The speculation continues daily, but it’s beginning to appear as though very little progress has been made with Liverpool’s ongoing pursuit of RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita.
At the start of the summer, media reports surfaced that the German club were unwilling to sell their prized asset but that a fee of around £50 million would probably be enough to get a deal done and that Liverpool would not be put off by that valuation.
One month on, the only thing that seems to have changed is the £50m valuation has now risen to £70m. According to the latest reports, Leipzig still don’t want to sell and Liverpool still aren’t put off by the price. Nor should they be, as Keita looks to be a special talent who would fit seamlessly into Jurgen Klopp’s 100-mph style of football.
Adding the Guinean international to what he already has at his disposal would give Klopp an impressive collection of options for the two box-to-box midfield roles in his favoured 4-3-3 system. Choosing two from the quartet of Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Georginio Wijnaldum and Keita would be a rare luxury indeed, and whichever combination Klopp went with would be strong and well-balanced.
While Liverpool have a number of other needs this summer, recruiting Keita should be their No. 1 priority. And if reports are accurate and it would indeed cost £70m to get him, they should not hesitate, even at that price.
While it’s fair to question the wisdom of paying that kind of money for a defender, for example (as many supporters did when it looked like a £60m deal for Virgil van Dijk was close), all-action midfielders who appear able to do everything don’t tend to come cheap.
Keita looks to be a rare talent, as he plays like a hybrid of N’Golo Kante and Sadio Mane. Keita is quick, can defend, can run all day, can win the ball, can dribble, can shoot, can score goals, can create goals, can use both feet and he’s only 22 years old. Paying £70m is a lot of money, but such has been the incredible rate of inflation in football transfers since the most recent TV deal; in a year or two it will be seen as fairly standard.
Everton are paying £30m for Jordan Pickford, a young, relatively unproven goalkeeper from a team that finished bottom of the Premier League last year. Elsewhere, Bournemouth have just spent £20m on Nathan Ake. Nathan. Ake. Just let that sink in for a second.
By comparison, £70m for an explosive talent like Keita doesn’t seem so extortionate, particularly in light of what Paul Pogba cost Manchester United a year ago.
Sometimes a player becomes available who looks like a sure thing. Liverpool have often looked at these players and either been put off by the fee or waited too long that they missed the boat and then had to watch the player thrive elsewhere. They may already have blown their chances of signing Van Dijk — time will tell on that one — so it’s even more important now that Klopp is able to get a deal done for Keita.
Reports in Germany suggest that Keita himself is keen on a move to Merseyside and has actually agreed on personal terms already. That’s encouraging but ultimately means very little (just ask Van Dijk). Unless a deal can be struck between the two clubs it doesn’t really matter what the player’s preference is. Liverpool have to learn from past mistakes and handle this situation far more carefully than they did with Van Dijk and Southampton.
If Keita is the man Klopp wants to be his midfield driving force for the foreseeable future and providing it is within the club’s budget, then no price is too high. Of course, ideally Liverpool would like to stretch that budget to bring in at least half a dozen players this summer (and that’s before you even start thinking about replacing those who will inevitably leave), but it’s far more important to add quality over quantity.
If by doing that they only sign three players this summer rather than the six or seven they probably require, that’s fine. Three outstanding players will benefit them far more than six good ones will. Mohamed Salah has arrived already, and if he were to be joined by Keita and, let’s say, Van Dijk (stranger things have happened), Liverpool will have had a great window even if they didn’t add another player.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Liverpool cannot fulfil all of their needs in one transfer window. If they could add three genuinely top-quality players to what they already have, that would go a long way toward mounting a title challenge next season.
And if that comes at the cost of being competitive in the Champions League and the domestic cups, so be it. Addressing that can wait another year.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN’s Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.