Many Liverpool fans have spent January moaning about the lack of activity at Anfield during this month’s transfer window.
The calls have grown louder with each game and with a record of just one win, a narrow 1-0 at League Two Plymouth Argyle in an FA Cup replay, it won’t come a surprise to onlookers. But what many are struggling to understand is the bigger picture: the long term objectives of our manager.
Jurgen Klopp has proved that he is not a manager who makes panic buys midway through the season at his two previous clubs. He is very considered when it comes to adding players to his squad and he will only move for the ones he thinks will fit in the long-term or if he has little choice but to bring a body in. He made two acquisitions last January, in his first transfer window at Anfield, and they were a loan deal for Steven Caulker and a deal to sign Marko Grujic – who returned to Red Star Belgrade on loan for the rest of the season. One was a case of ‘needs must’ and the other was with the future in mind.
Klopp was very similar during his seven seasons at Borussia Dortmund, where he signed six players in seven midseason windows. One name in those signed during January 2012 was that of Marco Reus – a player Liverpool fans have been craving to see move to Anfield. Although #signreus has been seen a lot less on Twitter in recent times. Other players signed halfway through the season were Nuri Sahin on loan in 2013, after his unsuccessful few months at Anfield, and Kevin Kampl – who went on to leave Dortmund a few months later in the Summer.
So it goes to show that Klopp has a mixed record with the window and does not usually see it as the solution to long-term issues in his squad. Which is a perspective that has clearly irritated several Liverpool fans this month, with many seeing new faces essential to maintaining the flagging title bid.
The absences of Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane have been keenly felt and fans have been calling on Klopp to make offers to bring in attacking reinforcements – which he has done. He tried to move for Julian Draxler when the German international was told he could leave Wolfsburg this month, but lost out to big spending Paris Saint Germain. It’s clear why Draxler decided to join the French club when you look at it without the bias of being a Liverpool supporter. PSG have won Ligue 1 for the past four seasons and are again right up near the top of the table this year under Unai Emery. They are also becoming Champions League contenders and have reached the semi final stage recently. Liverpool have barely made it into the top four in the Premier League since Rafa Benitez was sacked and haven’t won the title since 1989/90. And that’s before you even factor in the bigger wages, signing on fee etc that is on offer at the Parc des Princes. If you look at it in those cold and bare terms, then Draxler can’t be blamed for turning down the late bid from Anfield.
The other targets, who have been regularly scouted since Klopp arrived at the club, are Dortmund teenager Christian Pulisic and the impressive Julian Brandt of Bayer Leverkusen. Both of these players are regulars at the Bundesliga clubs they play for and are still involved in the Champions League going into the knockout stages. Their clubs are not going to allow them to make moves this month and there is zero chance of FSG allowing Klopp to offer ridiculous fees to try and lure them away now – which is something he wouldn’t want to do anyway. Pulisic signing a new deal with Dortmund is about as likely to put Klopp off going back with a bid in the Summer as Coutinho’s new contract seeing Barcelona look elsewhere. He will see what’s what and whether Thomas Tuchel and Michael Zorc can be persuaded into letting the American youngster go. He will also go looking for Brandt once again once the season draws to a close.
But therein lies an issue with the plan to play the waiting game for the right players – we may not have Champions League on offer. That would see our options in the market decrease, the amount of cash available to Klopp go down and our prospects stay much the same as they were at the start of the season. Klopp will have been aiming to secure a top four place this season and the spot in Europe’s premier club competition that goes with it. The idea of a title bid before Christmas, when we briefly led the Premier League table, was a bonus – at least in hindsight.
Having patience when the club looked like being in the mix for a first title in almost thirty years is hard for a supporter, but the bigger picture needs to be referred to. The players that could potentially make the difference in bridging the increasing gap to Chelsea at the top of the table just aren’t available this month.
Klopp could feasibly go and sign someone like Quincy Promes from Spartak Moscow, but there are no guarantees that he could translate his fine form in the Russian league into English football. It would represent a huge step up in class and he could sink without a trace with a hefty £25m price tag going down the drain with him. Just look at Mohamed Salah for an example of that after we came close to signing him back in 2014.
Plenty have pointed towards Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho as examples of how well the club can do in the January transfer window. But the last of these to arrive was back in 2013. Sturridge and Coutinho were made available by Chelsea and Inter respectively because they weren’t performing there and didn’t look to have a future. Pulisic and Brandt are seen as key players to their clubs either now, for the future or both. That’s the key difference. Suarez was a different matter, but he was looked over by the Champions League clubs at the time because there were doubts over him personally and his ability to translate his Eredivisie form into a tougher league. We got the deal done and can only look back with a wry smile.
The bottom line is that if there were a player available now that Klopp wanted to bring into his squad, then he would have done. He’s not an idiot. He would gladly bring in someone capable of making an impact similar to that of Reus on his Dortmund side or the Sturridge of 2013. But the players aren’t out there and he will bide his time and wait for the Summer to get the ones who he believes can be part of a successful Liverpool squad for years to come.
So the moaning about transfers needs to stop. The focus needs to turn to the team getting out of this slump.