Liverpool and Spurs to battle it out for £16m-rated Konoplyanka
Ian Ayre, the Liverpool managing director, travelled to Ukraine on Wednesday to finalise the £16 million signing of winger Yevhen Konoplyanka as Tottenham Hotspur moved to hijack the deal.
Konoplyanka is the Merseyside club’s prime target in the final 48 hours of the transfer window as they recognise the need to strengthen to consolidate their top-four position.
The 24-year-old is a versatile attacker for Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. He has been scouted for a long time by Liverpool and was initially seen as a potential future target.
However, in what has become a familiar theme in recent seasons, it emerged on Wednesday night that Spurs are rivalling Liverpool for the player.
Last season, the Londoners signed Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey after Liverpool made the first approach, and also ensured Kop negotiations for Willian broke down last August before themselves losing out to Chelsea.
It was the most recent setback, when a move for new Chelsea signing Mohamed Salah came to nothing, that led Liverpool to revive their interest in the Ukraine international.
Ayre is hoping to return to Merseyside on Thursday with an agreement to fly the player to England for a medical.
Securing his signature would complete a significant few days after victory in the Merseyside derby but, with so many pivotal fixtures on the horizon, Brendan Rodgers, the manager, has not disguised his desire for more quality recruits.
He has been upset, however, by suggestions any of the public frustrations he expressed were aimed at his own club for failing to sign players.
Rodgers is part of the much discussed ‘transfer committee’ at Anfield and reiterated after the derby on Tuesday that he had no issue with what he insisted were “collective” decisions to pull out of negotiations for previous targets due to overvaluations.
It is a sensitive issue at Liverpool, where long before the arrival of Fenway Sports Group there was a history of public spats between the manager and his boardroom about player recruitment. It had a paralysing effect at Anfield before John W Henry led the 2010 takeover and it is understandable the manager and the club’s executives wish to emphasise there is no similarity at the club now to then.
While there remain questions as to whether Liverpool’s transfer committee has delivered enough top-class signings in the 18 months since it was formed, Rodgers has made it clear both publicly and privately that he is supportive of the concept.
A deal for Konoplyanka would go some way to appeasing those eager to ensure an ideal opportunity to return to the Champions League – and retain players of the calibre of Luis Suárez – is not squandered in the final 15 games of the season.
Liverpool also headed into the transfer window in need of cover in defence and midfield, but at this stage the Ukrainian is the only likely arrival
If Liverpool do stay in the top four, it will be virtue of their attacking capabilities, Daniel Sturridge elevating himself to derby hero with two goals in the 4-0 win against Everton.
Sturridge’s evening ended rather more sourly than expected when he was involved in an on-field altercation with Suárez for not seeing a pass when through on goal.
The England striker has been in conciliatory mood ever since. “When I missed that chance Luis was obviously fuming with me at the time, and I don’t blame him, I think everyone was fuming with me,” Sturridge said.
“I was fuming with myself, too. You could see I was still disappointed when I came off because obviously I was also disappointed with missing a penalty at the Kop end. Of course I am a bit disappointed not to score a hat-trick but at the same time we have won 4-0 at home against Everton, so really I can’t be too down on myself. Sometimes you score, sometimes you get a hat-trick, sometimes you don’t get anything – and Tuesday was a good night for me.
“Personally, I think the boys give me the license to do what I do and we have been working tirelessly as a unit. I am just really enjoying my football at the moment. The love I have for this club just grows and grows more and more each day and I can only thank the fans for embracing me in the way that they have.”
Who is he?
A versatile winger from Dnipro. The 24 year-old was rated at between £50 million-£60 million by his club manager Juande Ramos when he was targeted by Dinamo Kiev a few years ago.
Why Liverpool need him?
You only need to look at Liverpool’s bench on Tuesday – a mixture of waifs and strays – to see how short of quality they are. In fairness, attacking options are not the main issue, but Brendan Rodgers will take what he can get.
What will he bring?
Pace, an eye for goal and a bit of bite in the tackle thanks to a black belt in karate. Given this passion, it should not be a problem adjusting to the physical demands of English football.
How is the deal progressing?
Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre is in Ukraine right now trying to secure the deal to enable a medical in the next 24 hours. As ever with Liverpool, they have a valuation from which they won’t budge.