When it comes to prestige and history, few clubs in England and indeed worldwide can boast a better and prouder record than Liverpool Football Club.
In recent years, however, the once-great brand has undeniably lost some of the aura it once had, down to a variety of factors. These range from the emergence of cash-rich clubs determined to become European superpowers, a squad that oft lacks the necessary quality, a manager who is not a winner and most notably a chequered record in the transfer market.
I’m sure you’ve already heard many jeers and smears regarding Liverpool and Southampton, the latter being a feeder club for the former- but equally fans are worried that Liverpool are no longer shopping at the top table, even with the prospect of working alongside the emphatic Jurgen Klopp and Champions League football returning to Anfield next season.
In the first days of this summer window, Liverpool seemed like they were going to escape this mediocrity, however, as their new CEO promised a golden age. Significant money has been made available and Klopp knew his targets: Red Bull Leipzig’s dynamic engine Naby Keita, Chelsea-flop-turned-Calcio-A-Superstar Mohamed Salah and Southampton Captain, the Dutch giant Virgil Van Dijk.
Keita, arguably the most difficult of the three to obtain has chosen to stay with Leipzig, which is understandable, when one considers the young squad the Bundesliga upstarts have. It’s not unfeasible that they’ll challenge Bayern and Dortmund for the title next season. Mohamed Salah’s agent postured, and posted plane tickets on Twitter and YouTube was awash with videos saying ‘Mohamed Salah: Welcome to Liverpool FC’, but no official statement came from either club- save Sky Italia reporting Roma valued the Egyptian winger at £40m and Liverpool’s £28m bid being rejected.
A few days later, and although personal terms seem to be agreed between Salah and the Merseyside club, the Italian giants refuse to budge on their valuation for the player. Rather than trying to negotiate a fee, Liverpool have turned tail and instead begun an all-too-familiar scatter-gun approach to wingers with rumours now swirling around Keita Balde Diao of Lazio, as well as Gelson Martins of Sporting Lisbon.
The latter is priced at £52m, significantly more than Salah and has a worse record, despite playing in the traditionally weaker Portuguese League. Although he is younger, he’s a very different type of winger to Salah or Diao, and if this is an attempt to pressure Roma into dropping their price for their number 11, it seems ham-fisted and clumsy at best, desperate at worse.
Saving the best (or rather worse) till last, we come to Virgil Van Dijk.
Having signed a new five year contract earlier this season, Southampton have placed the hefty £50m+ price tag on the twelve-capped Dutch defender, and maintain he was not for sale when questioned by any mainstream media. Still, Liverpool were ready to pay apparently, and even ready to match Van Dijk’s seemingly outrageous request for £200,000 per week.
Many newspapers suddenly reported Van Dijk had spoken to Jurgen Klopp and prioritised him over Antonio Conte at champions Chelsea, or joining Pep Guardiola’s revolution at Manchester City. As soon as those reports came in, it seemed like the transfer was a matter of days away.
However, doubts swiftly emerged and on Tuesday morning, the Daily Echo reported Southampton had approached the Premier League regarding an illegal approach for Virgil Van Dijk. Even more damning were the reports that Van Dijk and his father had met Jurgen Klopp in Blackpool in March earlier this year, where Klopp sold his grand ideals to the centre-back; a manoeuvre which comically echoes Jose Mourinho and Ron Gourlay’s now infamous restaurant meeting with Ashley Cole in 2005.
Flash forward just over twenty-four hours, and Liverpool have issued an official statement of apology and once more become a laughing stock in terms of negotiating transfers. Their statement is so poorly worded, it is little more than a desperate plea to end the investigation into them because they know they have done wrong. Worse still, it isn’t even the first time that Fenway Sports Group have been involved in illicit transfer action.
Many fans will remember Fulham’s deadline day threat to Liverpool over the apparent tapping-up of US midfielder Clint Dempsey, while Empoli accused Liverpool of tapping up Polish international Piotr Zielinski after he claimed in a television interview to have met with Klopp.
Finally, Liverpool currently have a ban on signing youth players after illegal negotiation with various young talents in England. You’d have thought they’d have learned by now.
Although they are unlikely to receive a transfer ban after pulling out entirely from the deal, Liverpool have once again seen their pants pulled down in the summer window. The desperate scrapping for a winger looks set to continue, while the significantly less impressive Hull City Tigers duo of Harry Maguire and Andrew Robertson appear to have replaced Van Dijk and Monaco’s Benjamin Mendy as defensive targets.
But in terms of longer term repercussions, the Reds have once more shown a blatant disregard for transfer regulation which will make future negotiations more difficult- they’ve openly tapped up and what will stop them doing it again?