Michael Edwards proved to be a master of the transfer market during his time as Liverpool’s sporting director. Now unattached to any club after taking a well-deserved break from football, he guided recruitment decisions at Anfield for a decade, although only half that time was spent in the top-flight role.
Edwards bought the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker, Fabinho and Luis Díaz to name just a few. Expert at spotting players who would deliver and develop on Merseyside, he also showed an ability to sell fringe players at reasonable prices.
During his tenure, he recycled a number of tricks as he tried to get a head start in the transfer market. Targeting players who had just been relegated, for example, was his signature move, with Andy Robertson, Gini Wijnaldum and Xherdan Shaqiri all signing at cut-price prices after suffering relegation to the Championship from the Premier League.
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Another of his favorite cheats involved hunting down the best performing players from the Red Bull network. The energy drink company has RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg under its umbrella in the world of football, with both sides expected to represent a similar brand of football on the pitch.
To complement Red Bull’s core values as a drink, Leipzig and Salzburg need to embrace a certain style of play. Emphasis is placed on speed, aggression, high pressure and quick attacks, with very little attention paid to backward or lateral passing.
The players representing Red Bull clubs must also share comparable qualities as they are expected to perform that intense and demanding style of play. The players contracted to Leipzig and Salzburg are generally young, energetic, athletic, physical and proactive.
When inspecting the Red Bull identity, Jürgen Klopp comes to mind. Since his emergence as a top coach more than a decade ago, the German has preferred similar perks on the pitch, where his players are known to be quick, industrious, direct and exciting to watch from a supporter’s perspective in the stands.
Since his appointment at Anfield in 2015, Liverpool have maintained a style of play similar to that enforced by Leipzig and Salzburg. The Reds have competed at a higher level by winning the Premier League and Champions League in recent times, but the comparisons are obvious.
Edwards was keen to make use of the relationship while working at Klopp’s side. As a means of ensuring that new signings would be able to cope with the demands at Liverpool, Edwards developed a tendency to acquire players who shone within the Red Bull network.
Sadio Mané was the first to arrive, having joined from Southampton in the summer window of 2016. The Senegalese striker had initially emerged as a promising striker at Salzburg before moving to English shores, with Liverpool later managing to bring him to Merseyside .
Soon after, Naby Keïta, who had flourished in Austria to such an extent that he was promoted in 2016, followed, switching to a more competitive league by joining Leipzig in the German top flight. The Guinea captain represented both European clubs under the Red Bull wing before Edwards signed him for Liverpool.
Further down the line, Takumi Minamino joined the Reds from Salzburg in the 2020 winter window and 18 months later Ibrahima Konaté followed him from Leipzig.
All these players were almost a ‘cheat’ or at least a ‘short cut’; a way to ensure their style of play would translate at Liverpool without too much of an adjustment period. Keïta might not have worked, but it wasn’t because of his ability.
Edwards knew exactly what he was doing by chasing the best Red Bull candidates as Liverpool’s sporting director, but he left his post last year. Without him, it remains to be seen whether the Reds will continue with such a transfer theme, but Dominik Szoboszlai would suggest they will. The Hungarian midfielder is poised to become Liverpool’s second summer signing after Alexis MacAllister (who as per ECHO).
Like Keïta, Szoboszlai has spent virtually his entire career as a Red Bull player. He has played for Leipzig for the past two seasons and before that he represented Salzburg for three campaigns. Now aged 22, it seems he could be set to follow in the footsteps of those before him, with new sporting director Jörg Schmadtke set to use a trick from Edwards’ playbook.