Jürgen Klopp could still acquire one of his top targets two months on from being forced to withdraw interest…
Liverpool have received a huge boost to their hopes of ending a largely frustrating transfer window on a high.
Speculation over the future of star man Philippe Coutinho, who is the subject of interest from Barcelona, coupled with the failure to agree deals for two of the club’s top three targets – Virgil van Dijk and Naby Kieta – has contributed to a concerned mood around Anfield despite a promising pre-season on the pitch.
After securing a return to the Champions League with a fourth-placed Premier League finish last term, the Merseysiders were expected to invest heavily to improve the strength of their first X1 this summer.
Things started positively enough, with Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah signed from Roma, but the pursuits of van Dijk and Kieta – the two other players identified by manager Jürgen Klopp as key targets – quickly developed into drawn out affairs before completely hitting the buffers.
Neither Southampton nor Red Bull Salzburg were prepared to part with their prized assets despite both players being keen on the move and Liverpool prepared to pay in excess of £60million each.
The stance of the former could now be about to change however after van Dijk handed in a transfer request on Monday and released an outspoken statement criticising the South Coast side.
In it the centre-back accused Southampton of leaking stories about him to the press and wrongly fining him following an enforced period spent training in isolation.
His statement in full reads: “It is with regret that I can confirm that I have today handed in a transfer request to leave Southampton Football Club.
“Unfortunately I feel that I have no alternative after I was given notice of the club’s intention to impose a disciplinary sanction on me of a fine equivalent to two weeks’ wages.
“I will be appealing what I feel to be an unjustified sanction and their inability to follow the correct disciplinary protocol in due course.
“Over the past six months, I have held numerous discussions with representatives of the board, the former manager Claude Puel as well as the new manager Mauricio Pellegrino, to inform them all of my desire to leave the club in search of a new challenge.
“I am incredibly ambitious, and want to achieve as much as I possibly can, to fulfil my potential in what is a very short career as a professional footballer.
“I want to play European football again, and challenge for major honours, and as such I would like Southampton to consider the interest in me from top clubs should it still exist.
“I have been left frustrated by the club’s position that I am not for sale and am disappointed that enquiries from multiple top clubs have been consistently rebuffed.
“The period of time that I have just spent injured and unable to play has put a number of things into perspective and made me realise just how important it is to take major opportunities should they arise.
“I have consistently relayed my feelings to senior management at Southampton in what I believed to be private and personal conversations. Disappointingly, these conversations have regularly found their way into the media.
“I would also like to make clear that I have never once refused to train. I can confirm that I was asked about my frame of mind and for all of the reasons mentioned above I was open and honest in saying that I did not feel I was in a settled mindset given the circumstances.
“Following this conversation the manager explained that he only wanted players who he felt were 100% committed to Southampton and told me I would therefore have to train away from the first team.
“As a proud professional I am insulted by the suggestion that it was me who refused to train and so feel it is important to point out the true version of events.
“I had very much hoped to retain the good relationship I’ve always enjoyed with everyone at the club, especially the fans, but unfortunately in light of everything that’s happened this has now been seriously affected.
“I would like to make clear that I have nothing but gratitude to everyone at Southampton for giving me the opportunity to play in the Premier League.
“However, the time for me to move on is now and I hope to be able to work with the club to find the best resolution to suit all parties.”
Although van Dijk’s bold move increases the likelihood of his departure from St Mary’s, Liverpool will need to tread carefully after previously being threatened with disciplinary action over an illegal approach for the player.
Southampton’s unhappiness with the Reds’ prior conduct, coupled with a similar transgression at youth team level, resulted in Klopp’s men cooling their interest and making an unprecedented, and somewhat embarrassing, public apology.
“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,” read an official statement released at the beginning of June. “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.”
At the time, as recited again by the Guardian amongst others yesterday, Liverpool were prepared to offer the player a contract worth upwards of £200,000-a-week, in addition to paying a world-record sum for a defender.
The general consensus is that still remains the case but Klopp’s side will be reticent to make the first move and will probably need either Southampton to approach them or another club to bid first before they can open formal negotiations.
The current transfer window closes at 11pm BST on Thursday, August 31.
While seeing such a public spat unfold is disappointing in many regards, there is no doubting its significance. Liverpool still want van Dijk and he still wants them – that has not changed. Southampton’s resolve, in the face of keeping and paying a high-profile player who clearly doesn’t want to be there and who is now unlikely to play again for them should he stay, surely will give. The worry is, particularly after Liverpool’s many raids on the Saints in recent seasons, they will refuse to deal with the Merseysiders and van Dijk will instead be sold elsewhere. Sadly, although this development brings some clarity to the situation, it is unlikely that an end is imminent.
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