Thursday 27 October 2016

All you need to know about Liverpool's new £5million signing Ragnar Klavan

Luke Brown

Published 18/07/2016 | 09:36

Ragnar Klavan of Augsburg reacts during a Bundesliga match against Borussia Dortmund
Ragnar Klavan of Augsburg reacts during a Bundesliga match against Borussia Dortmund

Liverpool are poised to complete the signing of 30-year-old defender Ragnar Klavan. Here is everything you need to know about the Estonian.

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He plays at centre back...

Ragnar Klavan, the little-known 30-year old Estonian footballer that Liverpool this weekend signed for €5million from FC Augsburg has established a reputation as a tough-tackling centre-back, and Jurgen Klopp will expect him to help shore up Liverpool's leaky defence.

Powerfully built, standing 6 ft 1 in tall and dominant in the air, Klavan is solid in the tackle as well as being exceptionally reliable: on average last season he made less than one four per match, and picked up just two bookings. Although he has played almost exclusively as a centre-back for his current club, FC Augsburg, he is also capable of playing as a left-sided full-back, and is efficient in bringing the ball out of defence.

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His signature represents a good piece of business for Klopp, who knows the player well from his Bundesliga days. With Joe Gomez and Mamadou Sakho both likely to miss the start of the season with achilles injuries, Tiago Illori set to feature at Rio 2016, and Martin Skrtel moving to Fenerbahce, Klavan won't have to wait long for his chance to impress.

... but used to play in midfield

Klavan actually began his career in midfield. Following in the footsteps of his father, Dzintar, who also represented the Estonian national team, Klavan began life as something of an advanced playmaker, and has since admitted that Zinedine Zidane was his childhood hero.

In his early days as a professional footballer he started dating Lenna Kuurmaa, a popstar who was part of the popular girl band Vanilla Ninja (what do you mean you've never heard of them?!) leading to the Estonian press quickly dubbing them — you guessed it — 'Posh and Becks'.

But the relationship didn't last, and the media quickly stopped labelling Klavan as the 'Beckham of Estonian football' when he began his conversion into a defender. Initially moved to left-back, where he played for the Dutch club  Heracles Almelo, Klavan began playing a central defender after a 2009 switch to  Eredivisie rivals AZ Alkmaar.

He was one of the Bundesliga's stand-out players last season

Klavan became the first Estonian to play in UEFA Champions League group stage at AZ, but found himself unable to turn down a move to the Bundesliga in 2012, when FC Augsburg came calling. He's also a three time Estonian player of the year, don't you know.

Although far from a household name in the UK, Augsburg could be the Bundesliga's answer to Leicester City. Minnows for much of their 108-year history, in the early 2000s they suffered relegation to German football's fourth division, before an unlikely surge up the football ladder resulted in the club winning promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time, in 2011. By 2015, they had qualified for the Europa League.

Klavan was one of the players who helped Augsburg reach the next level. He became a stalwart in their rugged defence quickly after joining, with only Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Schalke, Leverkusen and Mönchengladbach boasting a better defensive record in his first season in Germany. A year later, he played in every single minute of the club's greatest ever campaign, as they finished fifth in the table.

He has a long(ish) history with the Premier League

Liverpool supporters will be delighted to know that, not only is Klavan a solid defender with European pedigree, but that he also has a history in mugging Everton off.

Everton were sniffing around the defender in 2015, and Klavan's agent confirmed their interest to the German press, before cryptically adding: "You have to know that it is his dream to play in the Premier League once." Kicker then reported that the two parties had opened negotiations, only for Klavan to very publicly reject a move to Merseyside, citing Everton's lack of European football as a major factor in his decision. What a tease.

Klavan could have ended up in the Premier League much earlier though, with Sunderland offering the player a trial when he was still a teenager plying his trade at the mighty Viljandi JK Tulevik. But things didn't work out, and it would take Klavan over a decade to finally seize his chance to play in England.

He has a very complicated relationship with Louis van Gaal

The story goes that, whilst still playing as a left-back for Heracles Almelo, Louis van Gaal — then manager of AZ — invited Klavan into his office. He proceeded to ask Klavan about the many intricacies of AZ's tactical system, which the defender passed with flying colours. Impressed, van Gaal signed him on the spot.

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But LVG hasn't always been a fan of the big defender. Shortly after failing to impress at Sunderland, Klavan found himself attempting on a trial at Dutch giants Ajax. Danny Blind liked the look of the youngster, only for van Gaal, who was Ajax's Technical Director at the time, to veto the move.

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