Liverpool’s summer transfer window may have been dominated by a record-breaking deal, but two others worth under £1 million could prove priceless.
Darwin Nunez and his rocky adjustment from Benfica to Liverpool has been the story of the season so far.
He was one of only three permanent additions to the first team in the summer, but further down the ranks there were more eye-catching signings.
Two of those, who cost the club less than £1 million combined, have hit the ground running – and could wind up saving Liverpool millions in the future.
Back in March, it emerged that Liverpool were pursuing a deal that would exploit a loophole in the UK’s post-Brexit block on signing players from overseas before they turned 18.
Just 15 at the time, Trent Kone-Doherty had already been given first-team exposure at Derry City and was catching the eye of scouts on the other side of the Irish Sea.
While his club played in the League of Ireland Premier Division, which is the top tier in the Republic of Ireland, they remain Northern Irish – which made Kone-Doherty eligible for transfer before his 18th birthday.
Within three months, a deal was confirmed and the player posed alongside Derry City coaches holding a Liverpool shirt; another month on, he reflected on a “surreal” experience as he signed his scholarship.
The specifics of the deal were undisclosed, but a compensation fee of around £150,000 has been speculated.
Kone-Doherty only turned 16 at the end of June, but went straight into a regular starting role as part of the Reds’ under-18s side and for the under-19s in Europe.
Before the campaign hit its midpoint, his electric performances on the left flank earned him a promotion to the under-21s setup, which he marked with a goal on his debut against Dinamo Zagreb.
A nimble winger with relentless pace and the ability to twist out of danger to craft opportunities for both himself and his team-mates, Kone-Doherty has taken the step up in his stride.
In 16 games at academy level so far, Kone-Doherty has scored 10 goals and laid on three assists – with only two players directly contributing to more goals in the Liverpool youth ranks.
While Kone-Doherty has had a hand in 13 goals and striker Lewis Koumas has contributed with 15, no player has scored and assisted more combined than Ben Doak.
The Scot’s transition from Celtic to Liverpool has been remarkably seamless, his dazzling brand of direct attacking play on the right flank backed up by nine goals and seven assists in just 15 academy games.
By now, he has already broken into the first-team setup, with Jurgen Klopp and his staff no longer able to keep his mercurial talent under wraps.
Between those games, Doak marked his 17th birthday by signing a professional contract with the club – agreeing a three-year deal at the earliest possible opportunity.
Now, he is part of the senior squad training in Dubai during the World Cup break.
Doak is, by all accounts, a young player with his head screwed on; from footballing heritage, with a grandfather, Martin Doak, who played over 300 games for Greenock Morton in the Scottish first and second tiers.
His captivating ability to burst past defenders, either towards the byline to deliver a cross or cutting inside to test the goalkeeper, is matched by his application and desire to improve.
Even before his £600,000 switch to Liverpool, that was recognised by coaches at Celtic, where he made his senior debut at the start of 2022.
“He’s really a lively boy, a smart player, good dribbler, fast, can use both legs,” came Klopp’s assessment after Doak’s Liverpool bow.
“It was nice to watch, eh?”
The future of Liverpool’s attack?
But despite their effervescent form since swapping Scotland and Northern Ireland for Merseyside, there should be patience when it comes to Doak and Kone-Doherty.
The speedbumps faced by Kaide Gordon throughout 2022, which began with a record-breaking goal but has been largely spent on the treatment table, should be a cautionary tale.
It has, however, been a hugely encouraging start for two players who have made the move to Merseyside look effortless in these early months.
Doak is the marquee name in this respect, but the impact Kone-Doherty has made in his first forays from U18s through U21s are equally as impressive.
The hope, as ever, will be that they can eventually make the step up to the first team as long-term options; and under Klopp, the priority is always to promote from within before looking to the transfer market.
If even one of Doak or Kone-Doherty is able to do so, it would be a major money-saver for Liverpool, who seem to have pulled off a coup in bringing the pair in for under £1 million.