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28th Dec 2017

Virgil van Dijk is worth the price tag because Liverpool simply had to stop mucking around

This is the cost for Liverpool to get real

Conan Doherty

A big failing in Liverpool’s general transfer policy when it comes to defenders – in particular, centre halves – was addressed on Wednesday.

For the first time in far too long, the club went out and bought a back better than all the rest of the ones already at Liverpool.

They’ve had this unhealthy obsession with squad players for the last two decades. Rank average defenders were protected from criticism because they were a “good fourth choice”. Uninspiring signings were respected because they “needed depth”.

That’s not how you build out your squad – it’s not an effective way anyway – and Liverpool prove that better than anyone with an electrifying attack constantly let down by leaks in defence even though they’ve never stopped buying players for the back five.

Their problem is that they’ve rarely just gone out and accrued a man as good or better than the ones they already had. Even when they needed another goalkeeper, they bought one worse than Mignolet – no good for the team and no good for the squad. Go through the list of players they’ve tried and tested in recent history and it gets more baffling how they’ve not been able to attract guys who will actually improve the team – when you do that, when you only think that way, the by-product is competition for places, more options and, yes, a better squad.

Don’t buy for your squad, buy for your team.

On Wednesday, Liverpool did that. It was costly, sure, and there’s a lot of pressure on van Dijk now because of everything from the build-up to his signature, the necessity for a defender, and the world record price tag but Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool could simply not afford to muck around and buy another decent player who might be a decent option if they need him.

Granted, it’s not easy to buy better and better players all the time – of course it’s not – but it’s definitely a hell of a lot easier than normal when you have the baseline that Liverpool have in the defensive department.

They’ve built out their attacking options so well now that Daniel Sturridge’s absence means nothing really, not outside a quality impact sub to have. Adam Lallana can get injured and it doesn’t matter but what a headache he provides on return and some of Britain’s best young attacking talents are coming through into a team they just can’t get into – they just have to sit back and watch how the best in the league do it. And then they have to go work a bit harder to get their chances.

A teenage defender coming through at Liverpool would be well within his rights to throw a strop for not making a quicker breakthrough when he sees some of the calamities unfolding almost every week.

At a glance, the money for van Dijk looks crazy, especially when you compare it with all the other world record transfer fees for defenders.

  • 1998 – Jaap Stam to Man United (£10.6m)
  • 2001 – Lillian Thuram to Juventus (£22m)
  • 2002 – Rio Ferdinand to Man United (£30m)
  • 2014 – David Luiz to PSG (£50m)
  • 2017 – Kyle Walker to Man City (£53m)
  • 2017 – Virgil van Dijk to Liverpool (£75m)

But this is the cost for Liverpool to get real.

And it’s not really a gamble. They’ve signed a Dutch international who could’ve had the pick of clubs if he held out long enough. We’re talking about a guy Pep Guardiola would’ve loved to have because he’s not just a better defender than Otamendi and Kompany and Stones, but he’s a better footballer too.

Jose Mourinho would’ve taken him in a heartbeat at United but he doesn’t like spending that much on defenders.

Besides, it’s not about the money. It’s actually more than a statement of intent too, but it is just that. They need a defender, a good one, not another option. Now, they have someone who immediately comes in and improves the team and commands a backline crying out for a rudder. They don’t have another hopeful.

Here’s a stat that sums the whole thing up:

At £75m, Virgil van Dijk will cost about as much as Liverpool paid for Lovren, Matip, Klavan, Gomez, Agger, Skrtel, Sakho, Toure, Ilori, Kyrgiakos, Coates and Pellegrino combined. Of all those signings, van Dijk is by far the best of them. They’ve spent far too much money and time arsing around and trying to save money with hopefuls when they could’ve been buying players to take the team onto another level every time.

But this should only be a start really, if they’re serious about going for the league. What this is right now though is the moment Liverpool stopped faffing about and showed that they mean business.