It is not usual for Liverpool fans to see their club chase a transfer target over an entire transfer window. The Reds generally do not get involved in long-drawn transfer sagas. They either sign their transfer targets quickly or give up on them quickly. But this transfer window, Liverpool have chased Naby Keita and Virgil van Dijk with an uncharacteristic doggedness.
It is not just for incoming transfers that Liverpool have had to show their doggedness. They have had to be as adamant in rejecting ever increasing amounts for Philippe Coutinho as well. Earlier this week, one of these episodes ended well for Liverpool. On Tuesday, Liverpool announced that they had signed Naby Keita on a five-year deal. However, there was a catch. The five-year deal for Naby Keita will begin only in July 2018, not before that.
As one of the Anfield Index podcast panellists put it, Naby Keita is like a Christmas gift given early. Liverpool fans need to wait till Christmas to open their gift and their Christmas does not come until next July. This announcement prompted a largely cheerful and happy response from the fans, and most of them were glad that this long-drawn transfer war between Liverpool and RB Leipzig had ended well for the Reds. But, many fans also expressed a bit of disappointment about Keita not joining Liverpool until after the current season.
Naby Keita is an exceptional talent, and Schalke’s sporting director Christian Heidel described him as a two-in-one player. As this analysis shows, there is literally no other top-five league midfielder like Naby Keita. Thus, the disappointment on missing out on such a talent for an entire season is understandable. But, there are a few positives from this transfer that matter right now. I take a look at three of those.
Liverpool Mean Business
The Reds could have just withdrawn their previous offers and waited out this season for Keita’s release clause to be activated at the end of it. But, that would have turned his transfer into a bidding war – both for the transfer price and the wages. Instead, Liverpool smartly negotiated with RB Leipzig, understood their reasons for not selling Keita this summer (first season in Champions League) and provided an alternative that was more than palatable for the German club. Of course, it included a slight premium over Keita’s price, but if a bidding war had broken out for the Guinean, the price would have been much higher.
This move signals other clubs – such as AS Monaco (for Lemar), or Southampton (for VVD) that if they lend their ear to the Reds, the Merseyside club can come up with offers that are more than reasonable. This means that deals for both those players are also possible.
Continued Quality in Midfield
Assuming Liverpool succeed in not selling Coutinho to Barcelona, the Reds have quite a lot of options in midfield for this season. Gini Wijnaldum, Henderson and Emre Can show on Sunday that they can control the midfield against some of the best in Premier League. Coutinho’s and later Adam Lallana’s return gives the midfield adequate cover. However, by next July both Coutinho and Emre Can leave and those voids will be expensive to fill next season, as the clubs can exploit Reds’ urgent need. By completing the transfer this summer, Liverpool have avoided that situation.
Liverpool Get a more Experienced Keita
Naby Keita is just 22 years old and has had one great season in the Bundesliga. His quality is not in doubt, but one more season in the German league, along with matches against some of the best sides in Europe, will help him grow as a midfielder. A year later, when he joins Liverpool, they will get a more rounded and experienced player who can hit the ground running.
All Liverpool fans would have loved to see Naby Keita play for their team this season. However, the Reds have secured the next best option. Now the fans will be eagerly waiting for similar smart negotiations in other transfer sagas involving VVD, Lemar and Coutinho.