Liverpool’s 2018 Virgil van Dijk alternative is now in the Premier League

Though Virgil van Dijk was always Liverpool’s No. 1 target, there were three other names on the shortlist, including one who has just moved to the Premier League.

At the end of the 2016/17 campaign, it became clear to Jurgen Klopp that his centre-back options would require strengthening.

With Joe Gomez sidelined through injury for much of the season, Klopp’s most-used defenders were Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren, with Ragnar Klavan filling in when required.

The club drew up a shortlist of elite centre-backs that would propel Liverpool to another level, and Van Dijk was identified as the priority.

But attempts to lure him from Southampton broke down, embarrassingly, with the club issuing a public apology to their south-coast counterparts for approaching the Dutchman without a deal being reached.

Aymeric Laporte, Athletic Bilbao (Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport)

That led those within the Reds’ recruitment staff to consider the alternatives, with three names on the list: Aymeric Laporte, Kalidou Koulibaly and Jose Gimenez.

Laporte, still at Athletic Club, was courting interest from a number of clubs including Man City, while Koulibaly and Gimenez were considered two of Europe’s standout centre-backs.

Klopp, aided by those in the boardroom, weighed up the pros and cons and resolved that it was, effectively, Van Dijk or bust.

Work was undertaken behind the scenes to mend the relationship with Southampton, and eventually a £75 million deal was struck in the winter of 2018.

That same window, Laporte joined City for £57 million, while Koulibaly and Gimenez stayed with Napoli and Atletico Madrid respectively.

Kalidou Koulibaly, Napoli (Nick Potts/EMPICS Sport)

While persistent injuries have seen Gimenez’s career plateau, remaining a squad player for Atletico, it was a surprise that Koulibaly stayed with Napoli for as long as he did.

The Senegal captain was regularly linked with moves to a variety of top clubs in Europe, but stayed loyal to Napoli and, in 2020, won the first and only major trophy of his time in Naples, with the Coppa Italia.

Now, though, after eight years with the Italian club and now an Africa Cup of Nations winner with Senegal, Koulibaly has finally made the move to the Premier League.

On Saturday, Chelsea confirmed the 31-year-old had joined on a four-year deal, with the London outfit reported to have paid £34 million for his services.

“My dream was always to play in the Premier League,” he told Chelsea‘s official website.

So while Koulibaly was denied his Premier League dream when Liverpool crossed his name off the shortlist four-and-a-half years ago, he now finds himself in the English top flight.

From this season on, then, Koulibaly will be a direct rival of both Van Dijk and Laporte – unsurprisingly, given the Reds’ track record in talent spotting, as three of the leading centre-backs in England.