The Reds are about to find out what it’s like to be intimidated by a football superpower in a summer where they’ve been trying to assert their own dominance over smaller fish
One of the potential perils with swimming aggressively in the tempestuous waters of the modern transfer market is that, really, unless you’re Real Madrid or Barcelona, there’s always a bigger fish.
It was a reality Liverpool were emphatically reminded of on Thursday. After weeks of trying to get RB Leipzig to bend on Naby Keita, by looking to show their greater force, Barcelona very quickly put them in the same situation by finally making a bid for long-term target Philippe Coutinho.
It is a frustrating situation that will of course be familiar to Liverpool but the difference this time is that it comes just when they’re trying to get onto a different level themselves.
The amount of money in the Premier League – and particularly that spent so far by neighbours Everton – may have slightly obscured it, but it has gone a little under the radar that Liverpool are looking to bring in two signings that would both completely smash their transfer record in Naby Keita and a centre-half, even if the latter is not to end up as Virgil van Dijk. They could well spend around £200m – and probably need to if they are to properly compete on the two major fronts of the league and Champions League.
A further problem, however, is that any club they are looking to buy from can be further influenced by Liverpool’s own stance on selling Coutinho.
It is something that has already happened a fair bit this summer. There are multiple accounts of Premier League officials noticing media briefings or stories about other moves being done, so whacking up the price when dealing with those same clubs. It is said to have been a factor in Swansea City’s valuation of Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Tottenham Hotspur’s of Kyle Walker.
For their part, RB Leipzig were already wealthy enough to take a very strong stance on Keita. The club obviously don’t need the money, nor are they even used to selling players, and those close to the situation say it seems to have become a point of principle for owner Dietrich Mateschitz and sporting director Ralf Rangnick. They absolutely will not sell and expect Keita to fulfil his contract. The only way anyone can see that changing is if the 22-year-old starts to greatly agitate for a move.
It is much the same for Van Dijk, and for Coutinho.
In a summer when Liverpool are looking to do this kind of business and so far struggling to get in their primary targets, it would undercut their entire plans to sell the playmaker and also lead to an overwhelmingly negative reaction from supporters, so they have to be as strong with Barcelona as Leipzig are with them. There’s also the fact that £72m is quite a low price in this market, for a 25-year-old playmaker who has just signed a new contract.
It’s going to take much more than that to get him, just as it is likely to take much more from Liverpool to try and make Leipzig see the unavoidable business logic of selling a player like Keita for ludicrous money.
The Guinean midfielder’s circumstances are further sharpened by the fact that he has a £48m clause in his contract next summer, but then there are some who feel the Coutinho situation could be similar there too; that he could end up the same as Luis Suarez and be allowed go in a year, but not just while the club are building.
This is the crux for Liverpool. Given the opportunities of this summer and having qualified for the Champions League, they need to fully back Klopp to break newer ground – but have just been reminded of old realities.