“If any fans think, ‘What are the other teams doing and why are we not doing anything’, I can’t help. Sorry,” was Jurgen Klopp’s firm message to Liverpool supporters fretting about their club’s summer business.
“We cannot buy players just because other teams buy players. We do our business as good as we can do it and we are convinced about the way we are going. Nervous fans? Sorry, I don’t have to write a message for this. I am not nervous — maybe that is the message.”
The problem with denying nerves is that is an entirely self-defeating process, causing more concern than it eases. It’s like blurting out “I wasn’t going through your stuff” when startled by the entrance of your partner, leading to a quick inspection, discovery and ultimately difficult conversation.
On first glance, you can understand Klopp’s insistence for calm. Despite the ever-increasing noise surrounding the transfer market and the growing feeling that we’re being allowed to peek too far behind the curtain, no top-six club has sprinted off into the distance. Chelsea have signed one first teamer. Arsenal have signed two. United have signed two. City have signed two, with Kyle Walker to follow. Spurs have signed none. Liverpool have signed one.
The flipside paints a similar picture. Chelsea missed out on Romelu Lukaku, Manchester United on Tiemoue Bakayoko and Manchester City on Dani Alves. Arsenal still have their Alexis Sanchez-shaped problem and Tottenham are quickly realising the difficulty in persuading potential transfer targets that the Wembley bench offers a nice view of the game. Elite clubs might be swimming in money, but that doesn’t make it easier to work through the shopping list.
Yet dig a little deeper, and Liverpool supporters can be forgiven for their misgivings. The Premier League’s top six teams each had obvious issues that needed to be solved. Manchester United bought a striker, Arsenal bought a striker and Manchester City bought a goalkeeper, but the most glaring problem of all was Liverpool’s defence. That remains a problem.
Liverpool conceded 16 more goals than Tottenham last season, and the most of any team that finished in the top four. They have an issue regarding the form of Dejan Lovren, a lack of suitability with James Milner at left-back for another season and Mamadou Sakho’s departure still to sort. Add in doubts over Nathaniel Clyne (Trent Alexander-Arnold started the first pre-season friendly), the continued question of whether Simon Mignolet is truly reliable and the added issue of European football and Klopp’s to-do list remains lengthy.
If the German is asking for a leap of faith, Liverpool’s summer to date hardly merits it. Having sounded out Virgil van Dijk before agreeing a fee with Southampton, Liverpool were forced to head to Merseyside with tails firmly inserted between legs. They moved from one £70m target to another, and now face a second saga to sign Naby Keita from RB Leipzig. It will not be easy.
If it feels to supporters like Liverpool are only capable of pursuing one deal at a time, with no guarantee of success at the end of the journey, that was hinted at by the Daily Telegraph’s Chris Bascombe on Thursday.
‘Klopp’s position is clear as he has not prepared a list of alternative targets because he too is steadfast in his belief Liverpool must only buy those who will enhance his side,’ he wrote. ‘He will not make the mistakes of the past when the Merseysiders worked their way through a list and made compromises in order to appease those desperate for fresh recruits.’
The line between principle and naivety is thin. If Klopp is truly committed to Keita or nothing and Van Dijk or nothing, the club must be prepared to pay the full asking price for those two players. If he wants new additions acclimated to his methods and his squad before the start of the season, business must be done early. And we haven’t even mentioned the left-back.
The common riposte is to accuse impatience, but Liverpool have more reason than any other top-six club to get things done. Klopp’s team face five matches in August, including Arsenal in the Premier League and a two-legged Champions League play-off which could well shape their season in its opening weeks.
It’s hard not to admire Klopp’s resoluteness to Plan A, and it could yet prove successful. Land Keita, Van Dijk and a left-back in the next three weeks and his insistence of calm will have been justified.
Yet Klopp must beware the forlorn pursuit that ends only in unhappiness. There may be panic on the streets of Liverpool unless it becomes clear that Klopp was harbouring impressive back-up plans all along.