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Liverpool signed £7.2m ‘new De Bruyne’ ideal for midfield and FSG can now profit

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It is easy to forget how long FSG have been owners of Liverpool Football Club. Given the transfer machine they have become, it simply does not seem right that they were responsible for the likes of Andy Carroll, Christian Benteke and Lazar Marković. But in hindsight, at least one ‘flop’ needs to be revisited.

Players can struggle at certain clubs for any number of reasons. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong coach: myriad factors can mean that a good player looks bad. Iago Aspas, the third-most efficient forward in Europe over the past five seasons (behind only Erling Haaland and Son Heung-min), would be the first to make this point. And he is not the only one keeping pace with the big names.

Another Liverpool ‘reject’ has transformed himself into the new Kevin De Bruyne since leaving Anfield. Ironically, despite having left six years ago, he represents almost exactly what Jürgen Klopp needs right now.

Luis Alberto never even got a semblance of a look-in under Klopp. Surprisingly, the pair did overlap at Liverpool, but the Spaniard was out on loan when the new coach arrived in October of 2015. Come the following summer, he would not be given a chance to prove himself, instead being sold to Lazio for just £3.6m — half of what he was bought for three years earlier.

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At the time, this made a degree of sense. Alberto’s loan to Deportivo La Coruña had been pretty productive, yielding six goals and seven assists, but there was no obvious place for him in a Klopp midfield. The first iteration of his Liverpool side relied on a purely functional unit, one designed to do the playmaking through application of the gegenpress. A silky creator had no place.

As time went on, however, Klopp’s side evolved. It needed more control of the ball in order to seize greater control of games, having hit a ceiling in terms of what could be achieved through barely-orchestrated chaos. Having cracked the top four, Liverpool needed to start playing more like a big side. That did not mean abandoning the press, but it did mean finding fresh avenues to goal.

For a time, Klopp appeared to have found his De Bruyne in the form of Trent Alexander-Arnold. Liverpool are still heavily reliant on his creative talents from wide areas, and are now even doing their utmost to get him into central areas when in possession. But the next natural ceiling has been reached: the proliferation of deep-block defences has heightened the need for playmaking from the midfield itself.

Few players would fit the brief better than Alberto, who according to FBRef ranks as the most stylistically similar player to De Bruyne in all of Europe. Almost two years the Belgian’s junior, he is a creative force of similar proportions, sitting in the 99th percentile for expected assists per 90. Add to that 97th and 95th percentile returns for progressive passes and progessvie carries respectively, and Klopp must be pulling his hair out at his hasty decision from six years ago.

While he is younger than De Bruyne at 29, Alberto is almost certainly too old for a sensational Liverpool return. However, for teams with a different transfer model, he would certainly represent a shrewd acquisition, and he could be on the move this summer. Perennially linked with a move away from Lazio, there is a feeling that this could finally be the year they cash in.

And while Klopp may be rueing his mistake, FSG will be feeling rather smug. Alberto may have struggled at Liverpool in the same vein as Benteke, Carroll and the like, but he looks certain to belatedly bank the club a profit.

That’s thanks to a whopping 30 per cent sell-on clause. Needing another £3.6m to break even after all these years, Liverpool would need Lazio to sell for just £12m to hit that landmark. Anything above that is profit. Given his similarities with De Bruyne, a fairer price would be close to triple that amount.

But more than the money he could make Liverpool, Alberto is a cautionary tale about not judging too soon, and about accepting that a bad spell at a club does not make a bad player. He has done exceptionally well to build a brilliant career, one that has rightly drawn De Bruyne comparisons: Klopp would no doubt be the first to wish him well in his next endeavour, regardless of the FSG bottom line.



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