Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp keeps his Hong Kong promise on transfer deadline day
Anfield boss bets big on being able to solve club’s glaring defensive problems through managerial nous rather than expensive additions
On Liverpool’s recent trip to Hong Kong, manager Juergen Klopp joked about the mind-boggling sums being paid for players in the transfer market.
When one journalist asked him about the club’s latest reported bid for Naby Keita, the German laughed.
“What do you know? £66 million turned down today,” Klopp told a press conference, smiling, after Liverpool had lifted the Premier League Asia Trophy in July.
“Oh my God! Which newspaper? Are we in Vegas? Not Vegas, what is it on the other side of the island in Asia? Yes, Macau. Are we in Macau? No.”
Klopp kept his cards close to his chest that whole week in Hong Kong, as the media looked for any sign of frustration over Liverpool’s failure to add to the £35 million (HK$353 million) signing of Mohamed Salah and 19-year-old striker Dominic Solanke, whose fee will be decided by tribunal.
“Have I got all the players I want until now? I’m not easy to frustrate,” he said. “It’s a market where you go for things. How it works out, it’s nobody’s fault. I’m still relaxed.”
Five and a half weeks later, it was a mixed bag for Liverpool as the transfer window closed.
Klopp took a seat at the blackjack table after all and signed Keita – but the gifted RB Leipzig midfielder will not join until next summer, with Liverpool paying his £48 million release clause a year before it comes into effect.
Keita looked to be the start of a lavish late spending spree, with Southampton centre-back Virgil van Dijk, Monaco forward Thomas Lemar and Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all reported targets.
In the end Oxlade-Chamberlain was the only addition, signed for £35 million. Liverpool’s biggest piece of deadline-day business, though, was undoubtedly keeping hold of Philippe Coutinho in the face of intense efforts by Barcelona to prise him away all summer.
“It’s a good thing to talk about, in a transfer window the world thinks improving a squad is all about bringing in players,” said Klopp in Hong Kong.
“Nobody thinks about keeping the players. It’s the main thing I think about, how can we make the next step with the players we had last year?
“The good news is we did not lose a player we wanted to keep. That’s very, very good.”
As has been his way throughout his managerial career at Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, Klopp is once again going all in on backing his ability to improve the players already at his disposal.
“I expect a lot of progress from the players based on last year,” he said in Hong Kong. “We know where our problems are. We conceded goals we didn’t like, a little bit concentration and focus. It’s not quality, it’s losing a little bit the moment, second balls after set pieces.
“I know in football it doesn’t work like this, but if we conceded 10 goals less [the table last season] looks completely different for us. How can we get strong in this part of the team, we’ll see.”
“I’m really positive about it,” Klopp added. He shouldn’t have been.
Liverpool conceded three goals in their Premier League opener last month, a 3-3 draw at Watford, including two goals from corners, one of them an added-time equaliser.
“Same old Liverpool”, cried fans and critics alike. The need to reinforce his defence with Van Dijk was made ever more apparent.
Instead, Liverpool fans will have to make do with promising left-back Andy Robertson, signed for £10 million from Hull, as their only defensive addition.
Once again, in his fifth transfer window as manager, Klopp has failed to plug the obvious hole in the heart of defence that has hampered Liverpool since they re-emerged as title contenders under his predecessor, Brendan Rodgers.
“I like football players in general, especially football players who want to improve and develop,” Klopp told the Post in an exclusive interview in July. “On the level I work I have only fantastic football players around me, there’s no one where it’s, ‘What are you doing here?’”
Liverpool fans may beg to differ. Klopp will roll the dice again on the unconvincing central-defensive partnership of Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren, with ostracised Mamadou Sakho shipped off permanently to Crystal Palace and emergency stopgap Lucas Leiva leaving for Lazio.
Behind that pairing, Klopp can then take his pick between his equally shaky goalkeepers, Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius.
Surely the German cannot still believe he can win the title purely by waving a magic wand?
“For some people it’s more exciting than the season, the highlight is the two transfer windows – but for me the highlights are the bits in between,” Klopp said.
Yes, Liverpool were thrilling going forward scoring four goals against Arsenal at Anfield. But they were thrilling going forward scoring four goals against Arsenal last season at the Emirates Stadium, and don’t look to have solved the defensive issues that derailed that title bid and saw them finish fourth.
Klopp has bet big on himself, rather than breaking the bank to sign Van Dijk. Can he conjure enough magic to make the result any different than last year?