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
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