The story of how Liverpool signed Fabinho and why Nabil Fekir will be next
The sun had set over Merseyside late Monday night when Fabinho and Rebeca Tavares flew back to Monaco from Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport. On the plane, Fabinho and his wife clinked glasses filled with Champagne, as Tavares toasted the moment by saying, “We are Reds, baby,” with the sort of enthusiasm you see at a roulette table in a Las Vegas casino.
It had been the deal which surprised everyone, aside from those involved directly because Liverpool – with sporting director Michael Edwards leading negotiations – had quietly and aggressively been pursuing the Brazilian since February. In an interview with French radio, Fabinho would admit that Liverpool’s determination to sign him had been more focused and personal than the offers made by other parties over the last two seasons, including those from both Manchester clubs, Paris St Germain, Juventus, Internazionale and most recently, Atlético Madrid – though they were far too late in making their move.
“I spoke on the phone with [Roberto] Firmino,” Fabinho said. “I know him personally…I was able to speak with the manager and people who work at the club. They gave me a lot of confidence.”
During discussions, Fabinho had apparently been given the sort of treatment by Jürgen Klopp that convinced Virgil van Dijk waiting six months for his move to Anfield to materialise wasn’t such a hardship – even with Pep Guardiola wanting him to go to City.
According to Fabinho’s representatives, Liverpool’s surge to the Champions League final mattered most, though. It shatters the notion for some who have been quick to assess that defeat in Kiev has rendered the season as pointless. Being there alone has outlined Liverpool as an important club on the European stage once more, helping them dictate the transfer market rather than react to it, thus placing them in a stronger position than before.
Fabinho will replace Juventus-bound Emre Can. Can is a fine midfielder and Klopp wanted him to stay. Yet in the cold analysis, Can’s limitations were recognised and this explains why he was not guaranteed anything by Klopp in a sporting sense.
Can sees his future as a number 6 and had Klopp not been managing an English club, he probably would have agreed with him rather than suggesting he is effective for Liverpool in a more advanced position. For a deeper lying midfielder in a Klopp team, it requires the individual to be quick thinking as well as athletic and powerful. He must be able to speed up play as well as slow it down. Can will do well in Italy, where the pace of the game suits him.
There is a belief at Liverpool that Fabinho, Naby Keïta and Nabil Fekir, who is expected to sign from Lyon, will offer the sort of variety and speed that was unavailable in Kiev, where the class of Real Madrid was just a bit too much in an area of the field where Liverpool’s energy levels seemed to drain with all of the chasing, especially after the initiative swung following Mohamed Salah’s enforced exit.
For Liverpool, there are other encouraging signs. The club began last summer apologising to Southampton for the van Dijk fiasco, when everyone knew he was the primary target for the window only for details about meetings to surface in the public domain before the transfer was completed and delay it from happening.
This summer has begun positively, with a major deal being announced only an hour or so after the speculation started in France. It might not ultimately be good news for journalists but perhaps this is the start of a new code of omertà.