Liverpool have already signed Darwin Nunez, sold Sadio Mane and tied Mohamed Salah to a new contract – all before heading off on their pre-season tour. It’s been a typically successful summer for the Reds.
The departure of Michael Edwards as sporting director has raised fears that Liverpool may lose some of their advantage in the transfer market, but his successor Julian Ward wasted no time in showing he is more of a replacement than able.
The signing of Nunez from Benfica for a club-record £85million was completed within days, with Ward traveling to Portugal to seal the deal ahead of rivals Manchester United, seemingly unfazed by Mane’s surprise decision to leave Anfield . Less than a week after signing his replacement, Mane’s departure to Bayern Munich has been confirmed.
Liverpool’s spending on Nunez marked a clear shift in transfer strategy as they broke the club’s transfer record with a deal that could potentially reach €100m for the 23-year-old Uruguay international. Jurgen Klopp said in 2016 that if such numbers became the norm in football, “I wouldn’t be at work anymore”.
In the background, Liverpool were able to secure the arrival of two teenage hopefuls. Attacking midfielder Fabio Carvalho has signed from Fulham while right-back Calvin Ramsay has joined Aberdeen.
But perhaps Liverpool’s most important deal this summer was agreeing a new contact with Salah after nearly a year of protracted negotiations. The Egypt international, who signed for three more years at Anfield, became the highest-paid player in Liverpool history, earning £350,000 a week.
Here, German football expert Rafa Honigstein assesses Klopp’s summer deals on the Transfer Talk podcast…
Has there been a change in Klopp’s transfer strategy?
I do not think so [Klopp’s comment on spending] was a joke, I think it was genuine six years ago. I don’t think he can foresee the acceleration of salaries and transfer fees. I think it shows where Liverpool are that they can spend that kind of money. They had to sell in the past, they couldn’t keep their best players. It was a situation he knew very well at Dortmund, every year they lost a player and every year you were constantly rebuilding and losing a bit of momentum and pace as a result. And now they are in this fantastic position, Mane is gone, but they kept the one they really wanted to keep in Mo Salah and brought in one of the most exciting young strikers in Europe. It’s a fantastic situation.
Why did Liverpool manage to convince Salah to stay?
I think a few years ago there were rumors that Salah might leave and there was almost an acceptance that he would get to a point where Liverpool can’t quite pay the salaries and can’t quite afford everything to compete with Barcelona and Real Madrid. To be perfectly honest if one of them had come we could have seen this situation as they can pay up to £500,000 – a third more [than his new Liverpool wage] – at least they did [previously]. But because the financial situation has changed for Barcelona and because Real Madrid have had other interests this year, I think Liverpool and Salah found themselves in a situation where the case for a renewal was overwhelming and c is why the agreement was reached. It could have turned out differently had Mane decided to stay and signed another contract. But as it played out with Liverpool generating some money and Nunez coming in, to get three more years from a 30-year-old Mo Salah, I see no downside.
What impact will Salah’s deal have on Liverpool?
Is the only potential problem creating a ripple effect in the locker room? Does it create a bit of envy in the dressing room? It comes down to the management of Klopp and the perception that exists in the dressing room. If there is a feeling that Salah is worth every penny and that the club did the right thing and continues to score regularly, then there will be no problem. If his form drops, things get complicated, but we haven’t seen many signs of that. He might have been a little tired after AFCON at times, but with a full season and some rest for him in the World Cup as well because Egypt didn’t qualify, it should be great.
Has it always been Klopp’s style to bring in the best young players?
I think it’s a combination of things. Jurgen Klopp’s style of football is very demanding and it’s easier for players in their prime or entering their prime, rather than players in their 30s to play it. It requires a certain style of play, I think also a certain mentality. Young players tend to be slightly more malleable, to listen more, to be more willing to accept an existing context rather than say, “I won this and that and that, you’ll probably adapt to my way of playing “, and that will never happen in a Jurgen Klopp team.
But it also speaks to the amount of smart moves Liverpool have made as a club. They signed Andy Robertson, developed fantastic players internally like Trent Alexander-Arnold, and why wouldn’t you play those guys if you know they’re so good at such a young age. It’s not just the manager saying I want young players, it’s the ability to play really good football at a young age, both through smart recruiting and doing really good work in the academy, which gives Klopp the chance to give these guys a chance.
I think now what Liverpool have is a very good mix between young players, more experienced players, players from the academy, players who have been brought in from abroad. And I think that creates a machine-like mindset: ‘We’re going to win most games. You saw how close they were to winning everything last season, and I think they’re in that position for the next one – it’s just a wonderful position. I think as a manager I would have also renewed because you can see there is still so much joy to be had with this side moving forward.
Is Mane an automatic starter at Bayern?
Yes, he will make it harder for the likes of Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, Leroy Sane, Jamal Musiala and even Thomas Muller to get into the team. The reason they signed him – other than the opportunistic element that he was available – was because Julian Nagelsmann likes his attitude and his relentlessness. Bayern can sometimes find it a bit easy in the Bundesliga because they are so superior as we saw in the second half of the season they lost a bit of sharpness and when it came to beating Villarreal in the League champions, he couldn’t quite elevate their game. And with Mane setting the tone, he gives you that consistency, work-rate and humility that will have a positive effect on everyone. His way of playing is contagious and he can play in a variety of positions.
The big question is whether Nagelsmann and the rest of the board see him as a good enough replacement to play in midfield in the post-Robert Lewandowski era or do they also need someone else? There’s an ongoing debate because it’s been in Bayern’s DNA for almost 40 years to have a big, strong No.9 of some sort and that would mark a departure to go into Liverpool’s system of three forwards. who are all wingers and no 10s who can all play in different positions. I think Nagelsmann would be in favor of that, but there are people on the board who think they need a No.9 who can score even if they play badly. I think Mane will be an automatic starter and an absolute superstar for Bayern next season.