Making sense of the Thiago to Liverpool transfer saga

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Thiago to Liverpool has run rampant in the media throughout the summer, as have the countless contradictions. And there are three theories surrounding the possible transfer, writes Andy Ramsay.

Thiago. The name on all Reds’ lips. Whether you want him to join, don’t think he’s needed, or are just fed up hearing about him – it’s the Bayern playmaker who’s dominated the transfer rumours this summer.

Given it’s over a month since the story broke – and he’s been relentlessly linked with Liverpool ever since – it certainly feels like there’s some substance to these rumours.

Yet, with every claim he is going to sign a counterclaim soon follows, unequivocally stating he’s not a transfer target.

There are three possibilities: Liverpool are definitely interested, Liverpool might be interested, and Liverpool are definitely not interested.

So how do we make sense of these contradictions?

 

Containing the local hype?

03 August 2019, North Rhine-Westphalia, Dortmund: Soccer: DFL Supercup, Borussia Dortmund - Bayern Munich in Signal Iduna Park. Bavaria's Thiago Alcantara. Photo: Guido Kirchner/dpa - IMPORTANT NOTE: In accordance with the requirements of the DFL Deutsche Fu?ball Liga or the DFB Deutscher Fu?ball-Bund, it is prohibited to use or have used photographs taken in the stadium and/or the match in the form of sequence images and/or video-like photo sequences.

In early July, Spanish journalist Tancredi Palmeri claimed: “Liverpool have agreed personal terms with Thiago” with a “bid to Bayern” expected.

Although rules state a club must be contacted first, everybody in the footballing world knows – and even tacitly accepts – that transfers don’t work like that in reality. Agents routinely contact potential suitors for players outside official communication channels.

But this has stung Liverpool in the past.

Most notably the protracted pursuit of Virgil van Dijk in 2017, which led to the club’s embarrassing public retraction of interest in the defender after Southampton reported their supposed ‘illegal’ approach to the Premier League.

Significantly, the fallout has resulted in Liverpool becoming far more media cautious – which explains why Thiago speculation could be strategically denied.

Crucially here, the media leak confirming the defender had chosen Liverpool resulted in relations souring and Southampton refusing to sell that summer – partly due to grievance and partly to elevate the fee.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 3, 2018: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC at Anfield. (Pic by Peter Powell/Propaganda)

The messy nature of Van Dijk’s £75 million signing in January 2018, a record fee for a defender at the time, was a harsh lesson for the club and it is noticeable how they’ve conducted business ever since.

It’s now common practice for Liverpool to avoid media attention, with supporters becoming accustomed to signings with little prior hype – the £42 million deal for Fabinho in 2018, announced within a few hours of the first links, being an obvious example.

If reports from German outlet Bild are correct, then Liverpool have made “official contact” with Bayern. While this conflicts with reports from the Liverpool Echo, it’s possible the club is deflecting interest to avoid another acrimonious negotiation process.

With Bayern still in the midst of their Champions’ League campaign and having designs to win the tournament, it’s certainly in their interest for their midfield metronome to remain focused.

 

If the circumstances are right

On the other hand, is Liverpool’s denial a negotiation tactic? Reports claiming he is not currently a target would certainly indicate an unwillingness to meet Bayern’s valuation – reportedly €30m (£27.3m).

Unlike Van Dijk’s transfer, who was contracted long-term, the Anfield club are in a strong negotiating position as Thiago is entering the last year of his contract.

Add the wealth of options already available in midfield and Klopp will be relaxed about not exceeding the club’s own valuation with finances already tight, knowing a pre-contract agreement can be signed in January for a summer switch on a Bosman.

Significantly, the Liverpool manager has also shown he’s willing to be patient to get the right player and the best deal, evidenced by the transformative signings of Van Dijk and Alisson – both of whom have been seminal to the club’s recent successes.

An interesting sub-plot, however, is the contract situation surrounding Gini Wijnaldum.

Coincidental, perhaps – but there are significant parallels between the Spaniard and Liverpool’s No. 5.

Both are 29 years old, technically gifted midfielders, are entering the final year of their contracts and are yet to sign extensions.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Thursday, July 2, 2020: Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum looks dejected during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. This was Liverpool's first game as Premier League 2019/20 Champions. (Pic by Propaganda)

With each passing day, the likelihood of Wijnaldum staying beyond 2021 seems more remote. Of course, he could still extend, but like Thiago, he may desire another challenge at a crucial stage in his career.

The incongruence of a Thiago transfer has been well documented, with it seemingly jarring with the club’s usual strategy under FSG of signing young, talented players who can be developed under the tutelage of Klopp.

Currently, the oldest outfield player Liverpool have brought in during Klopp’s tenure was Ragnar Klavan, who was 30 in 2016, meaning Thiago would be an exception to the rule – a world-class exception that is.

Yet, considering the technical demands of Wijnaldum’s midfield role, the Thiago deal begins to make more sense as a contingency plan; having a world-class operator ready to hit the ground running rather than signing a younger player who needs developing to reach the high standards required of this current Liverpool team.

A team no longer looking to make it to the top but to stay on top.

 

Simply a stalking horse?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, February 18, 2019: FC Bayern München's Thiago Alcántara during a press conference at Anfield ahead of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and FC Bayern München. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

It’s also feasible that the Thiago hype is simply media-driven, with Liverpool back amongst the powerhouses in European football.

Paul Gorst of the Liverpool Echo correctly pointed out that RMC Sport journalist Mohamed Bouhafsi – reaffirming the news of a “contract agreement” between the player and Liverpool – was central to the claims that Nicolas Pepe was going to sign last summer.

Yet, any measured fan could see the extortionate £72 million Pepe fee, who would only be a squad player at Anfield, didn’t add up.

Clearly the magnetism of this trophy-laden Liverpool team, led by the affable and charismatic Jurgen Klopp, has become a useful threat for agents negotiating transfer fees and contract deals, it’s one of the oldest tricks in the books.

Not to mention any reference to the club drives clicks online.

Thiago’s situation could be different, of course, but it may be best to remain sceptical – with his age, history with injury and wage demands arguably not adding up either.

With the transfer window closing on October 5, however, the Spanish international’s future should be revealed one way or another in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, every fan loves the drama of a will-they-won’t-they transfer saga – don’t they?


* This is a guest article for This Is Anfield. If you’d like to contribute a piece for consideration please see this page.

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