Fundamental Liverpool transfer truth offers Aurelien Tchouameni and Jude Bellingham clue – David Maddock
Tchouameni and Bellingham look like Jurgen Klopp signings, but the club’s recent transfer record suggests there could be an alternative going under the radar
There is a fundamental truth about Liverpool transfers these days: if there is prolonged noise around a potential target, then it is not going to happen.
The evidence is there in the last few transfer windows: so many names linked, so much certainty. (Nicolas Pepe anyone?! Timo Werner. Ismaila Sarr. Jadon Sancho. Christian Pulisic. Etc, etc.) The list is endless. None happened. Meanwhile, the likes of Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota, Kostas Tsimikas, Takumi Minamino, Fabinho and even Mohamed Salah all went – relatively – under the radar, to surprise many of the fanbase… and sometimes provoke the question, who?!
So when the two names of Aurelien Tchouameni and Jude Bellingham keep recurring, then it is sensible to retain a degree of calm, if not scepticism, especially given they are both pursued by clubs with, shall we say, more financial desperation. And yet: there is another fundamental truth about Liverpool’s transfer business these days; their research, their due diligence, is immaculate. Which means for the large part, in the overwhelming majority in fact, they get those transfers right.
Those are not just my words: they are the words of an Anfield legend, Robbie Fowler. In his last Mirror column, he compared the business done by Liverpool and Everton over the past five years, and it makes for sober reading in the blue half of the city.
“How many have Liverpool got wrong?” he asked. “I’d have questioned Naby Keita, but he’s finally playing games and has come good in the past few months, so not even that one. Minamino cost virtually nothing in today’s market, and scores goals. Thiago has been outstanding this season. And while [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain has had injury problems, he made big contributions in 2018 and 2020. I think [Loris] Karius is the only one, and he cost £5m.”
Fowler pointed out that in the summer Liverpool signed Sadio Mane, Everton paid the same for Bolasie. And the next summer, they paid less for Salah than their neighbours paid for Gylfi Sigurdsson. “How many have Everton got right? It makes a difference,” he said. “A huge difference.”
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Which is why the names of Tchouameni and Bellingham are so interesting in an Anfield context. The club has not allowed James Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Keita to approach the end of their contracts without some serious planning beforehand. They will have had their formidable analysis team run their state-of-the-art programmes checking their numbers, checking their effectiveness. They will have had the medical teams offering insight in longevity. Jurgen Klopp will have delivered his expert assessment on their worth.
And they will have made a decision; probably months ago, if not longer. Clearly, at least one will leave this summer. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that all three will depart, if there are decent fees to be had for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita. And if that happens, then the club will not be left in a reactive situation, where they are forced to sign in desperation, as Everton have done so much in the past five years under an owner in Farhad Moshiri who listens far too trustingly to profit-pursuing agents.
Manchester United have found themselves in that situation too. The capture of Cristiano Ronaldo smacked of desperation. It went against everything they had stated about their transfer policy; the desire to sign young players and develop them, make them better and build something lasting.
That is what Manchester City do. That is what Liverpool do. They have a defined policy, and only depart from it when the situation demands, as in the case of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson. They sign players under the age of 25, and turn them into world-beaters. Usually, they unearth young players where analysis suggests they are close to elite numbers, and then they develop that ‘unseen’ talent (it has of course been seen, but not by every club). Diaz, Jota, Robertson and Salah are a case in point; varying amounts of money spent on potential, with the same result.
Liverpool’s recruitment is based on years of analysis. Not just of what they will require next season, or the season (or two) beyond that, but also on several years’ worth of examination of a particular player. Diaz and Jota were on the radar before they moved to Porto and Wolves, thanks in part to the Portuguese element at the club. Salah popped up when he was at Basel.
Their planning will have told them some time ago, the need this summer is obvious (assuming Salah, Mane and Firmino will stay on): midfield. They are likely to lose three in that area in the next year, and for all the promise of Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott, neither are close to making that final step as a regular starter.
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So they will have run the numbers to discover what they require in a Klopp midfield. And both Bellingham and Tchouameni stand out. The latter, with Monaco, can operate in all the midfield positions the Reds boss utilises, defensive, or number eight. He has the best duels and interception ratios in the French League, by far, which given Klopp’s desire to press, makes him an obvious target. And his passing accuracy is up there at elite level. He doesn’t score goals, but then Klopp doesn’t necessarily want his midfielders to do that.
Looking across Europe, there are few players with those elite characteristics, so there is no doubt Liverpool will have had him on their radar for some time, almost certainly since he was at Bordeaux (when he played for France U19). They will have done the work on his character too, because if there is one thing Klopp demands, it is that any new signing is a decent person, first and foremost.
Bellingham fits the bill too, no doubt. He was on Liverpool’s radar as a teenager with Birmingham, and has shown with Dortmund he has the characteristics Klopp requires. His attacking stats are impressive for a teenager with his ability to create chances from midfield, but defensively too, his numbers are up there.
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With his running and dribbling from midfield, he looks uncannily like a replacement for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who provides something no other Liverpool midfielder really has. There are huge buts to both though. Dortmund will sell Erling Haaland to Manchester City this summer, and have stated they do not want to lose more than of their best players a season, so it would take something spectacular to persuade them to part with Bellingham… and Liverpool don’t do spectacular, when an extra year of pragmatism delivers a cheaper result.
Tchouameni is also wanted by Real Madrid, and usually – virtually always in fact – when they want a player, they get him, even if Klopp’s Liverpool are the alternative. Which leaves the Reds apparently no closer to resolving their midfield issues.
Yet they have demonstrated enough times in the past that there will be a solution: either to pay for quality, wait another year (sometimes both), or find an alternative who has gone under the radar. So don’t be surprised if they sign a young midfielder with incredible stats in the summer like Diaz, who somehow has escaped the attention of most of Europe’s elite clubs.