Monday, September 16, 2019

The Senegal defender was on the Reds' radar in 2017 and has since established himself as one of the world's best

The list contained four names. Four players above all others. Four defenders to make the difference for a team with big ambitions.

Liverpool’s recruitment team, led by sporting director Michael Edwards, had been searching for a centre-back for some time. They were ready to commit big money to give Jurgen Klopp a leader around which to build his backline.

“Whatever it takes,” was the message.

By the spring of 2017, they were in a position to move. Hundreds and hundreds of games had been taken in, agents had been sounded out, background checks completed. Detailed reports on dozens of targets had been filed and filtered.

Edwards and his team were left with two lists, A and B. On the B-list were young players deemed to have the potential to develop into top-class talents in the next two or three years. Names such as Manuel Akanji, Eder Militao and Jamaal Lascelles were considered for this.

The A-list was different, containing those who it was felt could make an immediate impact on Klopp’s team, who could break up the Joel Matip-Dejan Lovren partnership and take Liverpool to the next level. The “slam dunks”, Klopp called them.

As for Liverpool, they will harbour few regrets. They were made to wait for their first-choice target, of course, but Van Dijk’s impact since his arrival on Merseyside has been remarkable.

He’s already a Champions League winner and the PFA Player of the Year, and last month he was named Defender of the Season and Men’s Player of the Year by UEFA. He’s strong favourite for the Ballon d’Or, too. Klopp says he’s the best in the world, while Vincent Kompany has suggested he might be the best defender in Premier League history. High praise, indeed.

His start to the season, and Liverpool’s, would suggest there has been no drop in standards, that there is no less hunger within Klopp’s squad. They want to re-assert their status as Europe’s top club.

Finding a way past Koulibaly and Co. would be a good place to start.


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