Jurgen Klopp has already suffered from the growing Saudi influence on the Premier League.
But the Liverpool boss certainly could not have foreseen the direct impact the country’s bid to position itself as a major football power on the global stage would have on his plans.
Having seen majority-owned Newcastle United grab the final Champions League qualification spot ahead of his side last season, the ambitious Saudi Pro League now threatens Klopp’s efforts to reclaim Liverpool’s place among Europe’s elite before the new campaign has even started.
The £40m bid from Al Ittihad for Fabinho has unsettled the Liverpool squad as they stepped up their pre-season preparations by flying to Germany for a 10-day training camp.
READ MORE: Fabinho close to Liverpool exit as Saudi Arabia make transfer offer for midfielder
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The fact that Fabinho has stayed at home and the Reds have not rejected the bid suggests that a deal is likely to be on the way. Klopp’s policy is that Liverpool will not stand in the way of any player wanting to leave, provided the proposed deal makes sense for the club. And in that regard, the Reds’ recovery of almost all of the £43.7m they spent on signing the player from Monaco five years ago makes it something of a no-brainer.
However, it would cause a significant headache for Liverpool’s recruitment team and especially new sporting director Jorg Schmadtke. Having issued an early statement of intent with the capture of Dominik Szoboszlai from RB Leipzig, Schmadtke now faces a real test in helping to identify a ready-made replacement for Fabinho.
The matter could become even more pressing if Saudi interest in Jordan Henderson also becomes official, although it is understood Steven Gerrard’s Al-Ettifaq have cooled on the 33-year-old due to financial constraints.
Liverpool were already looking to identify Fabinho’s long-term replacement, with Southampton’s 19-year-old Romeo Lavia and 21-year-old Bayern Munich midfielder Ryan Gravenberch among their preferred targets, and were willing to wait. However, it can no longer be a consideration that the Reds open the age profile, as they are looking for a player who can step directly into the first team.
The timing of Fabinho’s increasingly likely exit is also poor due to the availability of other defensive midfielders. Declan Rice has signed for Arsenal – although his £105m final fee was long thought to be too expensive for Liverpool – while Moises Caicedo is expected to join Chelsea before long. And other clubs are much further down the recruitment in the position. In that sense, Liverpool will play catch-up.
Names such as Fiorentina’s Sofyan Amrabat and Manchester City’s Kalvin Phillips, both previously ruled out as Reds targets, are now back on the table, along with Fulham’s Portugal international Joao Palhinha. There are others.
But there would be question marks over all three. Morocco’s World Cup semi-finalist Amrabat, 27 next month, has no previous Premier League experience, while City would not be keen to sell Phillips to such a fierce new rival. And only last month reports suggested Fulham wanted an unrealistic £90m from West Ham United for 28-year-old Palhinha.
There is of course a short-term impact caused by the Fabinho situation. While the early transfers of both Szoboszlai and Alexis MacAllister had given Klopp the time he needed to work on integrating the pair into a new engine room, that has now been compromised. Fabinho’s absence from camp and James Milner’s departure mean Liverpool’s only real defensive midfield options are the in-demand Henderson and 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic, who has not played since March through injury.
With six weeks until the transfer window closes, there is still plenty of time for Liverpool to strengthen this summer. However, the clock is ticking down to August 13 and the Premier League opener at Chelsea, where the Reds are also at Newcastle United before the deadline. They can ill afford to lose ground to likely rivals for a top-4 finish.
The signing of Szoboszlai underlines that Liverpool can act quickly in the market, especially when the player wants a move to Anfield. A clear desire to join Klopp’s squad could speed up any further signings, although the Reds’ obvious need for a midfielder is likely to put an extra premium on any asking price. Selling clubs is not soft.
And if both Fabinho and Henderson leave, Liverpool may have no option but to bring in further midfield development and bring in two midfielders, with the more immediate first-team player nonetheless remaining the priority.
Even a few days ago, no one could have predicted the predicament the Reds now face, with their midfield plans very much up in the air. By allowing Fabinho’s departure, Liverpool and their recruitment team clearly believe they can find a third cog for the engine room in the market this summer. And so the key is the attitude, they can’t afford to be wrong.