The way some people are speaking about Liverpool and Jude Bellingham, it would appear to be a matter of fate. There is a consensus that a transfer is highly unlikely this summer, but 2023 is being touted as the date with destiny.
But Liverpool have been here before. Kylian Mbappé was once spoken about in similarly bullish tones: ‘Mbappé 2020’ was perhaps somewhat more tongue-in-cheek than the Bellingham hype, but the same principles apply. And as the PSG star’s stock rose and rose, the logistics of any such deal got more and more implausible.
Bellingham is likely to enjoy a similarly astronomical trajectory. Even now, he is an established star at a top side in Europe. Another season of development and he will be coveted by essentially every big club — if, indeed, that is not the case already. With every passing game on which he stamps his influence, the cost associated with a transfer goes up.
It is not so much the transfer fee that will worry Liverpool. After all, FSG just smashed the club record to land Darwin Núñez, provided certain add-ons are met. Rather, the more desperate that competitors become to land Bellingham, the more the wage race ratchets up. It is here where the structure at Anfield cannot compete with the likes of PSG and Manchester City.
While Liverpool were signing Núñez, for a fee that could rise as high as £85m, Erling Haaland was arriving at the Etihad for £51m. The difference? A salary of £140,000 per week, compared to £375,000 per week for the Norwegian starlet. Even ignoring the added commissions and agent fees forked out by Man City, that means the Haaland deal will become more costly within three years.
Of course, not too many players can command such a wage, but the pool is increasing. Both Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku would be the highest earners at Liverpool by some distance. Grealish, likewise, falls beyond the current scope of the FSG wage bill. Bellingham is not far off the point where he could comfortably pick up a wage north of £200,000 if he so desired.
As such, Liverpool will be delighted with the latest developments at Manchester City. One of the few clubs that would always be able to win a salary battle, they have just agreed a deal for the transfer of Kalvin Phillips, seemingly setting up their midfield for the foreseeable future.
Touted as a Fernandinho replacement, Phillips seems more likely to feature as cover for both the number six and number eight roles. Rodri has already taken over admirably from the Brazilian veteran; if anything, the Leeds man is more like the long-term answer to an eventual İlkay Gündoğan departure.
Only Pep Guardiola will know exactly what he has planned, but the midfield core at Man City looks extremely strong. Crucially, the age profile is relatively young too, with both Phillips and Rodri only 26 years of age. The future of Bernardo Silva is far from certain, but he too has plenty of prime years left.
In other words, one of the most obvious competitors for the 2023 capture of Bellingham may now be less of a threat. The existing attacking depth did not stop Manchester City signing Grealish for £100m last summer, so Liverpool cannot exactly rule out their rivals, but it is hard to dispute that their priorities are now more likely to lie elsewhere.
That leaves a very limited pool of clubs who can simply blow Liverpool out of the water in terms of wages. Chelsea are an unknown quantity under the new owners — and with Declan Rice rumours intensifying, they will hopefully follow Man City in effectively bowing out of the race anyway. PSG do not seem like a natural fit for Bellingham, and in any case are reportedly close to signing Renato Sanches.
As for Manchester United, they have been getting rejected left, right and centre all summer, and it is hard to imagine too much will have changed by 2023. Equally, former teammate Jadon Sancho will be a cautionary tale for Bellingham. That only really leaves Real Madrid as an obvious transfer rival with superior wage power to Liverpool, but their midfield is already notoriously future-proofed, not least since the arrival of Aurélien Tchouaméni.
Nor is it the case that wages are the absolute be all and end all, although they are clearly very significant. Liverpool sold Virgil van Dijk on the project back in 2018, and Manchester City and Chelsea were left with no chance. The hope will be that Bellingham, who has made positive noises in the past, is similarly set on Anfield.
Perhaps, then, the feeling of destiny around Bellingham is warranted. Certainly, the optimism is more legitimate than in the case of Mbappé. Liverpool are still not equipped to beat some of their main competitive rivals in a straight wage shootout, but there is reason to believe it will not come to that. Between the player’s potential wishes and the recent transfer activity at Manchester City and elsewhere, the 2023 dream could yet become reality.