Even with Kiev painfully fresh in the mind, Liverpool Football Club were not hanging around in the transfer market. Rather than a £39m piece of retail therapy, Fabinho’s signing, as announced on Monday evening, was already set up.
The Brazilian midfielder, expected to be followed soon by Lyon forward Nabil Fekir, and with Naby Keita joining from RB Leipzig in a deal held over from last July, forms part of a continued rejuvenation process of Jurgen Klopp’s squad.
Reaching the Champions League final was not the end of the road. Liverpool’s owners, in thrall to Klopp, are determined such occasions should not be a one-off. The truth of defeat to Real Madrid, even if it will be recalled for Sergio Ramos’ skulduggery and Loris Karius’ on-field breakdown, is that Liverpool did not possess the resources to compete with an opponent strong enough to bring Gareth Bale, who cost 100 million euros and is paid £600,00 per week, on as a substitute.
When Mohamed Salah’s match was ended by his coming together with Ramos, Klopp could only bring on Adam Lallana, a player deemed not fit enough to make England’s World Cup squad following a season ruined by injury.
Liverpool will never be able to compete with Real’s spending, but there is a realisation that the club cannot continue to rely on the likes of James Milner, 32 and with 16 years as a first-team midfielder behind him, or a single senior striker in Roberto Firmino. The top four place that Klopp’s team won by right in the season just gone is precarious if Dominic Solanke, a 20-year-old, is the next best option to the Brazilian.
Defeat in Kiev meant that the club has still only won a single trophy, the 2012 League Cup, in the 12 years since the 2006 FA Cup final, and just one since Fenway Sports Group took over ownership in 2010. Liverpool has become a club of close-run things, glorious failures like the 2008-9 Premier League title they eventually lost to then-defending European champions Manchester United, or the even narrower loss of the 2013-14 race with Manchester City.
The club’s recent history has taken in some thrilling occasions during such high points, but Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea in 2014 and then the collapse of Karius’ goalkeeping faculties are two moments of personal footballing tragedy to overshadow the rest.
In the summer that followed that near-miss under Brendan Rodgers, the advances the club had made were ripped asunder by disastrous transfer business. Luis Suarez was sold for £75m, but that money was frittered. With Emre Can heading to Italian football, which will better suit the pace of his game, that leaves Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno of that summer’s £117m spend, and each of them has struggled at various times during the four years since.
Though none of them were anything like as disastrous as Mario Balotelli or Lazar Markovic, signed for £16m and £20m, expensive enough but mid-range. Fabinho’s fee, just like the £75m that Virgil van Dijk cost in January from Southampton and the £53m that Keita will cost show that Liverpool’s back office, led by sporting director Michael Edwards, have moved up a notch in the market. Fekir is priced at £60m. Corners are not being cut.
And it helps to have Klopp as the manager.
Just as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain chose the German over Antonio Conte at Chelsea or to remain with Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, there is an attractiveness to working with someone whose reputation in the game is as a player’s man, a proven improver of talent.
Just like Klopp saw out seven years Mainz and then Borussia Dortmund, the plan is to stay until 2022 after arriving in October 2015. New arrivals are set to be part of a long-term project, unlike the quick-fix solutions taking place at Chelsea or Manchester United, where managers’ futures will depend on results and talent has been quickly discarded.
Klopp’s harnessing of team spirit does not make him incapable of cutthroat decisions. Poor Karius cannot be expecting to receive any kinder treatment than Simon Mignolet, who he succeeded as goalkeeper and was banished to the sidelines. Mamadou Sakho, who many fans wanted back in the team as Lovren and company floundered, was shown the door when his commitment to training did not meet his manager’s expectations.
And those who are not engaged in the journey will be cashed out in expedient style, as happened when Klopp realised Philippe Coutinho’s heart lay in Barcelona. The Brazilian’s £142m January departure was barely noticed or mentioned once the deal was done, and Liverpool were none the worse for it; at Dortmund, Klopp was used to players defecting to Bayern Munich or Spain.
Fabinho will beef up midfield and offers option at full-back, Fekir is the playmaker who can replace Coutinho’s directness to open up defences while Keita is potentially a midfield phenomenon. Each is a signing that can help bring Liverpool’s years of near misses to an end.