Liverpool’s summer has become embroiled in further drama and uncertainty. Their main transfer targets, Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita, were involved in training ground controversy at their clubs (Southampton and RB Leipzig) this week, while Barcelona seem ready to increase their bid for star man Philippe Coutinho.
With Van Dijk training alone after asking for a move, Keita fighting with his own teammates and Barcelona’s interest piqued as Neymar looks set to join Paris Saint-Germain, Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier took to social media and cheekily opined that he hoped Liverpool would do the right thing and let Coutinho leave.
The premise was simple: how could Liverpool get in such a state about Barcelona tempting Coutinho when they’d clearly being doing likewise to Southampton and RB Leipzig?
It’s a fair point albeit one that Liverpool fans can discuss without hypocrisy — the basic supporter tenet which states that if your own club’s doing it, it’s fine.
One argument was simplicity itself: Liverpool are a bigger club than Southampton, with much greater resources and ambition. There are also numerous examples of Southampton being a selling club (Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane and Nathaniel Clyne to name but three), while keeping their superstar is vital for the Reds.
That said, there is a pecking order within football: the dog chases the cat, the cat catches the bird and the bird eats the worm. And there’s often an angry dispute over which animal your club is in such an analogy.
The Reds may have lost great players like Luis Suarez over recent years but only to football superpowers like Barcelona or Real Madrid. Even the deals they’ve made with domestic rivals — Fernando Torres to Chelsea (£50m); Raheem Sterling to Manchester City (£49m) — were smoothed over by massive fees above the player’s realistic worth.
There’s an uneasy axiom that what really keeps a player securely tied to your club is success, little of which has been seen at Anfield in the last decade.
In their dominant era of the 1970s and 80s, Liverpool could lose a superstar to the allure of the continent, players such as Kevin Keegan or Ian Rush — albeit for a solitary season in the Welshman’s case. The club would get full use of a player, sell him for a tidy profit then move quickly to secure a good replacement to keep the trophies pouring in.
Keegan was replaced by Kenny Dalglish when he moved to Hamburg in 1977, while the Rush money from Juventus helped to buy John Barnes and Peter Beardsley in 1986.
Such ingenuity is rare in the modern era. The anguish felt whenever a player like Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano or Suarez goes to Spain is exacerbated by a belief Liverpool will no longer find a suitable replacement. Coutinho would be almost as hard to replace.
Player patience with clubs that cannot match their own talent and ambition is running shorter and shorter. Coutinho has actually been at Anfield for four-and-a-half years, which is loyal by modern standards.
Suarez wanted to escape to Arsenal after 30 months, until owner John Henry dug his heels in and captain Steven Gerrard persuaded the Uruguayan to stay longer and wait for an even bigger move, which he got when Barcelona came calling.
Liverpool sell themselves to incoming players now by citing a determination to return to their glory days. They persuaded manager Rafa Benitez to leave La Liga winners Valencia the same way they’ve coaxed former Bundesliga winner Jurgen Klopp — by making it clear that if they end Liverpool’s title drought, there won’t be a pedestal big enough to put them on.
But the club also sell themselves on how their position often changes swiftly for the better with seemingly minor adjustments. Brendan Rodgers had only been in the job six months by Christmas 2012, when he’d made as bad a start as Roy Hodgson.
All it took was the arrivals of Daniel Sturridge and Coutinho to turn things around and almost seal an unlikely title win three years ago. Buying Sadio Mane last summer was the key to sealing a return to the Champions League playoffs for the coming season.
Yet losing their stars has sent Liverpool spiralling back into seventh or eighth place, often ruining the good work that’s gone before.
So if Klopp is the man to end this vicious circle of failure/improvement/failure he must endeavour to keep Coutinho. One of the factors that would improve his chances is acquiring the likes of Van Dijk, who would clearly improve the defence.
Some may well view Barcelona’s interest in Coutinho as karma for the brewing trouble at St Mary’s. It may instead intensify Liverpool’s desire to secure their targets, should the Brazilian be feeling there is a lack of proper ambition at his club.