On one hand, the prospect of Thiago Alcantara joining Liverpool is baffling; but on the other, it seems a move that could set the Reds on course for another title.
“We will not defend the title or whatever next year, we will attack the next one,” he said, and though a 4-0 reverse at the hands of Man City soon after posed as a contrasting image, the hope is the Reds will be focused again in 2020/21.
One of the biggest hurdles for Klopp, with no doubts over the mentality of his current squad, is strengthening in a transfer market clouded by a pandemic.
Liverpool have already pulled out of a deal to sign Timo Werner, with a fee of around £50 million deemed too costly for a player who would be tasked with unseating one of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
Instead, the manager’s inclination is to “get creative” in the market, and this includes the promotion of talented youngsters to plug gaps in the squad.
Neco Williams is best-placed to do so, with a deputy required at right-back, but Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott also stand out from a group that also counts Ki-Jana Hoever, Sepp van den Berg, Leighton Clarkson, Jake Cain and Paul Glatzel among their number.
A delay to the Africa Cup of Nations, postponed to the start of 2021, has eliminated the desperate need to sign a player like Werner, giving the club a year to recuperate financially and identify an alternative.
But while Klopp said “it’s just not likely that it will be the most busy summer in the world,” his belief remains that, if possible, “we want to strengthen this squad,” even though he knows “it is not a squad you have to change now.”
As runaway title-winners, there is little denying the quality at Klopp’s disposal, but if growing reports are to be believed, he has already earmarked the next signing.
Reports from Germany, Spain, Argentina and Italy, from a range of reputable sources, have claimed that Liverpool are pursuing a deal worth up to €35 million for Thiago.
Depending on who you believe, this deal could already be “very close” or not far beyond the embryonic stages, though the consensus is that there is interest, and the player himself is open to the move.
The suggestion he has already agreed personal terms with Liverpool adds weight to that, and sheds light on the manner in which many modern transfers are conducted—first through the player and his agent, and then with his club.
That there is yet to be an outright denial from any of the Merseyside press is certainly intriguing, too.
Not an FSG signing?
But despite the speed in which this story is developing, it still sticks out as a deal that jars with the established, successful ideals of the club and its owners.
Thiago is undoubtedly a world-class player, one of the best midfielders in the world, who has won nine titles during his time with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, along with the Champions League once and the Club World Cup twice.
He is one of the most accomplished talents in terms of ball retention, with his control, dribbling ability and eye for a pass allowing him to serve as the platform upon which Bayern’s dominance can be built.
With Wijnaldum’s contract set to expire in 2021, like Thiago‘s at Bayern, talk of interest in the Spaniard has led to suggestions he could be a replacement for the No. 5, allowing Liverpool to cash in on a player reaching his peak rather than see him leave on a free.
Thiago could be seen as an upgrade on Wijnaldum—one who averages 0.6 more key passes, 2.4 more dribbles and 42.3 more passes per 90 minutes—and with Adam Lallana leaving at the end of the season, a top-bracket wage may not be an issue.
But with Klopp at the helm, and Michael Edwards leading recruitment, the Reds have rarely signed players above the age of 26.
Liverpool’s outfield signings since 2016
- Marko Grujic – 19
- Steven Caulker (loan) – 24
- Sadio Mane – 24
- Joel Matip – 24
- Ragnar Klavan – 30
- Gini Wijnaldum – 25
- Mohamed Salah – 25
- Dominic Solanke – 19
- Andy Robertson – 23
- Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 24
- Virgil van Dijk – 26
- Naby Keita – 23
- Fabinho – 24
- Xherdan Shaqiri – 26
- Harvey Elliott – 16
- Takumi Minamino – 24
In fact, the only outfielder brought in since Klopp took over in 2015 to fit this description was Ragnar Klavan, who was 30 when he arrived but served as fourth-choice centre-back and cost just £4.2 million.
Thiago would stick out like a sore thumb in this list, but not just due to his age—he would also stand out as a signing who has already attained world-class status.
Every other player brought into the squad has been, to some extent, a project to fit into Klopp’s evolving system, and thankfully, with the Premier League title as evidence, the majority have paid off.
A change of approach
But now with the title in tow, perhaps it is time for a change in emphasis: to stay on top, perhaps Liverpool have deemed it right to sign a player from the top.
Bayern have already been confirmed as Bundesliga champions, with Thiago playing 24 of their 34 games, and Klopp considers his old rivals as one of the very best sides in the world.
That Thiago missed a handful of those games due to injury may be another red flag, along with his age and wages, but it would be out of character for Klopp and his staff to not do their due diligence in this regard.
With his age, a ripe-old 29, seemingly the biggest alarm bell for many, it should be noted that Thiago only celebrated his birthday in April, and is younger than Wijnaldum, Lallana, Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Dejan Lovren.
He is less than a year older than Van Dijk, Shaqiri, Matip and Firmino, and a year-and-a-day older than Mane, and is already proven as an elite-level winner.
If a move goes ahead, it will be due to those in charge being convinced his performances will justify an outlay of around £31.5 million for a player with little to no resale value.
That justification would come in cementing himself as a first-choice starter, likely alongside Fabinho and Henderson, and propelling Liverpool to further silverware.
To many supporters, accustomed to the methods that fuelled the Reds’ gradual rise to champions of England, signing Thiago may be difficult to comprehend.
But maybe, just maybe, this could be a reality we can adjust to after a 30-year wait.