Saturday 24 February 2018

Liverpool's failing transfer guru and why Jurgen Klopp may soon be questioning the club's ambition

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

It is not just the Liverpool future of Philippe Coutinho that may be on the line in the final days of this summer’s transfer window - as the storm brewing at Anfield has the potential to cast a cloud over the club’s biggest star.

While critics of manager Jurgen Klopp delight in highlighting his failings, Liverpool supporters have invested their hopes and dreams in the hands of the German tactician who has become the face of one of the most iconic sporting brands in the world.

That beaming smile, the booming laugh, those extravagant touchline antics and his compelling post-match interviews turned Klopp into a star long before he arrived at Anfield in October 2015, yet this affable German might be about to face up to his first real crisis as Liverpool manager.

Klopp knew that this would be the summer when Liverpool’s ambitions would be tested to the full, with the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) that oversees the club’s transfer policy being urged to shed their tag of being a set of businessmen who buy youthful players with an eye on selling them for a profit at a later date.

After Klopp reached the end of last summer’s transfer window with his balance sheet in profit, he had every right to believe that his success in guiding the club to a top-four finish in the Premier League would prelude a big summer of spending that would see Liverpool break their transfer budget on several occasions.

Yet as we edge towards the final two weeks of transfer trading and with Liverpool preparing for their crucial Champions League play-off tie against Hoffenheim on Tuesday night, Klopp will have as many questions swirling in his mind as the club’s frustrated fans.

If we get to the September 1st transfer deadline with Liverpool’s No.10 shirt vacated by Philippe Coutinho after a £100m move to Barcelona and the club failing to finalise deals for Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk or Leipzig’s Naby Keita (below) - Klopp’s two top transfer targets - then it might not just be the fans who start pointing accusing fingers in the direction of the club’s owners.

naby-keita-1.jpg
Keita has been the subject of three Liverpool bids

FSG chiefs are no soccer experts and with that in mind, they are believed to have developed a reliance Sporting Director Michael Edwards to feed them with information after he was promoted to his new role last November following a stint as the club’s statistical analyst.

Part of the much-maligned ‘transfer committee’ that was heavily criticised during Brendan Rodgers' spell as Liverpool manager, the influence Edwards commands with the club's owners was confirmed with his promotion to the vital role of chief transfer strategist last year.

A failed footballer, Edwards worked at Portsmouth and Tottenham overseeing data on players before securing his role at Liverpool, with Rodgers said to be uncomfortable with his influence on the club’s owners in the months before his sacking in October 2015.

Edwards' lack of experience in closing out high-profile transfers meant he had plenty to prove in the role and the first big test of his credentials came as Liverpool embarked on what proved to be disastrous talks to try and set up a deal to sign Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk.

Read more here:

His decision to speak to the player and his agent without getting permission from Southampton to open talks was a reckless approach that forced Liverpool into an embarrassing public apology and apparently ended their hopes of signing the defender. It was amateur trading from a novice learning the ropes.

Edwards also failed in several attempts to sign Keita, with his sole success in closing out a deal to sign Mohamed Salah from Roma not enough to absolve him of criticism if Liverpool fail to capture the players they badly need in the final weeks of this transfer window.

As if the frustration for Edwards and FSG after their transfer near misses was not already acute, they are now facing up to the prospect of losing their best player against their wishes and this after the club released a statement only last Friday confirming Coutinho would not be sold at any cost.

After the club took that firm stance, the sale of Coutinho now has the potential to spark an angry reaction from Liverpool fans already concerned about the ambitions of owners who are rapidly using up the stocks of faith placed in them by all associated with the club.

What will the mood be like at Anfield next weekend if Liverpool have slipped up in the Champions League play-offs against Hoffenheim and also lose Coutinho to Barcelona?

It doesn't bear thinking about and in the middle of the storm will stand the manager who could already be forgiven for wondering whether the club’s owners are more interested in trading on Liverpool's glorious reputation without making serious attempts to preserve it.

The answer to that question will be delivered in the next two weeks.

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