Klopp has earned right to ig­nore ‘Fer­gu­son For­mula’

Liver­pool may not make a ma­jor sign­ing this sum­mer, and coach could be play­ing a shrewd wait­ing game

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Football - Ja­son Burt Chief Foot­ball Cor­re­spon­dent

If ever a club have earned the right to buck con­ven­tional wis­dom, they are Liver­pool. Reach­ing back-to-back Cham­pi­ons League fi­nals, and win­ning it last sea­son, be­com­ing Club World Cup cham­pi­ons, win­ning the top flight for the first time in 30 years and with a record 23-point lead, los­ing just three league games in the past two cam­paigns, and all the while play­ing bril­liant, at­tack­ing foot­ball cer­tainly earns that right.

Much has un­der­stand­ably been made of their su­perb, strate­gic re­cruit­ment, us­ing a sus­tain­able model with rel­a­tively lit­tle owner in­vest­ment and spend­ing far less than their ri­vals.

It has been an as­ton­ish­ing suc­cess story and man­ager Jur­gen Klopp, sport­ing di­rec­tor Michael Ed­wards and the club’s hi­er­ar­chy have al­ready earned their place in An­field leg­end.

For their next trick, it would be re­mark­able if Liver­pool did as Klopp sug­gested by mak­ing no ma­jor sign­ing this sum­mer. It would be the ul­ti­mate state­ment in de­fy­ing con­ven­tion. Liver­pool, more than any other club, will be aware of how United de­vel­oped un­der Sir Alex Fer­gu­son, con­tin­u­ally at­tempt­ing to re­fresh the squad.

The Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view even pub­lished an anal­y­sis of what it called “Fer­gu­son’s For­mula”, one of the key points of which was to “dare to re­build your team”.

“Even in times of great suc­cess, Fer­gu­son worked to re­build his team. He is cred­ited with as­sem­bling five dis­tinct league-win­ning squads dur­ing his time at the club and con­tin­u­ing to win tro­phies all the while,” Prof Anita El­berse said.

Liver­pool are still in their first cy­cle, it would ap­pear, and what is ex­cit­ing for them is the prospect of young play­ers that Klopp has talked up – such as Neco Wil­liams, Cur­tis Jones and Har­vey El­liott – be­ing the club’s ver­sion of United’s “Class of ’92” and be­com­ing key ad­di­tions to the first-team squad.

Klopp is adamant there will be no dan­ger of com­pla­cency from his “men­tal­ity mon­sters”, and there is no rea­son to doubt him and his pow­ers of mo­ti­va­tion. Af­ter he knocked Bay­ern Mu­nich off their perch in Ger­many by win­ning the title with Borus­sia Dort­mund in 2010-11, he fol­lowed up by re­tain­ing it. Klopp had to deal with his best play­ers – such as Robert Le­wandowski and Mario Gotze – be­ing cherry-picked. That should not hap­pen this time and Klopp has al­ready stated he is en­joy­ing hav­ing that se­cu­rity.

Still, if there are no big sign­ings it would be the sec­ond sum­mer in a row that they had taken a “pause” – as the man­ager puts it – while those around them scram­bled to try to catch up. OK, Manch­ester City did not do that last year and have paid the price for not re­plac­ing Vin­cent Kom­pany, but they will go for it this sum­mer. Chelsea were pre­vented from do­ing so be­cause of their trans­fer ban, but are al­ready mak­ing up for that by sign­ing Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech. At least two more will fol­low – there is gen­uine in­ter­est in Kai Havertz, De­clan Rice and Ben Chilwell – partly funded by the sales of Eden Haz­ard and Al­varo Mo­rata.

Liver­pool ef­fec­tively passed on Werner and that was partly driven by two fac­tors: the fi­nan­cial un­cer­tainty caused by Covid-19 and the lack of clar­ity as to when the trans­fer win­dow will open and close and when the next sea­son will start.

The for­mer sug­gests money will be tight; the lat­ter sug­gests that Liver­pool, given their strength, may pre­fer to play a wait­ing game and make a late en­try into the mar­ket, es­pe­cially as it is gen­er­ally felt there will be a fall of around 30 per cent in fees due to the ef­fects of the pan­demic.

“Maybe at a later point in the year, if the trans­fer win­dow is still open, we will know more,” Klopp said last week, and it felt telling.

Re­mem­ber, this is the club who lost the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in 2018, with goal­keeper Loris Kar­ius woe­fully at fault, but waited al­most two months dur­ing the close sea­son be­fore se­cur­ing his re­place­ment, Alis­son Becker. It was – un­til Chelsea signed Kepa Ar­riz­a­bal­aga for £71 million – a world record fee of £65mil­lion. But it was not as much as Roma were orig­i­nally de­mand­ing, and Liver­pool held their nerve.

Sim­i­larly, Klopp waited half a sea­son be­fore buy­ing Vir­gil van Dijk from Southamp­ton be­cause he could not get the de­fender in the sum­mer and so held on un­til the win­dow re­opened in Jan­uary 2018.

Will the same hap­pen again when it comes to the one area of the team where a world-class ad­di­tion is needed – Liver­pool’s at­tack? Takumi Mi­namino was signed for £7.25 million from Red Bull Salzburg in Jan­uary, but whether he will be an ad­e­quate un­der­study or re­place Mo­hamed Salah, Roberto Firmino or Sa­dio Mane re­mains to be seen.

It is ob­vi­ous that the drop-off when one of those three does not play is sim­ply too great. Divock Origi has pro­vided cameos – not least with Mersey­side derby goals and his un­for­get­table con­tri­bu­tion in last sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nal come­back against Barcelona – but he is not at the same level, while Xher­dan Shaqiri is out of the pic­ture and Adam Lal­lana is leav­ing.

The crush­ing 4-0 de­feat by Manch­ester City showed that the gap be­tween the teams is not as great as the table sug­gests and Klopp knows that. The fear will be that Liver­pool’s dom­i­nance this sea­son may per­suade the own­ers that fur­ther in­vest­ment can wait, as maybe will the post­pone­ment of Jan­uary’s Africa Cup of Na­tions, as they will no longer be with­out Salah or Mane for up to six weeks.

Ei­ther way, it will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see how it plays out this sum­mer, whether Liver­pool do in­deed go against “Fer­gu­son’s For­mula” or whether it is all part of them show­ing their strength by mov­ing into the mar­ket when it suits. The sus­pi­cion is it will be the lat­ter.

Games be­hind closed doors giv­ing young tal­ent stage to thrive

Anum­ber of the Premier League’s out­stand­ing per­form­ers over the weekend had one thing in com­mon: they were young. There were the 18-year-olds Ma­son Greenwood, of Manch­ester United, and Bukayo Saka, of Ar­se­nal, and the 19-year-olds Tariq Lamptey, of Brighton, and Cur­tis Jones, who made a goal-scor­ing im­pact from the bench for Liver­pool.

De­clan Rice was im­pres­sive in West Ham’s draw at New­cas­tle, as was his friend, Ma­son Mount, in Chelsea’s com­fort­able vic­tory over Wat­ford. Rice and Mount are both England in­ter­na­tion­als and are only 21. Could it be that the be­hind-closed-doors games, and the sense that there is there­fore less pres­sure and a lit­tle more free­dom to play, is giv­ing some of the young play­ers a plat­form to per­form?

Knock­ing on door: Takumi Mi­namino and Cur­tis Jones (with Jur­gen Klopp be­low) are wait­ing in the wings

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