For Liverpool, the 2016/17 campaign was something of a milestone. Having gone so close to securing Europa League glory under Jurgen Klopp the previous season, the Reds’ fourth-place finish in the Premier League last term saw Merseyside’s storied club edge closer towards the pinnacle. While under Klopp they had reached the finals of both the Europa League and the League Cup and failed, establishing themselves in the top four for the first time since 2013/14’s failed title challenge under Brendan Rodgers provided them with an opportunity to build. Having already backed Klopp with a new six-year contract prior to the start of the season, and with a new CEO in place in Peter Moore and Anfield’s initial redevelopment complete, club owners Fenway Sports Group finally seem ready to restore Liverpool to elite level—most crucially, this comes in the transfer market.
While last season was certainly a successful one for the Reds, it served to further highlight some key issues within Klopp’s squad, and the German has already worked to address these. The arrival of Mohamed Salah from AS Roma has provided Klopp with a contemporary for Sadio Mane, with the Egyptian able to serve as a similarly talented attacking foil for Liverpool’s breakthrough act of 2016—and at £36.9 million, breaking the club’s transfer record in the process. Meanwhile, the England U20s’ MVP and World Cup winner Dominic Solanke has made the switch from Chelsea on a free transfer, and stands as an interesting addition in attack; as a tall, strong, hardworking, dynamic and creative forward, the 19-year-old is a likely alternative to Klopp’s first-choice No. 9, Roberto Firmino. Next up are Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita, with Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and a left-back—mooted as Hull City’s Andy Robertson—the lesser priorities, earmarked to supplement other areas.
Assessing their quality and potential, Van Dijk and Keita represent Liverpool’s ideal signings for centre-back and central midfield, respectively—as while they’re not currently operating at the very top level, on the books at Southampton and RB Leipzig, they are as individuals. Van Dijk is a colossus: a rare centre-back who already possesses nearly every attribute required to shine as a leading talent for an English side with Europe ambitions. Keita, though he has only played one season in the Bundesliga, has established himself as a unique player: a modern, Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-everything midfielder, who could step into any side on the continent and shine in a variety of roles. Both, however, will command monstrous fees—if reports are to be believed, they could potentially both require a £70 million bid to prise from their current clubs, which is nearly double that paid to ensure Salah wiped Andy Carroll’s name from the history books. They are, however, both worth that outlay to Klopp—and he is unlikely to be deterred by the club’s hierarchy.
“Money-wise? We have enough money. That’s a difference, of course,” Klopp told reporters in May, ahead of the summer transfer window. “We don’t hide more money then get it when we need it, it’s a normal business.” The German was clear in his message: if they need to, Liverpool will shell out. While the Reds’ previous top-four finish under FSG saw Rodgers sign eight players following the departure of Luis Suarez, with an element of risk to the majority of them, this summer Liverpool are targeting quality over quantity, and aren’t afraid to spend big to secure it. Last season, the club earned £146 million in TV broadcasting funds alone, and sales of the likes of Mamadou Sakho, Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic and extra revenue from Anfield’s new Main Stand boost this further. Having turned a profit last summer, they are unlikely to do so with a return to the Champions League in sight.
They are, of course, not alone in this increased spending power: already this summer there is a clear indication that transfer fees are set to increase—particularly in the Premier League. The standard for a signing in the region of £20 million has dropped—though the likes of Jordan Pickford, Nathan Ake, Davy Klaassen and Harry Maguire are strong talents—and the premium on certain positions—centre-back and centre-forward, for example—and exceptional young prospects has soared. Before the transfer window officially opened on July 1, 14 deals worth £10 million or over had already been completed by clubs in the English top flight. Reported €100 million bids for AS Monaco revelation Kylian Mbappe perhaps serve as the ultimate yardstick—such is the warped nature of the market.
This threatens to create a maelstrom of expectation, with perceptions of a £20 million signing, for example, not altered by the rate of inflation. But while expenditure is rapidly rising, expectations should not do the same. For example, Paul Pogba’s £89 million move from Juventus to Manchester United last summer saw the Frenchman lauded as Old Trafford’s messiah, making his second coming four years after leaving on a free transfer. But while he was one of United’s key players in 2016/17—and will continue to be—he, naturally, did not showcase consistent, £89 million form—particularly, as it transpired, that he was saddled with the grief of his father’s diminishing health and, ultimately, untimely death. These often devastating outside factors remain an invisible caveat for supporters demanding perfection, and while Pogba may be the most extreme case study, his experience foreshadows the league he is now predicted to dominate.
The same cannot happen for Van Dijk, Keita, Salah or any of Liverpool’s other signings this summer—they require room to breathe and, then, flourish, free of unrelenting scrutiny. It is a difficult balancing act to carry out, as a £70 million outlay does warrant a major impact, but these players remain at odds with the carnivorous atmosphere created by their own entertaining quality—and that cannot be forgotten, however many zeroes are eventually scrawled into a chequebook.