Jurgen Klopp claims he has “no doubt” Takumi Minamino‘s future remains as an “important player” for Liverpool, despite mixed fortunes on loan at Southampton.
Minamino joined the Saints in a surprise temporary switch at the end of the winter transfer window, with the terms of his deal ruling him out of Saturday’s trip to Anfield.
The 26-year-old started well at St Mary’s, scoring against Newcastle and Chelsea, but has struggled for starts of late, spending four of the last six games as an unused substitute.
After Saturday, Minamino has just four games remaining before he returns to Liverpool – though he faces a big decision over whether to represent Japan at the Olympics, which could have major ramifications on his future.
Miss pre-season with the Reds, and he risks falling behind even further; but stay and impress Klopp, and he could vindicate the manager’s words on sanctioning the loan.
Klopp described him as a “long-term project” back in February, and three months on he has reiterated this, stressing that he has “no doubt” about his role.
“He’s done really well there and this is no surprise,” he wrote in his programme notes ahead of Saturday’s game.
“When we allowed him to go in January it was a tough call to make because he is an important player for us and will be again in the future, no doubt.
“But opportunities at that time had been short with us and therefore going to play somewhere else made sense for him and us.
“Southampton was perfect because of how Ralph plays and what he demands from his players.”
As it stands, Minamino (743) has still played more minutes for Liverpool this season than Naby Keita (714), Divock Origi (536) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (274), with only four players scoring more goals.
This highlights the “tough call” to allow him to leave as a baffling one, still, as though he was not likely to emerge as a first-choice starter, he was clearly a useful squad option.
Moving to Southampton has not played out the way Minamino or Liverpool would have hoped, and Klopp’s words should be viewed through a cynical lens, with the assertion that he has “done really well” on loan a dubious one.
Nevertheless, if Klopp believes his No. 18 can return and make an impact on Merseyside, he should be welcomed as a useful player for the Reds.
Perhaps it is worth recalling his words on the season as a whole, and its effect on his fringe figures: “The one thing we tried to get, and when we got it to keep it, was balance and rhythm, stability.
“That means that you don’t change in these kinds of positions too often in between the games. That’s it pretty much.”
His claim is that with his defence more settled next season upon the return of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, there will be more opportunities to use the likes of Minamino, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita.
Only time will tell, of course, with the months ahead crucial for Taki.