Virgil On The Ridiculous

What is a summer without a Liverpool Football Club transfer saga? From Fernando Torres deciding enough was enough at Anfield and leaving us for our nouveau riche enemies in Chelsea though to Luis Suarez biting people to try and force through a move, it seems like nothing is easy for Reds fans. Even by our standards, though, this takes some beating. The club has well and truly outdone itself in terms of screwing up a transfer before it’s even happened. If you don’t know what I’m talking about because you live under a rock or don’t have a head, allow me to explain…

Southampton player Virgil van Dijk is the most sought after defender around this summer, with Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City all believed to be interested in attaining his services. The Reds have been confident of winning his signature from before the end of the season, with the ITK crowd saying that we just needed to make sure we got into the Champions League. We did that, van Dijk confirmed that Liverpool was the club he wanted to join and the press reported it. Yay! Only no official negotiations had been done with Southampton, so they duly reported us to the Premier League for ‘tapping him up’. Cue Liverpool supporting heads falling off all over the place. The question is, is it all as bad as it seems?

The Club Had No Choice But To Apologise

Let’s be honest, this isn’t great. There are loads of ways of looking at it and I’m not convinced that everyone thinking that the club is ‘an embarrassment’ is all that fair, but it’s certainly true that this hasn’t gone as well as we might have liked. In fact, from a PR point of view it’s pretty disastrous. Right now every single set of supporters and their associated clubs are laughing at our expense and that’s a disappointing thing to have happen when you’re in the midst of a transformation. Yet the simple fact is that the club basically had no choice.

We have already been given a transfer ban at youth level because of accusations of tapping a player up, so if this went all the way through to the Premier League investigating us then it’s not out of the realms of the possible that we’d have been banned from making transfers at a senior level, too. That would have been absolutely disastrous and it makes sense for the club to do everything they can to avoid that scenario from happening. We might have taken a bit of a kick in the teeth from a publicity point of view by doing it, but it certainly could have been a hell of a lot worse.

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The reports in the various newspapers from trusted members of the media suggest that Southampton essentially had us bang to rights. They had irrefutable evidence that we had been ‘up to no good’ and were happy to send that to the Premier League. If the only way of avoiding that from happening was to make a public apology then so be it. The matter still isn’t totally over, but the feeling is that Saints will now let the matter drop and if that happens then the Premier League are unlikely to investigate it any further. Liverpool supporters might be ’embarrassed’ by the club right now, but I’m honestly not sure what choice they had.

It’s clear that FSG felt the need to release the statement in order to head off any further trouble on the issue. Apologising for their behaviour is a smart move, even if supporters can’t quite see it that way right now. I’m not for one second trying to argue that this isn’t decidedly shambolic, it definitely is. What I’m saying is that we might have to ensure a little bit of short-term pain for some long-term gain. As I’ll come on to discuss shortly, we may well even still be able to sign the player depending on how this all comes out in the wash.

Everyone Does It

The irony in all of this, of course, is that everyone does it. There isn’t a club in any professional league in the world that doesn’t know ahead of time whether or not a player will want to sign for them. The issue here is not that Liverpool spoke to van Dijk before putting in a concrete offer with the player, it’s that they got caught. What that means in the short-term is that the Premier League will likely be reluctant to pursue the issue as they’ll be handing out transfer bans left, right and centre before too long. In what is surely an ultimate irony, Southampton themselves were threatened with legal action by Celtic back when they tried to sign the Dutchman in the first place.

Given that transfers are big business for practically everyone involved, the one thing the Premier League will be desperate to avoid is a situation whereby clubs are having private detectives following players around when the summer is approaching, making sure they aren’t speak to rival clubs. Supporters have been quick to jump on the back of the club for ‘leaking’ to the press that van Dijk had named Liverpool as his preferred destination, but if Southampton have got undeniable proof that we met with him then I’m not entirely convinced the club have done much wrong.

Coutinho & Klopp On The Side Of The Kop

Reports suggested that van Dijk was impressed with Klopp’s personal approach in trying to sign him, with a clandestine meeting between the two in Blackpool believed to be the thing that Saints are basing their complaint around. It’s all well and good saying the club briefing the press has caused problems, but there are several factors worthy of consideration here. For starters, Klopp is trying to attract players this summer and letting them know we’ve got serious intentions will be a big help in that. van Dijk’s future has been the talk of the transfer market since the close of the season, so it’s not exactly a surprise that it was big news when his mind was made up.

Having said all of that, of course, if it transpires that it was indeed a mistake from someone within the club then heads should roll. A lot of fingers are being pointed at Michael Edwards, the sporting director, but it’s unlikely, to say the least, that he’s done much more than identified the player and ensured that he’s interested in coming to Anfield. The reality is that a lot of this is guesswork on behalf of everyone, so I’m very reluctant to believe what some random person has said on Twitter and everyone has jumped on as proof that the club is at fault. We haven’t done anything that any other club hasn’t done time and time again, so jumping on the ‘FSG OUT’ bandwagon feels uncomfortable for me.

What Next For The Player?

For van Dijk himself the situation is decidedly odd. It goes without saying that football players are, at heart, mercenaries. Should Saints decide that absolutely will not sell to Liverpool under any circumstances then he’ll likely end up at the Etihad or Stamford Bridge and we will be a long-forgotten dream. Yet if he really has been won over by Jürgen Klopp and the German’s vision for the future of the club then might he try to force through a move regardless? If you believe the rumour mill then Southampton will only let him go if he puts in a transfer request and Liverpool pay a huge fee. Both of those things are still more than possible, given the fluid nature of football transfers.

I’m not entirely convinced that this particular saga is over and done. I genuinely believe that the manager thought he’d found a future captain in van Dijk and I still think the club will do everything it can to make the move happen. What better signal would there be to the rest of the league that all is forgiven and forgotten than the two clubs sharing yet another transfer? I’m reasonably convinced that the Premier League would quite like that to happen, too. As I said before, the last thing they want is a constant war of words between all of the clubs under their command. In some ways van Dijk might prove to be something of a test case – can the big clubs continue to to push the limits when it comes to wooing players from other sides?

Whether Liverpool end up facing sanctions, sign the player or move on to bring in someone else, I’m fairly sure this story is going to run and run. What the manager wants more than anything else is for his players to be ready to go when pre-season arrives in a month’s time. It’s absolutely worth remembering, as heads go all over the place, that we’re still incredibly early on in the transfer window and the new season is still over two months away. There is absolutely no need for anyone to be hitting the panic button when there’s such a long way still to go. The van Dijk dream might have taken a bit of a beating, but it’s not quite dead yet.

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