Timo Werner was as close as it gets to signing for Liverpool.
Transfer fee sent one way, a happy German striker sent the other, all but wrapped and stamped.
But, for the second time in as many seasons, Liverpool backtracked on an all but confirmed transfer deal, leaving Werner stranded and eventually snatched away by an undoubtedly grateful Frank Lampard at Chelsea.
It’s an interesting situation, and as reported by The Atheltic’s James Pearce, one which does not come without it’s regret from Liverpool staff.
Inside reports mentioned Werner was Liverpool’s man, he was ready to join and Liverpool were ready to pay. But as the evaluations came in and the damage from the virus affected Premier League season was assessed, Liverpool simply couldn’t justify the AUD$86 million transfer fee.
What this means for Liverpool’s internal finances going forward is a discussion for another day, but rest assured, it is concerning.
Liverpool fans have understood, if not begrudgingly, that this is a sign of the times. Reds faithful feel reassured that this was not a football decision, but a financial one.
It’s unfortunate though in many ways; Liverpool have always been the third or fourth banana behind the likes of Real Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, even Spurs for superstar players. See Toni Kroos, Kylian Mbappe and Martin Odegaard as distant examples.
But now, as rulers of England, Europe and the world, Liverpool have their pick of the bunch.
Unfortunate then that Liverpool couldn’t make their splash.
Liverpool are in a strange predicament.
They had their man. But for the first time since not wanting to pay $16 million for Ashley Young, they didn’t have the financial capacity to finalise the deal.
Where does that then leave their transfer situation?
Having a look at the squad, it’s relatively easy to see where upgrades/backup are needed.
Reinforcements are needed across the front three.
Don’t get me wrong, Salah, Firmino and Mane needn’t be concerned over starting positions, but come injuries, the League Cup and possible Champions League visits to Russia, they’ll be happy to have the help.
Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren haven’t grown with this Liverpool side and the starting XI has progressed past their talents. Back up needed at centre back.
Lallana and Shaqiri are both set to depart, help at attacking midfield may be necessary depending on Minamino’s progression.
Nothing absurd, and nothing enormously concerning, but definitely necessary.
Liverpool will be the first to tell you that staying at the top is just as hard as getting there. Therefore, the type of ruthless attention to detail we’ve seen under the Edwards/Klopp management must continue.
The details lay, at least for Edwards, in remaining calm under pressure and not rushing into transfers or signings.
We’ve seen this before in fact, a transfer going right to the wire, before Liverpool pulled the plug and abandoned their man because of a medical concern.
It seems a while ago now, considering we’ve had 10 years worth of stuff happen in the space of six months. But just a season ago, Liverpool were at the centre of transfer saga, the likes not seen since DeAndre Jordan was victim to light kidnapping under the admiration of Mark Cuban.
Nabil Fekir was fresh off an impressive 2018 World Cup and a superb season in Ligue 1 for Lyon.
Liverpool reached out and did some very Liverpool things.
Staff at Anfield doddled for several months, bartering like a tourist in a Hanoi scarf shop and eventually falling victim to some serious ‘hard to get’ from Lyon.
They settled on a fee of AUD$39 million, higher than expected, but a necessary amount for, at the time, a necessary player.
Fekir was treated much like Werner, long admired and scouted and viewed as competition for an already strong squad, but with Liverlool banking on him being ready to break into stardom and take the next step if necessary.
He arrived at Melwood and completed his medical; pen in hand, he was ready to sign the papers.
Comparing Fekir’s situation to Werner in fact, the Frenchman came even closer, going as far as to take promotional photos at Melwood and conduct an LFC TV interview.
How does this not happen then?
Well, the story goes that Fekir filmed the interview and took photos while doctors awaited some final scans on Fekir’s knee, ones which were seen as purely routine.
However, after receiving those final scans, medical staff rushed (perhaps an exaggeration) to Michael Edwards’ office to advise him on scrapping the deal.
