Thursday 22 August 2019

'If you are all mainstream, all the same way, that is difficult' - How Liverpool's £8million trio are leading title charge

Andy Robertson of Liverpool (L) and Trent Alexander-Arnold
Andy Robertson of Liverpool (L) and Trent Alexander-Arnold

Simon Hughes

"They have a long career ahead which is cool and how it looks at the moment is that they want to spend the majority of their careers here which is cool as well," Jurgen Klopp would say at Melwood this week when he was asked an interesting question – though admittedly not by this journalist – about the diversity of Liverpool's defence.

It was interesting because the broader facts have insofar not really been recognised, with eyes drawn to the eye-watering record sums it has taken for Klopp to bring Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker to Anfield, players who have transformed that area of the field to the point where it is almost unrecognisable.

The question, however, was about the other three that play beside them. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip and Andy Robertson have cost just £8.5million in transfer fees and this means that Liverpool's defence is certainly not the most expensive in the Premier League, not by some distance when you consider the outlay at Manchester City who have spent more than £300million in recruiting not just one defence but two.

Van Dijk, who is fit to play for Liverpool at his former club Southampton, could have chosen to go to City in the summer of 2017 and though he opted for Liverpool because of Klopp's persistence as well as the picture painted of the possibilities at Anfield, it would be fascinating to compare what the agent was promised by each of the clubs competing for the signature of the player.

It was, of course, revealed yesterday that Liverpool – for the second year in a row – had spent more money than any other on agents' fees, racing beyond City who were second on the list by nearly £20m.

There might be a lot that is morally grotesque about such figure but in cold sporting terms it is explained partly by the number of big transfers sanctioned at Liverpool in this period (five compared to two at City), and partly by the contract renewals for Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane – agreements which Klopp identifies as just as important as any new recruit.

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Jurgen Klopp (left) and Mohamed Salah

If you have listened closely to Klopp over the last month or so and trust his word, you appreciate that Liverpool's expenditure has been a necessary requirement to pull them (almost) level with City.

You believe too that Klopp will not repeat what he has done over the last 15 months and simply carry on spending to keep Liverpool on their current trajectory.

He clearly thinks this team and this squad has a chance of staying together and realising their ambitions on Merseyside rather than seeing them through at the Nou Camp, the Etihad or Stamford Bridge – as has been the case in the past.

Klopp might still be waiting for that first trophy but one of his many achievements in transforming Liverpool into a club which nevertheless is now feared across Europe is the feeling it is now no longer vulnerable as it was to other Premier League sides with more money, those who are able to strengthen their own resolve while weakening Liverpool's by signing their best players. Would any of Liverpool's stars leave for a domestic rival now?

Klopp believes it counts for something that his squad is made up of back stories which take on different paths and involve different transfer fees.

"Having different characters always helps," Klopp said. "If you are all mainstream, all the same way, that is difficult. It is not important how much you cost or how big the price was. Virgil came here and it was a big step for him. He knew he could improve, he wanted to improve; he was at Celtic and could win titles but this is the first club (in England) really where [he could do that]. He sees his future here now. Let's try everything possible to be successful.

"It was exactly the same for Robbo. It is not important if you are £7-8-10m. Joel was the same and he was on a free transfer. Trent dreamed of nothing else since he was born of being involved in something like this and that is all good. It is all different ideas and characters. Joe [Gomez] is fit again as well.

"In England, it is probably not the most expensive defence in the world but it is a proper one, a really proper one. That is all that counts. Wherever good players are coming from wherever they are raised, wherever the dream started, they are welcome here at Liverpool.

"Sometimes we can afford them, sometimes not. But now it feels to me they are a proper bunch of players together not just the defence but they really stick to each other and the club in a way which is exceptional. They want to do the job 100 per cent."

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