Liverpool’s transfer activity so far for the summer of 2016 has been conducted with a pleasing sense of urgency, and it is likely to continue. Marko Grujic, Joel Matip and Loris Karius constitute the arrivals so far – all three captures have been characterized by a calm sense of authority.
Crucially, Karius and Matip represent what Liverpool fans had hoped Jurgen Klopp would bring to the club: an in-depth knowledge of the German transfer market, allowing the club to secure the services of talented young players for a reasonable cost.
Suddenly, it seems every footballer with a hometown that has a German postcode is being linked with the club. Happily for Liverpool, Klopp appears to be targeting areas of the pitch identified as problematic, as Matip is an imposing figure in a defence brewing with uncertainty, while Karius (who cost a mere £4.7 million) is at least stern competition for an erratic Simon Mignolet, if not an outright replacement.
It seems a trend is emerging on Merseyside – high quality players are being acquired for cheap. It is slightly odd to think Germany has not been scoured for talent more extensively by English clubs. Liverpool are as guilty as any – Roberto Firmino is more the exception than the rule.
Nevertheless, it is a transfer strategy Liverpool are likely wedded to for the foreseeable future. Besides the obvious linguistic and tactical connect that the arrivals from the Bundesliga will feel with their new manager, it is an approach that gives Liverpool significant economic benefit too.
Perhaps the cases of Christian Benteke and Adam Lallana (despite his emergence as an important player under Klopp) are the most damning – Karius’ shrunken fee is an example of how Liverpool can avoid the unwritten ‘Premier League premium’ by searching Klopp’s homeland for players.
Whether this strategy is here to stay or is something more short-term can only be answered with the passage of time. However, it appears to be a fairly viable approach, for this is the kind of low-risk, high-reward action on transfers that develop extremely beneficial and intensive scouting habits, necessary for long-term success. Just look at Riyad Mahrez.
Klopp is more of a ‘head coach’, a football mind better suited to training ground drills than transfer negotiations. This character sketch of the German holds up to scrutiny: sporting director Michael Zorc was a key figure in obtaining promising talents who rose to superstardom with Dortmund, the key components of Klopp’s side that won back-to-back Bundesliga titles, the German Cup and also reached a Champions League final.
The model that accords separate individuals the responsibility of coaching and transfers has actually been implemented previously at Liverpool; Damien Comolli’s time in charge of transfers at the club is best represented by the fateful day that Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll both signed for the Reds.
Having worked with a sporting director at Dortmund, Klopp will now be flying solo, and it will be interesting to see how his eye for talent matches up to the new challenge of weekly wages and players’ agents.
Interestingly, though, this is far from the first time a Liverpool manager has brought his knowledge of the transfer market in his native country to the club. Gerard Houllier’s occasionally brusque, though largely jovial demeanour, saw him unearth what were supposedly the best young talents in French football. A frustratingly large number of them never progressed significantly beyond their original promise (Gregory Vignal, Bruno Cheyrou, Anthony Le Tallec), but a few ascended to the status of minor cult heroes, for numerous reasons (Djibril Cisse, Florent Sinama-Pongolle, Titi Camara).
Rafael Benitez’s dead-eyed pragmatism did not disguise his awareness of Spain’s finest starlets. Benitez’s dabbles in his home country covered the full spectrum – some entirely forgettable players (Josemi, Antonio Nuñez), some solid, dependable ones (Albert Riera, Alvaro Arbeloa) and some absolute gems (Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia).
So in that sense, Klopp is doing nothing that the Liverpool fans haven’t seen before. Arguably, though, what Klopp has done right is target the perfect profile of player – young enough to have the legs and the desire to succeed, but experienced enough not to appear all at sea in the face of regular top-level football.
Houllier’s fledglings were perhaps too young for the big time, or not good enough, or both. Klopp’s buys, however, appear to hit that sweet spot – Karius, his 23rd birthday fast approaching, has four years of senior football under his belt for Klopp’s former side Mainz, while Matip has 259 senior appearances for Schalke since 2009. He is still only a couple of months shy of his 25th birthday.
That said, only time will tell the Liverpool fans whether the team will be able to capitalize on these buys, and give them reason to trust Klopp’s decisions in the foreseeable future.