Reports circulated that scans found a potentially long term issue with Fekir’s knee, posing too big of a risk for Liverpool stakeholders, forcing a transfer evaluation and an eventual awkward text saying “Hey Nabil, you know that big career defining transfer we just confirmed? Yeah…sorry mate.” (Citation needed)
Fekir left Lyon for Spain for less than Liverpool were going to pay, prompting reports that Liverpool’s scans on Fekir’s knee once one that had never been done before, leaving Lyon with far fewer suitors than before his trip to Melwood.
Lyon eventually sold him for AUD$30 million to Real Betis.
He had an injury free season, scoring seven goals in 27 appearances. A decent return, but nothing that would warrant interest from Liverpool, at least not now.
Liverpool fans weren’t too fussed, the mutterings of “we’ll regret this” and “scrap the transfer policy” were occasionally heard, but as a whole the Liverpool faithful stood by the clubs decision, much like they’re doing today with Werner.
Looking back, it’s easy to say we had faith. But as a Reds fan myself, I was more than concerned that Fekir would go on to improve and perhaps join a rival in Europe or even England.
Two years, a Champions League trophy and a Premier League later, Fekir is almost all but forgotten. Now though, with such a similar situation occurring, should Liverpool again have faith in Michael Edwards and FSG?
Liverpool have made it clear that under usual circumstances, Timo Werner would have justified the pre-covid asking price of AUD$75 million.
Afterall, centre forwards come at a premium.
*Cough* Morata AUD$107 million.
However, summed up perfectly by the fact the phrase ‘pre-covid’ even exists, the world has changed and so must Liverpool.
The man making the changes though, in recent years, has been flawless.
Michael Edwards has always made the right decisions, even when it comes to spending big.
He isn’t the type of Director to spend, spend, spend and see how it goes afterwards, he’ll leave that to the QPRs and Fulhams of the world.
Edwards, through a number of different considered variables, usually read off a laptop screen, makes sound and reasonable decisions, and then spends big to have the privilege of turning those decisions into action.
See his hit rate of 15 transfers, 0 busts as reference.
We have yet to see Edwards adjust from his plan as of yet, all has been smooth sailing. However, such an unprecedented situation called for unprecedented action, and for Liverpool, that meant turning down a player who ticked all the boxes.
- Two years off their prime
- Eager to learn
Turning down such a perfect player shows the situation Liverpool were put in.
Edwards makes difficult business look easy, sourcing Werner and keeping leaks plugged while doing so.
The former Peterbourough based IT teacher is different and he makes different decisions.
In 2015, he pushed an insecure Brendan Rodgers to sign Firmino, and more recently convinced a concerned Klopp to sign Salah, asking him to ignore the Egyptian’s previous troubles at Chelsea.
Edwards’ decision making will not likely be questioned, not after Liverpool’s on field success. But as we will, Edwards’ rejection of Werner must be questioned, if not until he proves us wrong, as reaching comfortability is a place Liverpool have not had the opportunity to indulge in, and they mustn’t fall into the trap.
As for Werner, he’ll find his way nicely at Chelsea. They’re emphasis on youth has been a long time coming, and with players like Tammy Abraham, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Christian Pulisic being afforded time to develop, Werner can feel assured of opportunity and flexibility if things start slow.
Liverpool’s success will likely continue, but not if they waver their emphasis on strengthening the squad before it becomes weak. Edwards and Klopp have done well to have players like Oxlade-Chamberlain, Shaqiri and Keita available if necessary. But now, as backups and squad strengtheners fall behind the progression of the rest of the team, Edwards must again look to reinforce areas of not so obvious strain.
Where does he look? Apparently not in the direction of AUD$80 million plus, which in today’s market, is just about right for the type of player Liverpool needs.
Liverpool fans and neutrals alike will eagerly await Edwards’ next move, hoping either for failure or success.