We speak exclusively with Paul Joyce of the Express newspaper to discuss all things Liverpool FC this summer.
To those who scour the gossip pages of Liverpool FC during the transfer windows, the name of Paul Joyce is one that stands out as being one of the most reliable and trustworthy sources of LFC information.
Joyce, along with Tony Barrett (the Times), Dominic King (the Daily Mail), Chris Bascombe (the Telegraph), Andy Hunter (the Guardian), David Maddock (the Mirror), and James Pearce (the Liverpool Echo) are the Liverpool correspondents for their respective newspapers, following the Reds home and away, gaining insight and information about the club.
We spoke to Paul this week to discuss Liverpool’s summer transfer plans, Jurgen Klopp‘s first pre-season in charge, and the changing landscape of football media in the digital age.
Hi Paul, firstly, what’s your take on Liverpool’s search for a left-back this summer?
The primary target is [Ben] Chilwell at Leicester City. That might surprise people with [Alberto] Moreno being here, that they are going for such another young lad.
The feeling is that he is their first choice [left-back target] and it is just a question of Liverpool and Leicester negotiating. There is a keenness for the transfer to get done, but people are away from the club at the minute and these things tend to get strung out, especially when Leicester are probably not that keen on settling.
Maybe the lad sees an opportunity with Liverpool.
Obviously [David] Wagner has recommended him to Klopp from his time at Huddersfield so as far as I’m aware the left back interest is on Chilwell.
That can change if they don’t get the first target and maybe [Jonas] Hector comes into it – but then it’s a different type of deal, a £20 million deal as opposed to smaller deal for a youngster. It seems a bit strange, to want Chilwell and then switch to someone who is going to cost so much more money, it’s not on the agenda at the minute but these things change.
Would Chilwell come in to replace Moreno or be back up?
I think he would come in to challenge him, but as we saw with Joe Gomez last season if he joins and does well in pre-season then maybe he could be put straight into the team.
It’s a big step up for these youngsters coming in, so maybe it’s to put pressure on Moreno initially. I would presume it’s a bit like [Loris] Karius; wanting to challenge the person that is there first and foremost.
Obviously Moreno had a bad game in the final but there has been other times where he has done ok and it’s just that lack of consistency in his performances that has made them realise that’s a weak position.
People forget that Moreno is 23 himself, so he has plenty of room for development…
That’s the thing, they have all worked with Klopp for eight months and the thing we find with Liverpool players a lot is that they come in and we sort of judge them after five months; “he’s crap, he’s no good.”
I know Moreno has been here two years now – Rodgers said he didn’t pick him because he couldn’t defend, and in the [Europa League] final it was the same thing – but obviously there are people at the club who believe in him still.
So maybe the signing of Chilwell will be to chivy him along a little bit and see how he responds to the challenge, because it’s not been there previously with the [Jose] Enrique situation.
This week we saw the Gonzalo Higuain rumours, can we assume that one can put to bed?
The feedback that we are getting is they [Liverpool] are not in for a striker. Daniel Sturridge seems to be staying, plus Divock Origi. Danny Ings comes back in – and Klopp says he is impressed with him and with Origi.
Obviously people get seduced by the name of Higuain and his goalscoring record but there doesn’t seem to be a willingness to buy a striker.
Klopp said back in February that we have five forwards, including Benteke, but spoke more about wanting a winger…
Yeah we have too many forwards, if anything. He really only ever plays one at a time anyway; the out-and-out striker.
Midfield is another they want to improve, with [Mamoud] Dahoud being the go-to man they are looking for.
With the Mamadou Sakho situation do you think if Sakho was to have a long term suspension, would a centre back be on the list, or would Joe Gomez come into the equation?
I think Klopp is looking to promote some of the youngsters and there would be a willingness to try and see what Gomez offers. He looked good when he first came into the team last season.
Obviously there’s Skrtel likely to go. Does Lucas become more of a centre back as time goes on? And Matip to come in.
My biggest thing about the players that we might be looking to buy or have bought, I’m not sure how much better they will make us as a team.
When you think Mourinho is coming in and they are going to spend big, and Guardiola is obviously going to have an impact at City. Chelsea are trying to buy Lukaku and they are going to spend big under Conte.
I think that the second half in Basel challenges more than what I had thought for the previous eight months. You think the players are making progress and then that second half comes up from nowhere and you think ‘where did that come from?’.
You go from thinking maybe it’s only fine tuning, to ‘bloody hell how many of those players are going to improve us?’
And what about Gotze?
Gotze’s playing whatever game he is playing – but I could still see that one being resurrected at some point as Bayern have made it pretty clear he doesn’t feature for them. Is he really going to stay for a final year if he isn’t going to play football?
It’s ok saying those things on May 23rd but when it gets to August 23rd? I don’t know if it’s the end of that one.
This week we debated what one thing that you would change at the club, not a player, so anything to do with the structure or the philosophy at the club.
A suggestion was to sign players for the first 11 and not the squad, would you agree?
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of names that seem to be out there and I go back to the statement before of the idea of improving.
Matip has not played in England before, neither has Karius, both are young. Dahoud is 20 – highly rated but young.
I just have visions of ‘we need 6 months for them to settle in’. I have been saying that for about a decade now! It always takes time to settle in.
That’s why I felt the final was a big moment, to have got back into the Champions League and then the momentum you would have got from that. Now all of a sudden it just seems like there are a lot of questions about the club again. They have to play catch up again.
