How Premier League rules could affect Liverpool’s transfer plans

Liverpool have another factor to consider as they make further signings this summer, with rules in naming their 25-man Premier League squad influencing their plans.

The transfer window has now been open for over a month, but it has so far been a quiet one for Liverpool – as is the case for much of the Premier League.

Ibrahima Konate remains the club’s only signing, while the most high-profile departure has been Gini Wijnaldum, whose contract expired on July 1 allowing him to join Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

With the window to close on August 31, it is set to be a busy two months at Anfield, with sporting director Michael Edwards tasked with clearing the deadwood and raising funds for signings in midfield and attack.

Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri, Takumi Minamino, Loris Karius, Marko Grujic and Taiwo Awoniyi are among the players up for sale, which could help bring in close to £80 million in transfer fees.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 23, 2021: Liverpool's Nathaniel Phillips, wearimng a head bandage, during the final FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Perhaps more important, however, is the future of Nat Phillips, who is attracting interest from Burnley, Brighton, Newcastle and Southampton as the club seek anywhere from £12 million and £20 million.

It is a lofty increase considering Phillips was close to joining Swansea less than a year ago in a deal worth around £4 million, which reflects the progress made in his unexpected first-team exposure last season.

The 24-year-old is now a proven Premier League player, and given the arrival of Konate a move elsewhere in the top flight would be a sensible one for all parties.

In parting ways with their latest cult hero, however, Liverpool will open themselves up to another problem as Klopp presides over a fine balancing act.

When the Premier League confirmed the updated lists for the 2020/21 campaign in February, the Reds named nine homegrown players in their 25-man squad.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 3, 2021: Liverpool's Xherdan Shaqiri, captain Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Thiago Alcantara prepare for a free-kick during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. Brighton & Hove Albion won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Phillips was one of those, along with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ben Davies, Joe Gomez, Joe Hardy, Jordan Henderson, Caoimhin Kelleher, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Within the current top-flight rules, clubs are permitted to name a maximum of 25 players over the age of 21 within their Premier League squad, provided at least eight qualify as homegrown.

“A “Home-Grown Player” means a player who, irrespective of nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to The Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons, or 36 months, before his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).”

Premier League

Players under the age of 21 are not required to be registered within the Premier League squad, and in Liverpool’s case this includes the likes of Curtis Jones, Neco Williams and Rhys Williams.

With Hardy having already been released as part of the six-strong group from the academy, the Reds’ homegrown cohort is reduced to eight, with question marks over the futures of at least two of those this summer.

Phillips is widely expected to move on, which would leave Klopp with seven of those homegrown players, while Davies could conceivably depart too having failed to make a single appearance following his February switch from Preston.

An exit for Oxlade-Chamberlain would not be ruled out in different circumstances, either, considering he was only afforded two starts from a possible 31 last season.

But allowing all three to join Hardy on the exit list would leave Klopp facing a conundrum: name a smaller squad for the 2021/22 campaign, or look to the transfer market for homegrown players.

Liverpool squad, as it stands

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 16, 2021: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' (R) and Rhys Williams before the FA Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion FC and Liverpool FC at The Hawthorns. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Homegrown (12): Henderson, Milner, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Kelleher, Oxlade-Chamberlain, B.Davies, Phillips*, Wilson*, Woodburn*, Grabara*, Ojo*

Non-homegrown (20): Alisson, Adrian, Van Dijk, Tsimikas, Robertson, Matip, Konate, Fabinho, Thiago, Keita, Firmino, Mane, Salah, Jota, Karius*, Grujic*, Minamino*, Shaqiri*, Origi*, Awoniyi*

Notable U21: Jones, Elliott, R.Williams, N.Williams, Clarkson, Cain, Koumetio, Pitaluga, Bradley

* Expected to leave in transfer window.

Liverpool already appear to be considering the latter, as Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins is among the candidates to bolster the forward line, with the 25-year-old eligible to fill one of the vacant slots.

Leicester winger Harvey Barnes is also on the shortlist, and would also count as homegrown, while those within the club are believed to admire Leeds‘ Patrick Bamford.

As it stands, with Phillips the only homegrown player considered ‘on the market’, the Reds could sign one such player and the numbers issue would be solved.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 10, 2021: Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

But a variety of other factors will come into that, such as cost and quality, as Klopp and Edwards may prefer a player from overseas to Watkins, for example.

A number of Premier League clubs have circumvented the homegrown quota by signing a veteran goalkeeper as third or fourth choice, with Man United announcing deals for Tom Heaton and Lee Grant on Friday, but that is an avenue Liverpool are unlikely to explore.

More feasible is Ben Woodburn seeing out the final year of his deal and taking a homegrown slot as Hardy did last season, which is a scenario that could also be applied to Kamil Grabara or Sheyi Ojo.

There is also the prospect of heading into the new campaign with a smaller squad registered, of course, which is possible considering Klopp’s faith in under-21s such as Jones and the return of Harvey Elliott from his loan at Blackburn.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 24, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As last season proved, however, Liverpool could benefit from a more reliable bank of senior players should another injury crisis strike.

Perhaps that could lead to Klopp renewing his faith in Minamino, upon his return from Southampton, but all signs point to Elliott being given his game time – the contrasting fortunes of the pair succinctly highlighting the value of homegrown players.

How Liverpool will address the problem remains to be seen, but it is clear that their transfer plans will not be as black and white as shifting their deadwood and replacing it with the best available candidates.

There is another veneer to take account of, and it could prove to be a real headache.