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John Aldridge: Why Liverpool are risking it all for Jude Bellingham

Young England midfielder would be the perfect choice for Anfield.

19-year-old Jude Bellingham is a world-class performer and while he would cost a fortune he would be worth every penny© Getty Images

Declan Rice of West Ham would make a great partner for Bellingham at Anfield for years to come. Photo: Offside via Getty Images© Offside via Getty Images

John AldridgeSunday World

One area of the Liverpool team is clearly in need of a revamp, but I fear it won’t be possible to solve this problem in this month’s transfer window.

I looked at the shape of the team as Liverpool beat Leicester 2-1 on Friday night and it was evident that the midfield needs a new dimension.

On paper, you would say a midfield featuring Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara and Harvey Elliott boasts plenty of quality, but it lacked a little spark against Leicester.

James Milner, Fabinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can also be thrown in the mix of midfield options for Jurgen Klopp, and he also has some young players knocking on the door of the first team.

Yet I look at how the team is functioning, both from a defensive and attacking perspective, and the problems are starting in the midfield.

When Henderson was at the peak of his powers and Fabinho was alongside him, that duo provided the platform for Liverpool’s attacking players to shine and protected the back four.

Yet teams have worked out how to get at Liverpool in wide positions now – and the midfielders can get overrun when the pressure is applied.

That has happened a few times this season, with the home defeat against Leeds in late October an example of a match that got away from Liverpool as the midfield crumbled.

Solving this issue will not be easy and won’t be cheap, as the quality of player Liverpool need to improve are all in the game’s elite band.

Obviously, Jude Bellingham is the midfielder Liverpool want and he could solve a lot of these issues in an instant. This young man is a world class performer at the age of 19 and while he will cost a fortune to sign from Borussia Dortmund, he will be worth every penny.

With the current financial set-ups the club, I’ve always been doubtful that Liverpool can get in the mix to sign a player like Bellingham when every top club in world football is after him.

Yet I hear that his father is a big Liverpool fan and young Jude grew up idolising Steven Gerrard.

That might seem irrelevant in a modern game where players seem to move for money first and sporting ambition second, but it feels like it might be a different story with Bellingham.

He could join Real Madrid or Manchester City and collect another £50,000-a-week, but this should not be the driving factor in a career.

When you hang up your boots, you want to look back and reflect that you have given yourself every chance to be the best player you can be. That’s a decision Bellingham needs to make when he moves next summer.

If he comes to work with Klopp and his coaching team, I reckon he would very quickly become the best midfielder in the world, even if it means he needs to buy a slightly smaller boat with his excess money compared to what he could afford if he went to City.

Of course, if Liverpool’s owners sell their stake in the club and big money investors come in, signing Bellingham might become a lot less complicated. In that scenario, you would think Liverpool would try to get Bellingham and West Ham’s Declan Rice, as that would set their midfield for the next few years.

England's Declan Rice following the FIFA World Cup Group B match at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar. Picture date: Tuesday November 29, 2022.© PA

Rice’s decision to defect from Ireland and play for England really hurt, especially for someone in my position.

I enjoyed some of my best days on a football field playing for Ireland via a similar route he used to get into a green jersey.

Yet putting that issue aside, a Liverpool midfield of Bellingham and Rice would complete a Liverpool team that is close to being ready to challenge for every trophy in the game.

They have the best keeper in Alisson Becker and the finest reserve keeper in world football with Ireland’s Caoimhin Kelleher.

The defensive line is well-stocked and the signing of Cody Gakpo adds an extra dimension to the forward line.

A first-choice front three of Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah is backed up by a second trio in Gakpo, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota.

Liverpool also have some fine young forward players, so that area of the team is ticked off for the next few years.

What they need to do at some point in 2023 is address their midfield problem and my concern would be that they are unlikely to do that in the January transfer window.

That means they may continue to have problems of being overrun in the heart of the battle, which could be a problem in what will be a very tight race to secure a top-four finish this season.

Finally, I’d like to wish all Sunday World readers a very Happy New Year and make sure you check out my video blogs that will be running on sundayworld.com as we move into 2023.

We should celebrate the joy that Pele gave the world

There has been a rush to hail Lionel Messi as the best player of all time after his World Cup win, but no one will ever touch the great Pele.

The passing of the great man on Thursday has given the football world a chance to reflect on his incredible career –and some of the images that have been popping up of his performances have given a whole new audience a reminder of his genius.

I grew up idolising Pele after watching him getting kicked from one end of the pitch to the other by a brutal Portugal team while playing for Brazil at the 1966 World Cup at Goodison Park.

The opposition had to adopt those tactics as they knew Pele was too good for them, but they would never have been tolerated in the modern game.

The big difference between Pele and Messi is the eras they played in, with the laws of the game now protecting players against the kind of tackles used to take down great players in the 1960s and ’70s.

He also played on battered pitches that barely had grass on them at times, yet the ball stuck to him as he weaved his magic and took the game to incredible levels.

Johan Cruyff is credited with the famous turn that twists defenders inside out, but Pele did that before him and he also provided an attacking blueprint for players like Diego Maradona and Messi to follow.

On top of it all, Pele was a gentleman and that merely adds to his incredible legacy.

He was the Pope of the church of football, the ultimate great – and at times like this, I often think we shouldn’t mourn the passing of a legend.

Instead, we should celebrate the joy they gave the world. ​


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