It’s no secret that Liverpool hopes to recruit midfielder Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2019. The 19-year-old England international is a top target for manager Jurgen Klopp and sporting director Julian Ward in 2023, according to sources, but the shifting sands of form and results have suddenly made the race to sign him for about £100 million much more challenging.
Liverpool has established a well-deserved reputation for being innovative in terms of player acquisition. The club has been able to secure affordable deals for players like Mohamed Salah (£36.9 million), Sadio Mane (£34 million), and Andy Robertson (£8 million) as well as fending off more powerful rivals to complete more expensive transfers for Virgil van Dijk (£75 million) and Alisson Becker (£66.8 million). Since then, each of those players has been essential to Liverpool’s success in England and throughout Europe. However, Liverpool’s long-term strategy for restocking and enhancing Klopp’s team has gotten off track this summer.
Ward was given credit for acting quickly to beat Manchester United to the £85 million purchase of Darwin Nunez from Benfica in June as a replacement for Mane following his £27 million departure to Bayern Munich. Ward took over for Michael Edwards as sporting director at the end of the previous season. As Tottenham and United expressed interest in Colombian international Luis Diaz in January, ahead of Liverpool’s desire to purchase him in the summer, Ward was credited with helping to expedite a £37 million transfer for the Porto winger.
Klopp’s concerns about his midfield options went unheeded until the final hours of this summer’s transfer window, when, with injuries mounting in that department, a loan deal for Brazil international Arthur Melo was agreed upon with Juventus. However, the moves for Diaz and Nunez were, at the time, seen as Liverpool continuing to lead the way in the transfer market by acting decisively to secure long-term targets.
Since then, Arthur has only played once for the first team, coming on as a substitute for 13 minutes during the 4-1 loss to Napoli in the Champions League on September 7. Last week, Arthur participated in the Papa John’s Trophy for Liverpool U21s. The 26-year-old already resembles the type of last-minute acquisition that Liverpool has seen its less successful competitors make in recent years.
Liverpool’s strategy was to lay the groundwork for a move in 2023 because, with Dortmund losing Erling Haaland this summer as a result of Manchester City activating the prolific striker’s £51 million release clause, there was never any realistic chance that the Bundesliga club would also offload Bellingham during the same transfer window.
The issue is that, despite their remarkable pursuit of a quadruple, which faltered only when they missed out on the Premier League and Champions League in the penultimate week of the campaign, Liverpool’s midfield was already beginning to show signs of requiring reinforcements last season. Despite their recent success, Klopp’s main midfielders are either too old or too prone to injuries to last into the future. Apart from the 28-year-old Fabinho, Liverpool’s midfield alternatives are nonexistent.
Thiago Alcantara (31) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (31) have also struggled with injuries this season, as has captain Jordan Henderson, who is 32. (29). Despite being 36 years old and a former England international, James Milner has an impressive fitness record. Curtis Jones (21) and Naby Keita (27) haven’t been consistently available due to fitness issues. Although Fabio Carvalho (20) and Harvey Elliott (19) have both displayed a lot of promise, Klopp can’t yet rely on either as a constant.
Although Bellingham, 19, is also a young player, he has experience beyond his years with to more than 100 senior matches for Dortmund and 17 more for England. Many believe he will become one of the best midfielders in the league and a future England captain, so it should come as no surprise that Man City, Man United, and Chelsea are also keen to recruit him next summer.
Who needs Bellingham the most is up for debate. He is an obvious target because of Liverpool’s midfield problems, but Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford are also interested in him. Although City already has Rodri and Kalvin Phillips, they will compete to sign Bellingham since he would improve Pep Guardiola’s squad.
Liverpool would have appeared like a compelling move for Bellingham a few months ago. They have advanced to three Champions League finals in five seasons and are the only team to have contested City’s recent supremacy in the Premier League. They are a successful club with a well-known international reputation.
However, Klopp’s club has had a rough start to the current season. They have only won two Premier League games and are behind league leaders Arsenal by 11 points. Another indication of their inconsistency is the fact that they have trailed in seven of their nine games thus far across all competitions. They have only ever done this once, in a 9-0 victory over Bournemouth. Important players across the board are in poor form, including Trent Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, and Salah, while club record acquisition Nunez has only scored once in the Premier League.
With back-to-back matches against Rangers in the Champions League and matches against Arsenal and Man City in the Premier League, the next two weeks for Liverpool will be important. The early-season issues will be soon forgotten if they regain their best form, but Klopp finds it difficult to imagine the other.
Bellingham won’t be short of offers, but a continuing struggle and a battle for Champions League qualifying coupled with a midfield that needs substantial surgery would make Anfield less alluring. Liverpool has to stop their slide right away for this reason. The rebuilding effort will be more difficult if it persists and, as a direct result, they fail to land their top goal.