Dave Powell on Liverpool’s midfield situation and the options open to FSG as they seek to develop the squad
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and (inset) the club’s principal owner John Henry.
The midfield situation at Liverpool has seen calls grow for Fenway Sports Group to loosen the purse strings and sanction a big money deal to aid their bid to keep pace with their rivals.
Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham has been heavily linked for some time, although the sum required to extricate him from the German side would likely be well in excess of the £100m mark. Liverpool are a team that have placed much value in their ability to navigate the transfer market with more savvy than their rivals, adding pieces to the puzzle as they go along to maintain continuity, competitiveness and more financial certainty.
This summer they spent on Darwin Nunez, a deal that could eventually reach as much as £85m. His arrival came as Liverpool readied themselves for the blow of losing the legendary Sadio Mane while adding a younger dynamic to forward line that’s three key components last season were all over the age of 30.
Fabio Carvalho and Calvin Ramsey both arrived, the deals done with one eye very much on the future at Anfield, but the questions remained around the midfield and the decision to retain status quo when it came to Jurgen Klopp’s options in the centre of the pitch.
Liverpool had been linked with a move for 22-year-old Aurelien Tchouameni earlier in the summer before the Frenchman inked a deal with Spanish giants Real Madrid. At that time there was the intention for a marquee midfield addition to arrive, although with Thiago Alcantara fit at that point and options in Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita, Fabinho, Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott and James Milner all available it was deemed that the need was not as pressing in the short term.
Injuries have impacted Jurgen Klopp’s options and their deficiencies were exposed brutally in the 2-1 loss to Manchester United on Monday. The defeat also posed some questions about a longer term strategy that may prove to be even more expensive for the Reds when it comes to squad rebuilding.
FSG have a preferred strategy, which they also try to implement at the Boston Red Sox, of bringing young talent into the building periodically to give them the best chance of a smoother transition period and limiting the need for expensive rebuilds. At Liverpool the issue that they have been faced with now is that after choosing not to spend heavily in 2020 and 2021, and with there not being many viable options to deliver strong values from a player trading perspective, there seems to be no alternative other than a very expensive window on the horizon.
They could, in theory, need two or three major midfield additions next summer. Milner will be out of contract and unlikely to stay, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will see his deal expire and Keita’s contract is set to end next summer too, an extension for the Guinean not appearing to be on the horizon as of yet.
In the case of Milner, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain, if they were to leave the club next summer for free there would be something in the region of £400,000-plus per week that is removed off the wage bill, although with the need to add significant quality, and potentially with more than one addition it would be swallowed up fairly easily.
Liverpool, for accounting purposes, still have the final year of Keita’s contract to be amortised, something which shows as £10m in the balance sheet (his £50m fee amortised across his five-year contract in 2018). That would be a saving, but with a deal for a midfielder at say £80m across a five-year deal the amortised cost would be £16m per year. With more arrivals likely than just one it would mean that there would be several million more than would need accounting for.
There is no cheap way for FSG to address the issues that are heading down the tracks. There is the option to get one done sooner, something that would impact the 2022/23 accounts, seeing both wage bill and amortisation costs rise, but that could be addressed in some way by extending contracts for those players who they have paid fees for in recent years, with the likes of Ibrahima Konate and Darwin Nunez among them, spreading their fees over a longer period of time as they appear in the accounts.
Liverpool have no concerns over Financial Fair Play, their approach to the business side of the club and their ability to manage through the pandemic rather admirably under FSG meaning that their Covid-related losses were well below that of their rivals, many of who have continued to spend in the market.