It was in early 2017 that Liverpool’s recruitment team came to a conclusion that would ultimately help the club go on to win the Premier League and Champions League. The Reds needed Virgil van Dijk.
Not wanted. Needed. The analysis had been done, the scouting reports filed, the approval of Jurgen Klopp received. Liverpool would go all out to sign the Dutchman.
As it transpired, the club went a bit too hard. Stories emerged that Klopp had met van Dijk in a hotel in Blackpool to discuss a move. Terms were then agreed with the defender before the Reds had even made an official approach to Southampton.
Understandably irked, the Saints reported Liverpool to the Premier League in June 2017. The Merseyside club were forced to then publish a rather humbling statement and supposedly drop their interest.
“Liverpool Football Club would like to put on record our regret over recent media speculation regarding Southampton Football Club and player transfers between the two clubs,” it read.
“We apologise to the owner, board of directors and fans of Southampton for any misunderstanding regarding Virgil van Dijk. We respect Southampton’s position and can confirm we have ended any interest in the player.”
Liverpool’s climbdown left them in a rather awkward situation. They needed a centre-back that summer but, so convinced were they that van Dijk was the option, didn’t bring one into Anfield. The Reds started the 2018/19 campaign with Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan as their central defenders.
“We cannot force things and we would never get a centre-back just because someone is available,” Klopp said. “Look out there and tell me five that would make us stronger. You win a prize [if you can]. It’s difficult.”
Liverpool, despite what the club claimed in that statement, never ended their interest in van Dijk. They waited patiently and eventually paid whatever it took to land the Dutch international. A deal worth £75million was struck in December 2017.
Liverpool’s almost year-long move for van Dijk paid off. He has established himself as the best centre-back in world football at Anfield and his importance to Klopp’s side was only highlighted further in his absence this season due to a serious knee injury suffered in October.
That kind of patience is rare in football. It can, however, be vital. And that is something Chelsea should remember in their pursuit of a forward this summer.
Bringing in a new number nine to Stamford Bridge is top of the club’s priority list. Yet the chance of that happening, even though the Blues have been crowned champions of Europe, has dwindled over the last few weeks.
Romelu Lukaku emerged as a realistic target after Antonio Conte left Inter Milan but earlier this week the Belgian forward played down a move away from San Siro.
“Yes, I am staying,” he told Belgian television station VTM. “I’ve already had contact with the man who normally becomes our new manager. Maybe I shouldn’t say that yet… It was a very positive conversation. There’s also the challenge of doing it again (winning the league). I feel good at Inter.”
Another mooted target is Tottenham Hotspur talisman Harry Kane. The England captain will turn 28 years old next month and is very much at the peak of his powers; he ended the 2020/21 Premier League campaign as the leader in goals and assists.
The problem, however, is Spurs chairman Daniel Levy would rather sell Kane, who would cost in excess of £100million, to any other club than Chelsea. It’s a deal that is something of a non-starter.
Then there is Erling Haaland. The 20-year-old is a force of nature but Borussia Dortmund will demand in excess of £150m for the Norwegian international. Given Haaland has a £60m release clause in his contract that becomes active next summer, his many suitors are likely to wait 12 months.
But should Chelsea? Well, that very much depends on whether the Blues feel – just as Liverpool did with van Dijk – Haaland is the guy, the one they simply can’t miss out on.
If that’s the case then Chelsea should go all out this summer to bring him to Stamford Bridge. And if they fail, then do not compromise, do not sign a stop-gap. Simply put in the hard work to try to convince Haaland his long-term future is in west London.
That would mean the Blues go into next season with Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Olivier Giroud and, potentially, Tammy Abraham as their attacking options. It’s hardly a dearth of quality and two of those started in the Champions League final win over Man City.
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Too often Chelsea have settled in the transfer market and it’s rarely paid off. Alvaro Morata, for example, was signed in the summer of 2017 for £60m after the Blues failed to bring in Lukaku from Everton. We all know how that ended.
It’s certainly not easy for a club to resolutely stick to their guns in the transfer window. The majority of supporters demand new signings, some even enjoy the transfer window more than the regular season. Yet the Chelsea squad is strong and that should allow the Blues to be bullish in the market.
With van Dijk, Liverpool proved there is a benefit to staying patient and not compromising on a target. Chelsea would be wise to remember that this summer.