It just feels like a big year, Liverpool really do need to get back into the top four and re-establish themselves.
Do you think the lack of European football will affect departures as well as incomings?
I just think it complicates it because Klopp’s policy when he came in, he was big on wanting all the young players to stay with him and shouldn’t be sent out on loan. But you have lost 6 games minimum next season, possibly 20 games less than last season?
[Sheyi] Ojo what’s going to happen with him next season? [Jordon] Ibe? What are they going to do next season? I just don’t think it’s realistic for the youngsters to stay if they aren’t going to play. They need to get out and develop, playing once every two weeks for the under-21s is not going to do them any good.
Maybe Klopp jumped the gun when he said his wish to keep all youngsters with him as he didn’t understand the intricacies of academy football in England?
Yeah, there’s going to be about 30 players at Melwood unless they are placed in different places and get to play every week. You have [Lazar] Markovic and [Mario] Balotelli coming back, Luis Alberto is meant to be coming back.
They don’t want to sell Joe Allen for less than £8-10 million so he could still be here. Then you have Lucas. Where are they all going to play?
I think that’s where the lack of games is damaging. Klopp didn’t rotate that much at Dortmund but he didn’t need to. It might be beneficial in terms of getting into the top four – a means to an end to get there – but I think it’s going to be hard. It’s going to make training more important.
Speaking of training, we have seen reports of the couple of fitness staff he is bringing in from Bayern Munich, do you think there might be any other changes in the backroom team?
I’m not sure. As time evolves he will carry on putting his stamp on things. Obviously fitness was a big thing at Dortmund but there is still a huge debate about how it will translate to a Premier League season with 38 games and no winter break.
But from what we hear it’s going to be pretty intensive in the summer, three training sessions a day – 7am, 7pm and one in between.
This is probably a way of seeing who he can count on for the season. A mental test as well as physical; who is he able to count on? Who is the player that’s ducked out of 7pm training session two or three times? The level of competition we just spoke about, he [a player not performing in training] is going to put himself at a disadvantage because Klopp doesn’t have to wait for these players now he has got 25 bursting to play.
Do you think he hasn’t made his mind up about everyone he wants next season, so therefore pre-season is a big indicator for him?
What I would say is I bet he would be as shocked as we were with the second half performance [in Basel] so while it challenged some supporters views on what had gone before, maybe he was like that himself, maybe it’s a hard one for him to get because of what actually did happen.
Everything that went on [in the second-half vs. Sevilla] is everything he hates. So it was probably a big learning exercise – maybe he is a bit confused by it himself.
Klopp had been pretty complimentary of the players he had inherited, always spoke up for them…
After the Tottenham game he said ‘these are all good players, you must be mad to think they can’t do it, I’ll show you they are good players’. I was thinking at the time, see what he says Jan/Feb.
They just needed to cross the line in that final game, but came up short in the way they did. I would be interested to speak to him now and find out what he thinks about what went wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was shocked by what happened to be honest.
Moving away from Liverpool specifically. How do you think social media has changed football reporting in general? How’s it changed the landscape?
Well for one thing you can’t hold anything any more. When I first started you would basically go down to the training ground, at lunch time you used to be allowed in every day (until Gerard Houllier came and put a stop to that). You would go down and get your story and then you would hold it till the next morning and that was the first time anybody saw it.
In some respects it’s made us/me feel like I want to get everything right and so I won’t take chances. Maybe ten years ago, if I say Liverpool are looking at this player from France, that’s basically as far as it gets. Now, its picked up and the French club put out a denial and it’s everywhere else the next morning. It’s retweeted everywhere. Then everyone comes back to you saying they have denied it and what are you talking about. There’s so many avenues for people to comment on it.
The appetite for Liverpool stuff is so great it drives you on a bit to make sure it’s right, you know if you get it wrong you get three thousand notifications the next morning saying it’s wrong.
Tony Barrett, Dom King, Chris Bascombe and people like that know it’s important to get it right. They take it personally if they get something wrong. It’s raised the standard – or maintained the standard, should I say – because so many people are getting information continually.
Some people may say that because of social media there are less exclusives now, do you think that’s true?
Yeah I think there’s less exclusives because things like club’s own media has changed massively since I started. When I first started it was ClubCall where you called up and heard a two minute interview with Neil Ruddock and that’s all there was. Nowadays clubs have their own TV channels and websites. So I think in general it’s harder to get exclusives as the clubs have to feed their own internal wheels.
Also, what is an exclusive? Maybe ten years ago you might get an exclusive on a player joining Liverpool because that name is not getting out any other way. Now it’s coming out because we are seeing on social media all these names all of the time. Like Higuain, or [Alex] Teixeira, somebody taking a photo of him and then that is out and the link is established straight away.
Everybody sees Ian Ayre travelling abroad, or Klopp sat with someone who is meant to be Higuain’s brother. It’s harder to protect things for it then to be an exclusive. There are one or two but it’s changed from the days when big stories shocked.
Tony Barrett reported [LFC’s interest in] Dahoud first, but certainly things like Brendan going and Klopp getting appointed was well trailed so didn’t feel exclusive, definitely not to any of the papers. The rise of agents; maybe placing things in certain papers and using different platforms. It has changed a lot in the twenty years I’ve been doing it!
Thanks to Paul for his time speaking to This Is Anfield.
You can find Paul on Twitter: @pjoyceexpress