While FSG appeared reluctant to sanction further Liverpool transfer activity in January, a move for someone Pep Lijnders knows well may now be in the works.
Sometimes, it can be hard to piece together the FSG transfer stance at Liverpool. Ever the elite man-manager, Jürgen Klopp has his players to protect, and his regular comments about being happy with the squad usually require a healthy pinch of salt.
But even Klopp could barely contain his frustration during his pre-Brighton press conference. And that was before seeing his side get hammered 3-0, dropping Liverpool into ninth place. As part of a tirade about always facing the same transfer questions, he implied that the obvious reason for a lack of further spending is that funds are not available.
That has always been the biggest criticism leveled at FSG. Premier League and Champions League triumphs have rightly kept complaints on the back-burner, but a relatively low net spend compared to immediate rivals does now seem to be catching up to Liverpool. And even on the owners’ own terms, investment has never been more important than it is now, with a lucrative place in the top four now not so much in jeopardy as it is an outside shot.
Of course, FSG has already signed off on a January deal for Cody Gakpo, and a potentially record-breaking transfer for Darwin Núñez was sanctioned in the summer. But it is becoming glaringly apparent that more is needed if Liverpool have any hope of salvaging the current campaign. Even putting the Champions League issue to one side, and looking beyond the end of the season, it is imperative that any downward slide is arrested as soon as possible, to avoid a slump into irrelevance.
Whether FSG considers itself the appropriate owner to oversee the necessary investment remains to be seen. There has been talk of a full or partial sale. But for now, the ownership is unchanged — and the latest report suggests that it could be readying a decisive U-turn to try and protect its asset.
While Klopp may not be expecting any further January transfer activity, the Mirror reports that FSG is “weighing up” a move that would strengthen Liverpool’s midfield before the deadline. The target in question is well-known to the manager’s assistant, Pep Lijnders.
The Dutchman is renowned at this stage for having spent time in Portugal earlier in his career. Liverpool’s spate of signings and transfer targets from that country are partial testament to this. But one Lijnders reunion that has not yet been engineered is a deal for former Porto youth player Rúben Neves, now a star at Wolves.
A key asset for the Midlands side, he was valued at $86m (£70m/€79m) in the not-too-distant past, but the looming expiry of his contract means his price is dropping ‘by the week’. Neves’ current deal expires in the summer of 2024, giving Wolves a maximum of two more transfer windows after this one to make any money on their star.
And Lijnders, who has been credited by the Telegraph with growing transfer influence at Liverpool, has previously been full of praise for Neves (O Jogo):
“I know him [Neves] very well. His ambition, his passion for the game, his professionalism. I know what he gives to the team and this type of player always interests us.”
This is not just a proud youth coach seeing one of his former charges blossom. This is Lijnders expressing a clear transfer ‘interest’ — and that was all the way back in 2019. If indeed he is now enjoying increased say in the recruitment process, it would be no surprise to see Liverpool go in for Neves.
Much will of course depend on the price. Even if FSG has changed its mind over more January spending, it’s clear that a bumper deal remains unlikely, especially for a player who has not been mentioned as a top target. And the effect of any deal for Neves on a future Jude Bellingham push is also a relevant consideration.
But assuming the ‘discount’ is a reasonable one, this would be shrewd business for Liverpool. At 25, Neves perfectly fills the experience gap in Klopp’s midfield, offering a mid-range profile between the tiring veterans and inexperienced youngsters. And with an impressive balance of defensive and offensive contributions, he has the right sort of profile to help steady the ship.
Lijnders is clearly a fan. So if FSG really is now ready to spend, this looks like a smart January transfer avenue.