Liverpool are looking for answers amid a steep drop-off. Pep Lijnders has come under some surprising scrutiny amid news of an evolving transfer market role.
Amid Liverpool’s struggles this season, assistant manager Pep Lijnders has become a surprise target for criticism among some fans on social media.
Lijnders’ main role, as per The Telegraph’s Sam Wallace, is taking first-team training sessions at Kirkby on a regular basis. But, with Michael Edwards leaving and replacement sporting director Julian Ward set to follow, along with head of research Dr. Ian Graham, Lijnders’ influence on the club’s recruitment has increased ‘exponentially’.
According to Wallace, he’s ‘advocated’ three of the four big signings Liverpool have made in the past two seasons.
Of course, Liverpool’s transfer business remains a collective effort, and Lijnders doesn’t dictate the strategy, but it seems the Dutchman’s preferences now hold more weight.
The three signings to which Wallace refers are Luis Díaz (£49m/$59m/€56m), Cody Gakpo (£44m/$50m/€53m) and Darwin Núñez (£85m/$102m/€97m). Between them, the trio account for £178m ($214m/€202m) of transfer spend.
Lijnders is likely to be a big champion of Primeira Liga talent after his work as a technical coach at FC Porto’s Under-19s, B-team and senior side.
He reveals in his book, Intensity, that he was instrumental in the deal for Díaz, a player he and Jürgen Klopp ‘desperately’ wanted. As Liverpool battled with Spurs for the transfer, Klopp and Lijnders spoke with Díaz and successfully persuaded him to join (via the ECHO).
After Liverpool took on Benfica in the Champions League a few months later, Lijnders tellingly described Núñez in his book as ‘one of the most powerful and exciting strikers in Europe’.
And perhaps he pushed hardest of all for the Gakpo move, with Dutch presenter and former football Hans Kraay Jr. telling ESPN that Lijnders privately described him as the ‘missing link’ last autumn (via the ECHO).
Many appear resistant to the idea of Lijnders being granted more authority, but they would simultaneously back these signings.
Díaz looks like a perfect stylistic fit, and has been one of Liverpool’s best performers since he arrived. While he hasn’t quite exploded yet in terms of numbers, he may well have been heading that way in 2022/23 before injury derailed his season.
There’s also confidence that Núñez will soon deliver, with all signs pointing to an imminent eruption.
And the arrival of Gakpo has generated great excitement too based on his remarkable 13-goal, 17-assist record so far this season.
It’s too early to cast a verdict on any of those three players, and so a definitive judgment on Lijnders’ track record will have to wait.
He’s also said (via the same Telegraph report) to be a driving force behind a potential deal for Wolves midfielder Matheus Nunes, and to have been part of a decision (alongside Klopp) to turn down the chance to sign Chelsea-bound Christopher Nkunku, so the fortunes of those players will have a bearing too.