transfer coup | 

Jurgen Klopp’s charisma brings Man United target Cody Gakpo to Anfield as historical tables turn


There was a period in the 1970s when Liverpool used to delight in calling impromptu press conferences where they would unveil a new signing like a magician making a great reveal.

The idea of the Anfield transfer coup was born and stuck during the golden age when the savvy club secretary Peter Robinson was head of covert operations.

Intended or otherwise, there have been echoes of Robinson’s choreography in three of the Merseyside club’s most recent purchases of Luis Diaz, Darwin Nunez and now Cody Gakpo.

The template is familiar. A rival club tracks a transfer target for months, puts all the details in place for a bid and enjoys what they believe are fruitful negotiations with the player.

And then it drags on without agreement, a sense of foreboding takes hold and, sure enough, it emerges another club has been secretly waiting to jump from behind the curtain.

Manchester United were equally masterful at engineering such transfer coups during the Alex Ferguson era, when occasionally it was Liverpool who were left scrambling for alternatives while laughably and unconvincingly trying to save face by arguing the lost target ‘was not of much interest anyway’.

Today the roles are reversed again as the 23-year-old Dutch international Gakpo – who has spent the last six weeks being described as ‘Old Trafford-bound’ – prepares for an Anfield medical before his £37million (€42m) transfer.

In the enduring battle for supremacy between Liverpool and United, Gakpo’s decision demonstrates how despite Erik ten Hag’s side currently being above Jurgen Klopp’s in the Premier League, the prospect of playing for the German coach continues to give the Merseysiders’ an edge when the clubs go head-to-head for the same players.

Gakpo’s decision could be seen as following a transfer power struggle which began in the era when Matt Busby and Bill Shankly were identifying the stars who could have been either Old Trafford or Anfield legends.

Denis Law would have been a Liverpool God if the club’s board had not hesitated in the early 1960s, and in 1970 Lou Macari had gone so far as making it to Shankly’s office to sign a Liverpool contract, only for United to make a last-ditch intervention and hijack the move.

By 1989, Liverpool’s dominance was such that they could adopt a watching brief to see what United were up to, and if the circumstances were right Kenny Dalglish would confidently pounce in the knowledge the player would change his mind. That famously proved the case with Swedish international Glenn Hysen, who said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to United when Dalglish and Robinson made the call after Ferguson presumed the centre-back had informally agreed to the Old Trafford switch from Fiorentina.

Ferguson would laugh last. In 1999, Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier thought he would be parading Mikael Silvestre in front of the Kop, but Ferguson had other ideas.

The same was true of Nemanja Vidic in 2006, who started to give worrying vibes to Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez and chief executive Rick Parry as they tried to convince him to join the then European champions.

The Ferguson-factor was always decisive. Players saw United in the 1990s and 2000s and were lured by the prospect of long-term, consistent success under a coach who guaranteed the highest standards, rather than the occasional cup glory enjoyed at Liverpool at the time.

Now Klopp’s talent and charisma – and the attacking style he demands – is Liverpool’s greatest asset in every transfer pursuit.

Once a player talks to Klopp, they will find it difficult to say no.

Liverpool’s recent high-profile deals have been executed with similar precision, with the club maintaining respectful relations with the selling club, requesting to be kept informed if long-term targets become available.

A year ago, that is how they learned that Porto were in talks with Tottenham Hotspur for Diaz and last summer Liverpool’s recruitment team were aware that United had made an enquiry to Benfica for Nunez. Once the asking price was established, Liverpool knew if it was within their budget they could make their move in the knowledge they were the players’ first choice.

​History appears to have repeated itself with Gakpo. They were prompted to act now by a combination of factors, not least the fact they risked losing the player entirely if PSV Eindhoven chose to sell to United in January.

Injuries to Diaz and Diogo Jota allowed Klopp to convince his board they should bring forward their plans – the impact of Diaz when he signed last January another sound reason for Liverpool giving their campaign fresh impetus.

When Gakpo, Diaz, Jota, Nunez and Salah are all available, Klopp will have a fluid and versatile strikeforce.

Questions will no doubt be asked as to why United were so slow – an accusation which similarly plagued Liverpool whenever they were gazumped during the Ferguson era.

Certainly, it would appear United still need greater efficiency in their transfer operations, while rumours of the disintegration of Liverpool’s recruitment office amid high-profile departures and the owners’ plea for external investment have been greatly exaggerated.

But sometimes the answer is uncomplicated. Given the choice, elite players want to play for Klopp, and Ten Hag evidently has more to do to restore the era when a United offer cannot be refused. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd, 2022)

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