Jota looks another hit for Liverpool's vaunted recruitment strategy

Jota is another hit for Liverpool’s vaunted recruitment strategy that has also signed Robertson, Salah and Van Dijk among others… from Klopp to the low-key sporting director and an army of analysts, who calls the shots and how have they got it so right?

  • Liverpool star Diogo Jota has proven to be another sensational signing
  • The club’s recruitment strategy is arguably the best in football at the moment
  • Jurgen Klopp and sporting director Michael Edwards work effortlessly together
  • They are backed up by an experienced scouting team and a raft of data analysts
  • Andy Robertson, Fabinho, Mo Salah and Sadio Mane are all success stories
  • So, who calls the shots for the Premier League holders and how do they do it?

Liverpool had a pretty good idea they had made another shrewd signing in Diogo Jota but when he completed his hat-trick against Atalanta it was confirmed.

For £41million, which some perceived as a lofty figure for a back-up forward, the Reds have finally found the fourth man for their attack and cemented the club as arguably the best recruiters on the planet.

Liverpool’s success since Jurgen Klopp took over in October 2015 has been down to many things but the dramatic overhaul in the quality of signing and selling players has been one of the key components.  

Jurgen Klopp (C), Michael Edwards (L) and FSG’s Mike Gordon (R) have helped transform Liverpool’s transfer department into arguably the best in the world

Diogo Jota is the latest success story, scoring seven in 10 games after joining from Wolves

2016-17

Sadio Mane – £37m

Georginio Wijnaldum – £25m

Loris Karius – £5m

Joel Matip – Free

Ragnar Klavan – £4m  

2017-18

Virgil van Dijk – £75m

Mohamed Salah – £37m

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – £34m

Andy Robertson – £8m 

2018-19

Alisson – £56m

Naby Keita – £54m

Fabinho – £40m

Xherdan Shaqiri – £13m 

2019-20

Takumi Minamino – £7m

Sepp van den Berg – £1m

Adrian – Free 

2020-21

Diogo Jota – £41m

Thiago Alcantara – £20m

Kostas Tsimikas – £11m 

Gone are the days of missing out on priority targets to ‘bigger’ clubs, as the arrival of Thiago Alcantara this summer proved, as well as the miserable days of having to settle for second best.

Together Klopp and sporting director Michael Edwards have created a refined and calculated strategy that has created one of the most balanced groups of players in world football. 

As well as his tactical acumen and infectious personality, the hiring of Klopp in 2015 allowed Liverpool to attract a different calibre of player in the transfer market.

The scouting network was already in place when he arrived at Anfield but moves for the likes of Diego Costa, Willian and the initial pursuit of Mohamed Salah were all unsuccessful because the club couldn’t convince stars Anfield was the place to be. 

Brendan Rodgers would try and tap into Steven Gerrard’s reputation to lure players to Merseyside, notably Toni Kroos, but his impending exit from the club and a lack of Champions League football meant Liverpool were restricted to a certain type of player.

Signing Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert to replace Luis Suarez was one example while Simon Mignolet from Sunderland was the best the club could manage as their No 1 goalkeeper. 

Brendan Rodgers struggled with Liverpool’s transfer committee, who were against the club buying Mario Balotelli (L)

Rodgers also wanted Christian Benteke in 2015 and got him while former chief executive Ian Ayre flew across the globe to complete a deal for Roberto Firmino

There was also an ongoing tussle for power between Rodgers and Liverpool’s ‘transfer committee’. The manager was at odds with Edwards, chief executive Ian Ayre, as well as the club’s analytics and scouting staff.

In the summer of 2015, the now Leicester manager was desperate to bring in Christian Benteke from Aston Villa while club executives thought Roberto Firmino would be a better fit.

In the end they got both with Ayre taking four flights, taking in three countries and two hemispheres to get a deal done for the Brazilian striker five years ago.

It was not the most effective strategy and five years on there is only one of those strikers still at the club as a Champions League and Premier League winner. Maybe the ‘committee’ was right.

It is understandable why Rodgers was wary. Edwards pushed for the signings of Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto, Tiago Ilori and Lazar Markovic as he tried to shift the club away from traditional scouting models. Not every buy has been a success but there have been more good than bad purchases on his watch.

The scenario is much different at Anfield now. Whereas before there was a hostility between the manager and those who have the power to make transfer decisions, now Klopp and Edwards run a smooth operation.

Edwards was promoted to the role in November 2016, just over a year after Klopp joined the club, after impressing Mike Gordon, the president of owners Fenway Sports Group who wanted to move to a more analytical model that had served them so well with Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox.

Liverpool wasted the money they got for Luis Suarez – including on Lazar Markovic who Edwards was keen to buy

But his record in the transfer market while working alongside Klopp has been almost faultless

Once an IT teacher, Edwards does all he can to avoid the limelight and is quite content to sit back and watch the team he helped construct dominate everything in its path.

Edwards has overhauled the club’s recruitment strategy, seeking value where others may not. He played a crucial role in convincing Klopp’s staff that Andy Robertson would be a huge asset to the club despite his relegation from the Premier League with Hull.

He was also key in ensuring the club signed Firmino against Rodgers’ wishes and got deals across the line for Salah, Sadio Mane, Alisson, Fabinho and Virgil van Dijk.

Edwards’ success goes beyond the transfer market though. During his time as the club’s technical director, he had the choice between Klopp, Carlo Ancelotti and Eddie Howe as Rodgers’ replacement.

