Liverpool signing Thiago goes against everything Jurgen Klopp has built – but is he too good to turn down?

Melissa Reddy
·5-min read
Thiago Alcantara of Spain: Getty Images
Thiago Alcantara of Spain: Getty Images

After seven seasons at Bayern Munich, Thiago Alcantara is sold on a new challenge. The club have ceded to all his demands on a new contract offer, but that has not been enough to sway the midfielder and with one year left on his existing deal, they will not lose him on a free next summer.

The 29-year-old is available.The Independent understands his camp see this as a “sensitive time” as he strategises his path forward.

Thiago has been overwhelmingly linked to Liverpool, largely through supposed word from Bayern’s dressing room that the Premier League champions are his destination of choice.

Jurgen Klopp has been an admirer of the player stretching back to his spell as Borussia Dortmund manager, but the list of talents he appreciates is an extensive one and doesn’t always equate to interest.

There have been zero talks between the clubs, as confirmed by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The CEO of the German giants is ready to do business if a “financially acceptable” offer arrives and sources in Germany indicate that the £30m valuation being reported is less than what is expected.

Liverpool have knocked down the talk on Thiago to The Independent and it would certainly be a transfer at odds with their recruitment strategy. Klopp, sporting director Michael Edwards and Fenway Sports Group president Mike Gordon have a chief tenet evolving from chaser to being chased: Do not get sucked into abandoning the principles that have got the club to this point.

Liverpool would have to whistle past a lot of red flags to make a significant financial outlay – transfer fee and wages – on Thiago in a coronavirus-affected market they have vowed to be more measured in.

He is undoubtedly world class and among the very best in his position. There are no asterisks over his quality. Even though Thiago’s age is above the profile Liverpool work off – the only core player signed under Klopp over the age of 25 has been the ‘transformer’ Virgil van Dijk – that would not count as a prohibitive issue given his ball retention and progression attributes.

His major asset is speed of thought with his genius centering around a cerebral understanding of play rather than a fleet of foot.

“You have to understand who you’re giving the ball to, if he’s left-footed or right-footed, and secondly to know the move,” Thiago explained to The Independent about the art of the pass in February.

“If it’s a move where the defence is very high, and you’re going to open play, it has to be faster and inside the centre-half. It’s two things, you read the player, and read the play.

“I think for every team to understand that intensity of pass is essential. Apart from that, you don’t just give a pass for the sake of it. You give a pass specific to the game, and the play.”

Thiago would be a deviation from Liverpool’s current transfer policy (Getty)
Thiago would be a deviation from Liverpool’s current transfer policy (Getty)

But with Liverpool conscious of guarding against the squad ageing together, which would require a rebuild rather than a continuation of advancement, wouldn’t it be counter-productive to bring in someone that aids what they’re trying to avoid?

Chuck into the mix that most recruits – and especially those in midfield – have needed a lengthy period to adjust to Klopp’s specific requirements and it further complicates matters.

Fabinho, among the top three defensive midfielders in the game, had to wait until October for his first league start after signing in June 2018.

Intensity is Liverpool’s identity and games in the English top-flight have greater transitions, second-ball battles, clearances, long balls, fewer fouls and such.

Adapting to the division towards the latter stages of a career is difficult enough, but when you have to do it under the demands of benchmark-setting champions, it’s all the more complex.

If there is an argument to up experience in the group – with a certified winner no less – given Adam Lallana leaves at the end of the campaign, James Milner has two years left as an auxiliary player and Gini Wijnaldum’s contract is up next summer, the counter is Thiago’s injury record.

Since 2017/18, he has struggled with a range of problems – groin, ankle, muscle partial avulsion, spine, calf and knee issues amongst others.

With both Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are navigating their own issues, it would be a jolt for renowned analytical leaders to agree a deal for another midfielder who has a high probability of being unavailable.

It would be a surprise to see that shift, especially due to their insistence not to deviate from what has delivered success.

Thiago rates impeccably in terms of orientation, spatial awareness, decision-making and pass intelligence. He could be a weapon to help Liverpool evolve, but there are notable other options who may not have the pedigree of the Bayern man but do not jar with Liverpool’s methodology like Lyon's Houssem Aouar.

There is a line of thought that suggests Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xherdan Shaqiri were out of step with the policy, but the data showed Arsenal never played the former to his explosive best while the latter was happy to come in and fight for his place at a low £13.5m.

He also had good testimony from Liverpool’s head of fitness and conditioning Andreas Kornmayer, who worked with the Switzerland international at Bayern.

Similar references have probably also been put forward for Thiago, additionally from Mona Nemmer, the club’s head of nutrition.

There could be slight shades of Manchester United signing Robin van Persie, 29, from Arsenal in 2012 with Alex Ferguson saying at the time: “You can’t turn that down.”

Liverpool, though, have returned to the pinnacle of the game domestically and on the continent doing things their own way under a very surgical approach.

It would be a surprise to see that shift, especially due to their insistence not to deviate from what has delivered success.

This is likely to be Thiago’s last mega-contract in his career and it was rather interesting to see United also emerge as a new link.

There will be more of that as he seeks the most attractive proposal and Bayern lure the best buyer during this negotiation stage, but it is unlikely at this stage that Liverpool will come to the table.