Eyebrows were inevitably raised at a report on Wednesday suggesting that Andy Robertson could be set for a Liverpool exit this summer.
The Daily Mail claim that Real Madrid are interested in signing the Scotland international, with the defender said to be on their list of potential transfer targets as they scour the market for a replacement for likely outgoing left-back Ferland Mendy.
Having lost the France international to injury for much of the season, Carlo Ancelotti has improved by playing Eduardo Camavinga in the role in recent months. However, there is a desire for him to return to midfield.
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Real Madrid have also been heavily-linked with Alphonso Davies, though Bayern Munich have no interest in selling the Canadian and are said to be looking to extend his contract. Which has prompted these latest reports, touting interest in Robertson with Liverpool highly likely to miss out on Champions League qualification.
Meanwhile, The Mail claim that the Scot, who is under contract until 2026, would command a fee well in excess of £40m. Having only cost £10m from Hull City six years ago, it would mark a considerable profit on a player who has enjoyed his peak years at Anfield and won all there is to win.
Yet, the inner details of such a report hardly matter. Regardless of its content, Kopites are likely to scoff at the notion of Robertson moving on, and, at the very least, have their pinches of salt being ready when reading such speculation.
For the record, club sources have insisted that they have had no contact with Real Madrid. For now, at least, we can place this Robertson speculation in the questionable pile. Put it this way, it would be a major shock if the Scotland international was playing at the Bernabeu rather than Anfield next season.
Of course, that doesn’t make such a notion impossible, if there is any hint of truth in Madrid’s interest. Kopites would have found suggestions of Sadio Mane moving to Bayern Munich hard to believe little under 12 months ago, after all.
But Robertson is still one of the most important players in Jurgen Klopp’s squad and a guaranteed starter. Only five players have made more than his 43 appearances for the Reds this season, with his total of 37 starts also the sixth-highest in the squad.
His total of 11 assists is bettered only by Mohamed Salah, and, ahead of James Milner’s summer exit, he is set to be promoted to Liverpool’s third-choice captain. With Roberto Firmino, Naby Keita, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also departing, you can’t imagine Klopp would be keen to lose many more of his experienced senior players.
Yet, at the end of a difficult season for the Reds where they have been stuck in transition and boast an ageing squad, the notion of interest in Robertson does prompt an intriguing, wider question about Liverpool’s overall squad management.
The Scot is 29 years old and has three years left on his contract. So do you cash in at a time where you can still bank a considerable fee before he starts to decline, or let him see out his contract, potentially sign an extension, then eventually become yet another ageing Bosman or cut-price exit?
In recent years, the Reds have often stuck to the latter.
Under Klopp’s watch alone Mario Balotelli, Jose Enrique, Lazar Markovic, Emre Can, Daniel Sturridge, Alberto Moreno, Nathaniel Clyne, Adam Lallana, Gini Wijnaldum, Divock Origi, and Loris Karius have all left the club on free transfers after their own big-money moves to Anfield. While you can’t dispute the departure of most of these players, Liverpool spent a combined £154m when signing them and then banked nothing when they left.
Firmino, Keita, and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s own imminent exits this summer take that total of vanishing millions up to £275.75m.
Meanwhile, Liverpool would bank £38.8m when selling Martin Skrtel, Lucas Leiva, Ragnar Klavan, Simon Mignolet, Dejan Lovren, and Xherdan Shaqiri, with the ageing hexet all departing at a loss after the Reds had spent a combined £58.2m on their services. Sadio Mane would at least earn a £1m profit when moving to Bayern Munich for £35m last summer.
Now in such circumstances, Liverpool, for the majority, got their money’s worth. But could they have been more ruthless and cashed in sooner for heftier fees, to help further finance their own incoming business?
It is the most difficult of decisions when deciding when to move on long-serving players. In recent times, you can certainly accuse the Reds of sticking by players too long, with the club’s own argument being just look at the trophies such a group has won.
But the fact that this transitional season leaves a feeling of an end of an era at Anfield, a sterner touch could have potentially helped ensure continued long-term success.
Just look at Manchester United’s record under Sir Alex Ferguson. Eyebrows were raised at a plethora of exits during his Old Trafford reign, including the likes of Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, David Beckham, Roy Keane, and Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Yet the legendary Scot always made the Red Devils stronger. No time for sentimentality, it didn’t matter what such players had achieved under his watch. When Ferguson decided their race was run, they were gone as he made room for the next era of his side.
“I believe that the cycle of a successful team lasts maybe four years and then some change is needed,” the Scot claimed in a series of interviews with a Harvard Business School professor back in 2013 after his retirement.
Klopp’s Liverpool are now coming to the end of their sixth season together. While they won every major honour during that run, it is telling that their story has reached a natural end while Ferguson enjoyed 20 years of constant success at Old Trafford.
The Reds have milked a generation of club legends for all their worth, winning every prize they could get their hands on in the process. But with those triumphs came improved contracts then Bosman/cut-price exits. In turn, that has made it harder to finance replacements, and maintain success. Especially up against the riches of Abu Dhabi-financed Man City.
Now this doesn’t mean that Liverpool bosses should consider selling Robertson if Real Madrid come knocking. Quite the contrary, there are still a number of elite years left in his legs for a start.
But in the not-too-distant future, Father Time will catch up on the Scot and any suggestion of a £40m transfer fee will be a fantasy. To replace him at that point would be a lot more difficult.
The Reds’ recent success has ensured that players want to stick around, in contrast to the departures of the likes of Michael Owen, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling, and Philippe Coutinho in yesteryear. Such a fact has quite rightly been celebrated.
But has a cloud of complacency also emerged over Anfield as a result? Compare that to a Brighton & Hove Albion, who are continually selling star players for massive profit, replacing them for peanuts, and have now qualified for Europe for the first time in their history.
To an extent, that was the initial FSG transfer model when they first took over on Merseyside. But caught up in the success under Klopp, have Liverpool forgotten such roots and fallen asleep at the wheel to an extent?
While transfer-hungry fans would love the club to not be concerned by such plates spinning, in favour of care-free record buy after record buy to rival the Man Citys and Newcastle Uniteds of this world, that simply isn’t realistic. The Reds have to be ruthless to keep on competing at the very top table, with failure to qualify for the Champions League perhaps now reminding them of that fact.
The club have their own philosophy and have stuck to it, for better and for worse. But, at the end of a season of transition for an ageing squad, as Liverpool bid farewell to another wave of Bosman exits, questions need to be asked whether they really are getting the absolute best out of their transfer policy.