After going through each manager’s credentials it was clear Klopp was the ideal candidate and they set about constructing a squad that could compete for the biggest honours.

Liverpool now have a strict set of attributes a player must have if they are to consider buying them. They target players aged 26 or under who were approaching their peak years. It is not rigid though, as proven by the signing of Thiago, 29. 

Helping Edwards and Klopp decide who to bring in is chief scout Barry Hunter, head of recruitment Dave Fallows and head of football projects David Woodfine, as well as a raft of analytics and research experts. 

After getting Sadio Mane in his first summer, Klopp welcomed Mohamed Salah in 2017

Edwards was crucial in convincing Klopp and his staff that Andy Robertson was worth signing

BIG MONEY EXITS IN KLOPP’S TIME AT ANFIELD

Christian Benteke – £26m

Jordon Ibe – £16m

Joe Allen – £13m

Philippe Coutinho – £142m

Mamadou Sakho – £26m

Dominic Solanke – £19m

Danny Ward – £12m

Danny Ings – £19m

Rhian Brewster – £23m 

Edwards convinced Dr Ian Graham to join as the club’s head of research on a flight to Boston and Will Spearman is now also on board, a former Harvard graduate student who worked at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

Together they combine to form a perfect environment for discussions on potential targets, analysis of where and how a player will fit in and then the often ruthless negotiations with clubs across the world. 

In 2016, Klopp’s first summer at the club, Sadio Mane, Joel Matip and Georginio Wijnaldum were signed. Three players who have been on the ride to the top of world football every step of the way. 

Salah, Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain followed in the summer of 2017 before Phillipe Coutinho left for the Nou Camp. The Brazilian’s departure allowed the club to spend big.

Whereas the club spent funds gathered by the sale of Suarez on Balotelli, Lambert, Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic, they took the £142million for Coutinho in January 2018 and made cold, calculated buys that put the club on the next level.

In came Virgil van Dijk in the same window while Alisson, Fabinho and Naby Keita joined months after Liverpool had lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League final as the club sought to build on their progress.

With a defined style of play, a lethal attack and the best centre back and goalkeeper in world football, Liverpool built on their Kiev heartbreak to win a sixth European Cup 12 months later. Another year on, the Premier League title followed.

In the same window Philippe Coutinho joined Barcelona, Liverpool brought in Virgil van Dijk

Fabinho followed in the summer of 2018 and helped the club win the Champions League title

Klopp’s squad is now so strong that Liverpool can now just add quality to it, rather than expect signings to come in and play crucial roles from the off.

There was no big name arrival in the summer of 2019 before they won the title while Jota, Thiago and Kostas Tsimikas were signed earlier this year to supplement what is already there.

Eyebrows were raised when Liverpool splashed £41m on Jota, a player who was expected to fill the deputy role to the famed front three. But less than two months into the season, it is clear the Portuguese forward will be so much more.

His hat-trick in Bergamo was sublime, took him to seven goals in 10 games in Red and cemented his place as a genuine threat to the Salah, Mane, Firmino triumvirate that has took Liverpool to a new level.

Thiago has oozed class on the rare occasions he has been available since signing from Bayern Munich while Tsimikas can provide long-awaited cover for Robertson, arguably the best value for money signing in Premier League history.

Edwards’ ability to sell talent has also helped the club’s financial state. A net spend of around £100m since Klopp took over is remarkable. It has come from the sporting director’s ability to squeeze every penny from interested clubs. 

He got £21m from Bournemouth for Jordon Ibe and Brad Smith, £12.5m from Leicester for Danny Ward and £26m for Mamadou Sakho from Crystal Palace. Don’t forget the £100m Edwards insisted Barcelona must pay if they wanted another Liverpool player in the two years that followed Coutinho’s exit. 

Liverpool’s strategy is not rigid though, as proven by the arrival of Thiago, 29, this summer

Jota wheels away after scoring his third goal of the evening against Atalanta on Tuesday night

It is a far-cry from the recruitment model just down the road at Manchester United, whose squad is still full of holes more than seven years after Sir Alex Ferguson walked away. 

There is no clear-cut structure in place at Old Trafford for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to improve his squad. No director of football or sporting director to identify a list of targets and then go after them.

United appear to buy players on the fly, offering big contracts to players like Radamel Falcao, Alexis Sanchez, Angel Di Maria, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Zlatan Ibrahimovic rather than splash the cash on strengthening areas of the squad that investment.

Gary Neville has been clear that he sees no way his former club can compete for major honours with Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof in the heart of United’s defence. 


Liverpool’s recruitment strategy is a million miles away from Manchester United’s – who failed to sign Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund this summer

Ed Woodward has struggled to provide Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with the players he wants

But rather than splash out on a new centre back, United bought Alex Telles for £14m and Donny van de Beek, who has played just 312 minutes this season, for £40m. 

When Liverpool upset Southampton and were set back in their pursuit of Van Dijk, they waited six months and pounced again when tensions had eased. United have been trying to buy another forward for two windows and ended up with Odion Ighalo and Edinson Cavani.

It remains to be seen if they will re-ignite the public and embarrassing pursuit of Jadon Sancho but there is a belief the moment has passed as other clubs circle the England star.

Whereas Klopp has Edwards working through scouting reports on players, Solskjaer has Ed Woodward focused on commercial deals. Liverpool have proven recruitment can be easy if the right parts are in place, all United have to do is try and replicate their model.




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