With three weeks to go until the summer transfer window closes, Liverpool fans’ thirst for a new midfielder has shown no sign of being quenched.
The Reds may have lost Thiago Alcantara, Curtis Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to injury, but the club’s stance seemingly remains to hold off strengthening their engineroom until 2023.
While Jurgen Klopp should be able to welcome Naby Keita back from illness against Crystal Palace on Monday, Liverpool’s ever-growing injury list has not helped convince supporters of the German’s belief that he already possesses enough midfield options.
After all, the signing of Fabio Carvalho from Fulham took his quota to nine senior players, even if three of them are currently sidelined.
The Reds’ decision to wait until next year has increased speculation that they want to sign Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund, with the Bundesliga outfit having no intention of letting the England international leave until after the 2022 World Cup.
But with the injury records of a number of their midfielders, James Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita currently out of contract next year, and Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara joining Liverpool vice-captain Milner on comfortably the wrong side of 30, the club’s delayed stance continues to divide their fanbase.
“We have too many injuries, that’s true, but in the moment, nothing has changed,” Klopp told reporters last Friday at his pre-match press conference ahead of the Reds’ Premier League season-opener against Fulham. “A lot of unlucky situations… We cannot sort a problem we have for four weeks with a transfer for a full year.
“That makes, in the moment at least, no sense for us. But the transfer window is still open, so we will see. But the plan won’t go in that direction.”
Then, after seeing Thiago limp off against Fulham, he said: “We actually have enough (midfielders). The problem is we are now punished for something that isn’t our responsibility. Things like this can happen.
“Nobody could imagine that Curtis gets the thing he gets. It’s nothing serious but he’s a young boy and he’s had a stress reaction and bodies are like this. Naby is only ill and will definitely be back next week again. Oxlade (injury) happened early, and now Thiago. That’s not good.
“We will see. A transfer must make sense now and in the long-term. We have eight midfielders. We still have enough midfielders. It’s not that we lack midfielders, it’s just some of them are injured.
“This isn’t a good situation, I don’t like it at all. We have to see how we react on that, but for sure not panic.”
So Klopp isn’t ruling out the possibility of again dipping his toes into the transfer market, despite Liverpool’s incoming business believed to be done for the summer. But at the same time, any potential swoop would have to be for a player who was of interest to the Reds anyway and can improve their starting XI.
While it’s crystal clear that Liverpool will not sign any stop-gaps, they could admittedly be forced to act sooner if their injury situation gets worse before the transfer window closes. How dire their situation turns out to be currently rests on just how long Klopp will be forced to go without the services of Thiago and Jones.
If both return by next month, no harm, no foul. If, like Oxlade-Chamberlain, both end up ruled out for longer term or are joined on the injury list by a number of other senior names, the Reds could well be forced to alter their plans.
They aren’t against changing their transfer stance, however, with Liverpool remaining opportunists in the market. Such a transfer actually happened back in January when Luis Diaz signed in a deal worth up to £49m from FC Porto. The Reds had planned to move for Diaz this summer, but made their move earlier after he was on the verge of a switch to Tottenham Hotspur, who had effectively negotiated a lower price for the Colombian.
If such a scenario, however unlikely it might currently be, now presented itself for Bellingham, for example, rest assured Liverpool would move accordingly. Yet Dortmund’s stance currently remains unchanged. They have no interest in selling the England international before 2023. So what should the Reds do? Well one former rumoured target could be about to become available on a free transfer, despite already signing for a new club this summer.
Franck Kessie spent most of last season finding himself linked with a move to Anfield as he played out the final year of his AC Milan contract, with Liverpool even twice getting a closer look at the Ivorian as he started for the Rossoneri both home and away against Klopp’s side in the Champions League group stages.
However, despite such speculative speculation, it was Barcelona who were said to be leading the race for his signature.
After helping Milan win Serie A last season, even scoring in their 3-0 victory over Sassuolo in his final appearance, which clinched the title, the 25-year-old confirmed his exit from the San Siro.
“It’s my last month of contract here, but in these five years we have managed to get back to the Champions League and win the Scudetto,” he said. “I did what they bought me for and I think there is no better way to say goodbye.”
Come the start of July and his move to Barcelona was confirmed, as the midfielder signed a four-year contract at Camp Nou. However, with the La Liga season set to get underway this weekend, the Catalans remain unable to register Kessie and the rest of their summer signings due to their financial struggles.
ESPN reports that if they remain unregistered prior to Barca’s opening fixture against Rayo Vallecano, then the midfielder could choose to execute a clause that allows him to leave the club for free.
Kessie is one of five summer signings at Camp Nou, along with Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen. However, it is only the Ivorian and former Chelsea centre-back Christensen who can exit in such a way, given that they joined Barcelona as free agents.
Barca president Joan Laporta remains optimistic that the club will be able to register their new signings before the start of the season to avoid such a scenario. But if that isn’t the case, the Catalans would seek to speak with the players’ agents to avoid such an extreme outcome because they have until the end of the month to register signings.
Having spent over €150m this summer, Barcelona have raised over €600m by selling 25% of their domestic television rights for 25 years and a 24.5% stake in Barca Studios. However, such a figure is still not enough to satisfy La Liga to register their summer signings and contract renewals.
As a result, the Catalans are looking to sell a further 24.5% stake in Barca Studios and continue to negotiate wage adjustments with their current players, while the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Pierre-Emerick Aubayemang continue to be linked with moves away. Should they raise the required funds to register their players, then Kessie’s future at Camp Nou is secure.
But if he remains unregistered come the weekend, then there remains the possibility that he could walk out on his Barcelona contract and join a different club as a free agent instead. Capable of playing as a number six or a number eight, while there was never any serious suggestion of Liverpool entering the conversation to sign the Ivorian, he would certainly tick their boxes as a player that would make sense in the long-term, should he suddenly become available.
The prospect of signing the Kessie on a free transfer would be an attractive one for a number of clubs around Europe. Whether the Reds’ injury problems result in them considering such a deal, should the opportunity arise, only time will tell.
Admittedly such a scenario currently seems unlikely, with it being a surprise if Barcelona fail to register Kessie and the rest of their summer signings, never mind Liverpool moving for the midfielder having not done so when he was free to discuss pre-contract agreements in January. But if the signings of Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies back in 2021 taught us anything, any transfer is possible when the Reds’ hand really is forced.