stopping the Spaniard from getting the players he really wanted. Then it was “Kenny (Dalglish) didn’t want that player, it was all (Damien) Comolli’s doing” and of course more recently we had Brendan Rodgers v The Transfer Committee. Regardless of where the blame actually lay, for several years Liverpool just didn’t seem to be very good at transfers.
Then along came Jurgen Klopp. A little over a year after the German replaced Rodgers in the Anfield hot seat, Liverpool’s transfer dealings are being viewed in a completely new light, and not just because of signings Klopp made himself. Such is his coaching ability and uncanny knack for getting players to perform with confidence that even those who were already at the club prior to his arrival now look like sound investments.
A lot of fingers were being pointed at Liverpool’s recruitment team and while they may now be feeling somewhat vindicated, the truth is that Klopp is so special that he makes everybody else around him look more competent. Had he not arrived then supporters would most likely still be demanding the heads of the scouting department.
Nothing highlights this better than the change in how the ex-Southampton contingent at Anfield are now perceived. It had become a standing joke in football how Liverpool were frequently being ripped off by Southampton in the transfer market, although in fairness, it was not just the Reds whom the South Coast club appeared to be taking to the cleaners. Manchester United paid £30million for Luke Shaw and £24m for Morgan Schneiderlin, while Calum Chambers set Arsenal back a reported £12m.
Nevertheless, it was Liverpool who were seen as the poster boys when it came to being taken advantage of by Southampton, probably because the Saints were usually still neck and neck with the Reds in the table despite having their so-called “best players” cherry picked by the Merseysiders.
Rewind back 13 months to just before Klopp’s arrival, and while Dejan Lovren had begun to turn his form around after a nightmare first season at Anfield, he was nowhere close to looking like a £20m defender. Adam Lallana was also flattering to deceive in his second season, showing sporadic flashes of ability but struggling desperately to live up to his £25m fee. Nathaniel Clyne was the third ex-Southampton man on Liverpool’s books having joined a year later than the other two, and while he’d made a steady enough start his £12m price tag was viewed more as a fair price rather than as any kind of bargain.
Now though, all three have become important players for Klopp and are living up to — and in some cases far exceeding — their lofty transfer fees. What’s more, a fourth former Saint, Sadio Mané (signed by Klopp from Southampton last summer), is looking like one of the steals of last transfer window even though he set Liverpool back a cool £30m.
You can also add Roberto Firmino, James Milner and Emre Can to the list of players for whom the jury was out prior to Klopp’s arrival but who are now undoubtedly seen as quality signings. Firmino’s form fluctuated wildly in his first six months at the club. There were some good performances but also some completely awful ones, such as in the defeat at Watford last December when he was arguably the worst player on the pitch. Quite the achievement given that the calamitous Adam Bogdan was also playing that day.
Now Firmino is one of the best players in the Premier League and the man who Liverpool’s impressive attack is built around. Can isn’t at that level yet and still has some maturing to do, but at least he’s no longer being played at full back or in a back three. He’s in midfield, the position in which he was bought for, and he’s progressing very nicely under Klopp’s guidance. Milner has made the opposite move to Can having been switched from midfield to full back by Klopp, but is enjoying a new lease of life and now looks like an inspired signing.
Liverpool’s recruitment over the last couple of seasons actually looks quite impressive now and it’s virtually all down to Klopp, although he’s not been able to turn water into wine right across the board. Alberto Moreno is still a work in progress while Simon Mignolet’s days look numbered. Christian Benteke could not be salvaged but at least Klopp managed to recoup enough for him to cover the Mané signing. Lazar Markovic also looks to be a lost cause, he’s currently on loan at Sporting Lisbon and there appears to be no way back for him, although with Klopp you can’t completely write anybody off.
What is clear is that there are a number of people at Anfield, both on the playing staff and in the scouting department, who should be thanking their lucky stars that Klopp arrived when he did, as he’s completely transformed their fortunes as well as the club as a whole.
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