Of all the elite clubs in European football, Liverpool may be the strongest when it comes to recruitment. That’s why there’s a developing tug-of-war over Michael Edwards, who’s recently left his post as the Reds’ sporting director.
A graphic circulated on Twitter last week rammed the point home. Posted by The Sportsman, it displayed the 10 most expensive transfers in Premier League history.
Then it’s Lukaku again, this time his £76m move from Everton to Manchester United in 2017, with Virgil van Dijk (£75m) the only Liverpool representative on the list at number seven. Chelsea duo Kai Havertz and Kepa Arrizabalaga, along with Arsenal’s Nicolas Pépé, round out the list at £72m apiece.
The Sportsman made the case that ‘Van Dijk is the only player worth splashing the cash for here’, and it’s hard to argue with that assessment right now.
In the cases of Grealish, Sancho and Havertz, the jury is admittedly still out. But in truth, they may have already returned their verdicts on Maguire, Pépé and Arrizabalaga.
Pogba, meanwhile, is about to leave English football. Having reached the end of his contract, he’s headed back to Juventus. After six largely unconvincing seasons, he departs United on a free transfer.
Lukaku is also returning to his former Serie A club. But the difference is that he only lasted 12 months at Chelsea, starting just 16 Premier League games and failing to reach double figures for goals. Inter Milan will soon confirm the loan deal.
And now, a year on from his much-heralded arrival for a second stint at Old Trafford, Cristiano Ronaldo is looking at possible exit routes.
According to The Athletic, Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes has discussed a potential transfer to Chelsea with the Blues’ new owner Todd Boehly. Officials at Bayern Munich are believed to have held similar talks.
Ronaldo still has a year left on his United contract but has apparently grown concerned that the Red Devils aren’t matching his ambition.
The 37-year-old’s comeback tour hasn’t been an unmitigated failure. Many have defended the signing on the grounds that Ronaldo top-scored last season with 24 goals, but focusing on that figure alone is reductive. The reality is that he hasn’t improved Manchester United.
He may have cost far less than Pogba and Lukaku (around £20m including add-ons) but it was still a similar deal in that it was seemingly designed to make a statement.
The Pogba and Lukaku signings were a means of resolving unfinished business after they left United and Chelsea as youngsters and flourished elsewhere.
While Ronaldo was undoubtedly one of the greatest players in football history at his peak, it’s hard to argue this was a pure sporting decision from United. It was also driven by the sentiment — the chance to ‘bring him home’ — and the vast marketing potential. With Ronaldo angling for a way out of Juventus and negotiating with Manchester City, they felt they had to act. It was clear at the outset that he would be a passenger out of possession, but that didn’t seem to be a serious consideration.
Liverpool, though, avoid this kind of business. The only real superstar they’ve signed in the Jürgen Klopp era is Thiago, and crucially, he makes them better. Among all the players with at least 10 Premier League starts for the Reds last season, only Luis Díaz could better his points-per-game record.
Michael Edwards, and his successor Julian Ward, have signed players based on their profile rather than their name. Not only is it thrifty — there’s a reason Liverpool only feature once in the top 10 and don’t make the top six — it’s also proven to be much more effective.
Indeed, the Reds will see the Pogba and Lukaku deals, and Ronaldo’s potential exit, as vindication. They simply don’t make these costly mistakes.