That’s the one thing money can’t buy in football. But a remarkable few days in the transfer window may ultimately leave Liverpool with no option but to try and buy experience for Jurgen Klopp’s squad.
With clubs from the Saudi Arabian Pro League circulating midfield triumvirate of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara, there is a growing prospect that the Reds could lose one, if not more, of their most experienced engine room operators.
Their respective ages mean they are all closer to the end of their Anfield careers than the beginning in any case. But having made more than 1,500 senior appearances for professional clubs between them, they represent a deep brain trust that has had an impact in recent years, particularly with the younger players in the squad.
Henderson would be a big loss in this regard, having spent more than 12 years at Liverpool, becoming the only captain of an English side to lift the Premier League, European Cup, FA Cup, League Cup and Club World Cup .
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The Reds have already seen their vice-captain of seven years, James Milner, leave this summer. So to have uncertainty over the skipper’s future just weeks later is a matter that Klopp could not have predicted before he even had the chance to officially announce Milner’s replacement, although the position of players in the ‘management group’ in the squad makes it assured that Virgil van Dijk will take the job.
Any successful team needs a balance between youth and experience. Ideally, most will be in their prime. For example, of the Liverpool team that started the Champions League final triumph against Tottenham Hotspur in 2019, all but 20-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold were between the ages of 25 and 29.
But if the Reds were in danger of getting too old in the opening months of last season – despite a transfer policy that has seen just one player over the age of 25 signed in the past four years, they fielded some of their oldest starting XI’ is. The Premier League era – there is now a real prospect that they could be heading in the opposite direction.
There is plenty of flair in other areas of the pitch, with Alisson Becker and Adrian well-established goalkeepers, Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk in their 30s in defense and Mohamed Salah likewise in attack, although Roberto Firmino, who ended eight years at Liverpool this summer , will be greatly missed.
But with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita also gone, the midfield will need at least some of the experience offered by Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago. Fresh faces, younger legs and greater energy are always welcome and, in Liverpool’s case, a necessity as an engine room upgrade this season, but the value of know-how and game intelligence at the highest level cannot be underestimated.
Alexis MacAllister can boast three full seasons in England with Brighton and a World Cup. However, a colleague Dominik Szoboszlai will try the Premier League for the first time.
However, neither feature in the defensive midfield role that Fabinho and Henderson would compete for. And with Milner gone, that leaves 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic – with just 19 first-team caps – as the only other possible starter. His tender years suggest the Spaniard should be an option in the opening months of the season, not a regular.
While losing Henderson would perhaps open the way for a younger midfield recruit, Fabinho’s departure would leave Liverpool with the headache of identifying a player with both potential and Premier League experience. It won’t be cheap. And if both leave, the Reds would face a transfer dilemma at a time when their rivals are much further along in terms of strengthening their defensive midfield.
Klopp knew this summer would involve a midfield overhaul. But having seemingly completed the majority of a rebuild, he certainly wouldn’t have expected to potentially start another before the first pre-season friendly has even kicked off.