Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp drew up a list of four central-defensive ‘slam dunks’ to target in summer 2017.
Liverpool made a central defender their priority signing at the end of Klopp’s first full season in 2016/17, having secured their return to the Champions League.
The Reds had a middling defensive record that season, conceding more goals than Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United, and only six fewer than Southampton.
That perhaps led them to their pursuit of Virgil van Dijk, before Saints reported the club to the Premier League for being kn*bs.
Van Dijk would eventually join for a record fee that January, but only when Liverpool decided not to turn their attentions to one of three other targets.
Neil Jones of Goal.com says Liverpool ‘were ready to commit big money’ – ‘”whatever it takes”‘ – to improve their defence in summer 2017.
After a long process involving scouts, agents and ‘background checks’, the club had compiled two lists, A and B, with the first consisting of ‘those who it was felt could make an immediate impact’, and the second comprised of younger players with ‘top-class’ potential.
While the ‘B’ list contained the likes of Manuel Akanji, Eder Militao and Jamaal Lascelles, the ‘A’ list was made up of what Klopp called “slam dunks”.
Jerome Boateng was considered but turned down because of his age and injury record. Liverpool ‘looked closely’ at Aymeric Laporte before deciding that Manchester City’s interest and Athletic Bilbao’s asking price were ‘ significant obstacles’. But Kalidou Koulibaly was the likely back-up to Van Dijk.
The Napoli centre-half impressed both home and away against the eventual Champions League winners in last season’s group stage, with one Liverpool coach remarking that he was “so good, so strong,” and “has got everything”.
But Klopp decided Van Dijk was “the one” after he shackled Liverpool in both legs of the 2017 League Cup semi-final, and the Dutchman ‘was always deemed the No.1 target’ for the position.