Ben Davies has joined Sheffield United for the season, and while some may question the logic behind a loan rather than a sale, it makes sense for both player and club.
In years to come, the deal to bring Davies to Anfield on the final day of the winter transfer window will be seen as an anomaly in the club’s forward-thinking recruitment plan.
The circumstances were desperate, with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Fabinho all sidelined, but it is difficult to escape the notion that he will feature in more pub quiz questions than Liverpool matchday squads.
Six-and-a-half months later, and Davies has left Merseyside for the challenging climes of Bramall Lane, as part of the new-look Sheffield United.
The Blades’ interest in Davies predates the arrival of Slavisa Jokanovic – who has nevertheless been a driving force in his signing – with a move proposed in December, during the reign of Chris Wilder.
Now he finds himself back in the Championship, having made the tough decision to leave Preston North End after 15 years with the club situated an hour-and-a-half down the coast from his hometown of Barrow-in-Furness.
It will be a strange situation when Sheffield United host Preston on September 14, then, particularly as he finds himself in limbo, still on the books with Liverpool.
All eyes will be on Davies that day, including scouts from Anfield, given it is maintained that a permanent deal was rejected due to an expectation that he is still in the long-term plans under Jurgen Klopp.
On the surface, a sale could have been the most suitable course of action for the 26-year-old this summer; a clean break for a player who found himself behind Ozan Kabak, Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams in the most tragic of defensive crises.
But despite Davies having never played a competitive game for Liverpool – and, in reality, there being very little chance he ever does – a loan deal is the sensible move for all parties this time around.
When Liverpool reached an agreement with Preston, it was detailed as one weighted in the favour of the Premier League club, who were comfortable in the knowledge that Davies had just five months left on his contract with North End.
The Reds only paid £500,000 up front, with a further £1.1 million pledged in performance-based add-ons.
Those clauses included making his first-team debut and earning an England cap – perhaps lofty aims in retrospect, but ones that Preston clearly saw as agreeable during negotiations with Michael Edwards.
It can be assumed, as he is yet to make his debut, that the remaining £1.1 million will not be making its way to Deepdale.
Liverpool‘s initial outlay of £500,000, then, is paltry considering Sheffield United have pledged a loan fee of around £1 million according to the Sheffield Star; in theory, the Reds have already made a profit.
The Blades will cover at least a portion of Davies’ wages, while another payment will be required if they achieve promotion back to the Premier League this season.
With Sheffield United having signed the centre-back from under the noses of Celtic, Burnley and Bournemouth, it is safe to say that a semi-successful season back in the Championship could then see Liverpool capitalise with a sale in 2022.
There is a very real prospect, then, that the club could turn a six-figure investment into one worth at least 10 times that which, from a business perspective, is one to be celebrated.
Those at Preston would be delighted, too, considering a 20 percent sell-on clause was inserted into their deal with Liverpool.
The player and his future
That alone would be ignoring the player’s side of the deal, but despite spending over six months on the fringes at Liverpool, it is unlikely Davies has seen it as a negative.
Davies will not have been required to relocate upon swapping Preston for Liverpool – in fact, he could still make the three-and-a-half-hour round trip to Sheffield daily if he desires – while his salary will have increased significantly.
And though he is yet to debut for the Reds, his reputation will have been boosted by mere association with the six-time European Cup winners and his game will have benefited from training with world-class players day in, day out.
This season, he will still be earning a Premier League wage while returning to a standard closer to his level in the Championship.
Impress at Sheffield United, then, and he could make an upwards step perhaps not available to him were he to have simply left Preston on a free transfer this summer.
Though it may be a confusing deal looking from the outside in, the financial and professional incentives of a season-long loan at Bramall Lane are potentially greater for both Liverpool and Davies than were a straightforward sale agreed so soon after his arrival.
Meanwhile, the Reds can look ahead to a defensive line bolstered by the return of Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip, along with the signing of Ibrahima Konate.