It took a few months longer than expected, but this week’s signing of Virgil Van Dijk saw Liverpool finally get the player who was their first choice target last summer.
The £75million fee, a world record for a defender, has certainly raised many eyebrows – not least those of Jose Mourinho – but the current condition of the transfer market guaranteed that a sky-high price was always going to be involved.
In many ways, the actual prices paid out for players are becoming less relevant, with many transfers involving a fee that is far in excess of what players are worth.
One reason is due to the record revenues from TV rights, that has given every club more money to spend than ever. The scale of the wealth of clubs such as Man City and Paris Saint-Germain has also had an impact, with selling clubs becoming accustomed to demanding premiums on the sale of any players to clubs with unlimited funds. Such a strategy is now used for the sale of players to any club – particularly the bigger English clubs.
And where Southampton were able to cash in on the eagerness of Liverpool to sign Van Dijk, Liverpool are equally well-placed to cash in on any deals that take players away from Anfield. Should Phillippe Coutinho make a much-antipated move to Barcelona, the fee will be every bit as over-inflated – with £140million currently being suggested as the amount that would see the transfer go through.
That hasn’t stopped Jurgen Klopp from being on the end of some criticism, given his stance on paying massive transfer fees. But in defence of Klopp, he has made more attempts than the likes of Mourinho, Conte or Guardiola to get the most from the squad he inherited, and Liverpool’s spending reflects that.
Even with the signing of Van Dijk, Klopp has spent less money in five transfer windows than the three managers mentioned – plus Ronald Koeman at Everton – have spent in their first three transfer windows.
Modestly-priced youngsters such as Andrew Robertson, Dominic Solanke and Joe Gomez have had regular football, with Klopp also overseeing the step up to the first team of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Woodburn.
Given that Liverpool had so much ground to make up for them to compete with the big clubs of Manchester and London, it’s clear to see the amount of progression that has been made in the two years since Klopp arrived.
But Liverpool’s defence has consistently been the team’s weakness, and resulted in far too many draws in games that the Reds have dominated. 11 of Liverpool’s 14 score draws in either the Premier League or Champions League during 2017 involved them losing a lead – including 10 games during which Liverpool were ahead during the second half.
Not all instances of dropped points have been due to defensive mistakes, and the constant focus on Liverpool’s defence often makes out that it is far worse than it is – as was the case with critics of the club last season, despite finishing the season with five clean sheets from the last six games, all of which were critical to securing a top four position.
But there have nevertheless been too many careless goals conceded and until Liverpool improve their defensive reliability, it’s difficult to believe that they can get close enough to put pressure on Manchester City and challenge for the title in the near future.
Van Dijk’s role will be to introduce some much-needed leadership to Liverpool’s back line, and add a commanding presence to the team’s defence.
The quality of his distribution from the back will also be key to the start of Liverpool’s attacking play and could be the key to even more chances being created for the array of attacking talent at Klopp’s disposal.
Ultimately, the purpose of Van Dijk’s arrival is to bring Liverpool closer to a team which can genuinely compete for the top honours on a regular basis. The success will therefore be measured in terms of silverware – and should Liverpool go on to lift trophies with their latest recruit from Southampton, there will be few remarks made about the transfer fee in the years to come.