Following Michael Edwards’ promotion into the new role of Liverpool sporting director, the 37-year-old has plenty of work to do.
Edwards took up the position as sporting director after five years in different roles with the club; first Head of Performance and Analysis, then Director of Technical Performance and then Technical Director.
Following a common European model, Liverpool’s move to establish Edwards’ responsibilities both in the transfer market and in further business developments is a bold one.
Working alongside Jurgen Klopp, Edwards can hope to continue his strong progress on Merseyside.
But while the Reds are thriving both on and off the field at present, Edwards still has his work cut out for him in his new role.
Here are five objectives for Edwards as Liverpool’s new sporting director, including the finalising of contract talks with some of Klopp’s key first-team talents.
Finding a Sadio Mane Backup
Klopp has revealed that, if he is to utilise the January transfer market this season, it will be to navigate the departure of Sadio Mane to the Africa Cup of Nations.
The Senegalese could miss up to six games for the Reds during his time in Gabon, including clashes with Manchester United and Chelsea and a potential League Cup semi-final second leg.
His importance to Liverpool has been hammered home since his £30 million move from Southampton in the summer, scoring six goals and laying on four assists in 11 games so far, with his side’s only loss of the season so far coming when he was ruled out with a shoulder injury.
Mane adds pace, a direct style and an unpredictability to the Liverpool attack, and his partnership with Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino has proved hugely effective so far.
While six games is not the lengthiest period, and Klopp does have cover in the likes of Divock Origi and Sheyi Ojo, if the German is looking to add another winger to his squad regardless of Mane’s availability, it is Edwards’ role to help identify that target.
FC Rostov forward Sardar Azmoun has emerged on the Reds’ radar, but is more of a centre-forward, and it would make sense to trawl the market for a player capable of providing similar qualities to Mane.
Finalising Key Contract Talks
At present, only Lucas Leiva and Alex Manninger are set to see out their Liverpool contracts at the end of the season, but a number of key first-team players are closing in on the final year of their deals.
Emre Can is the most pressing, with the German midfielder currently due to leave the club at the end of 2017/18, while Origi, Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno and Ragnar Klavan all see their contracts expire in 2019.
With Edwards now in charge of “player identification, acquisitions, sales and retention,” the futures of these first-team stars should be on his agenda in his first months in the job.
Talks have been ongoing with Can, Lallana, Lovren, Origi and Moreno, according to various reports, with no conclusion in sight at this stage, and this must be resolved; particularly with Lovren, Can and Lallana forming a key part of Klopp’s starting lineup this season.
Furthermore, a decision must be made over the future of Sturridge, who has found himself dropping down the centre-forward pecking order under Klopp but still has significant quality to offer.
Klavan may have signed his only contract with the Reds on arriving from Augsburg in the summer, as the Estonia international will be nearing his 34th birthday by June 2019, but the issue still stands that securing the futures of Klopp’s current squad is more important than adding reinforcements.
Securing Philippe Coutinho’s Future
While tying Can, Lallana, Lovren, Origi, Sturridge and Moreno down should be on Edwards’ to-do list in his first months as Liverpool’s sporting director, heavier focus should be placed on Coutinho.
Coutinho has reached new heights under Klopp in 2016/17, and is set to break into the elite bracket, no doubt drawing interest from Europe’s biggest clubs.
Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain are regularly touted as possible destinations for the 24-year-old in the future, but Klopp will be desperate to keep him on Merseyside for his peak years.
Though Coutinho only signed a new contract with Liverpool at the beginning of February, expiring in 2020, his weekly wage is believed to be around £75,000 a week.
This puts the Brazilian below the likes of Sturridge, Firmino, Jordan Henderson and James Milner, despite Coutinho being as important, if not more, than that key quartet.
To ward off interest from abroad, and ensure Coutinho stays at Anfield as he continues his progression into one of Europe’s finest, Edwards should work on a new, more lucrative contract for the Reds’ No. 10.
Strategising Melwood & Academy Merger
The distance between Liverpool’s first-team training facility at Melwood and the academy at Kirkby has long presented a problem for the club, with Klopp recently reiterating Brendan Rodgers’ stance from his time as manager.
“I think it makes to sense to improve the circumstances, where and how,” he said in October, following reports revealing the club’s plan to merge the two.
“We haven’t finally decided because it’s not all in our hands. But of course, we have to think about improvement and developing things to make it more likely to get the best out of our talents.”
The prospect of having all of Liverpool’s players, from the senior squad to their high-potential youth, in one place is a crucial one in ensuring academy players have the best chance of establishing themselves at the club.
But this remains a long-term project, and one not likely finalised any time soon, with Edwards facing a major task to plan the merger.
Initially, this will be establishing the right site, whether that is in expanding Kirkby or securing a new plot elsewhere.
But with Klopp stressing its importance, this must be a priority for Edwards.
Continuing Quality-Over-Quantity Academy Focus
“We had around 235 to 240 before, it’s just under 200 boys now and that figure will head south still,” Reds academy director Alex Inglethorpe explained in 2015.
“The focus here now isn’t on having a specific number in each age group, it’s around wanting a specific level of quality in each age group.”
Inglethorpe’s plan to focus on quality over quantity in Liverpool’s academy is sensible, and with Klopp showing his faith in youth by providing both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ovie Ejaria their senior debuts already this season proves this will continue to be fruitful in the future.
Edwards is tasked with “ensuring the club remains an industry leader in providing a clear pathway from the younger age groups to the first-team squad,” and therefore working closely with Inglethorpe and Klopp is essential.
Liverpool saw Ryan McLaughlin, Alex O’Hanlon, Will Marsh, Dan Cleary, Kristof Polgar, Jordan Rossiter and Jerome Sinclair all leave the club in the summer, with the likes of Jordan Williams and Joe Maguire set to follow in 2017.
In their place, both Juanma and Nathan Phillips were signed on free transfers, while Alexander-Arnold, Ejaria, Ben Woodburn, Adam Phillips, Brooks Lennon and Shamal George were all promoted from the U18s to the U23s.
This ruthless dissection of talent is essential if Liverpool are to give Inglethorpe, Klopp, Michael Beale and Neil Critchley the best chance of overseeing valuable development.