Let's talk about six, baby. That was the famous phrase Jurgen Klopp coined when Liverpool won their sixth European Cup in Madrid, a play on the Salt-N-Pepa hit Let’s Talk About Sex. Four years on, the narrative of the Reds’ summer window has been talking about sixes.
Their drawn-out pursuit of a No 6 - a holding midfielder to those who prefer traditional parlance - has seen them publicly miss out on two top targets, scramble to sign a little-known 30-year-old and, going into the final two hours of Deadline Day, be left looking light in central areas.
But with one hour and 15 minutes of the English transfer window remaining, Liverpool finally published the official announcement: Ryan Gravenberch joins from Bayern Munich. At last, Klopp and sporting director Jorg Schmatdke had their man.
The Dutch midfielder completed the fabulous four of midfield reinforcements for Klopp and Co, after the arrivals of Dominik Szoboszlai, Alexis Mac Allister and Wataru Endo. Three of the four arrivals are aged 24 or younger and Liverpool’s midfield now looks refreshed.
Liverpool signed Netherlands midfielder Ryan Gravenberch for £35m from Bayern Munich
The Red's completed the move with one hour and 15 minutes of the transfer window remaining
It didn’t take a football expert to observe how desperate the Merseyside club were for that rebuild. Though they finished fifth last season after a late-term surge in form, the midfield was often blamed for a vastly below-par campaign.
And so Klopp sanctioned the exits of James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita, while they loaned out Fabio Carvalho. But they were rocked by two unplanned exits midway through the summer when Jordan Henderson and Fabinho departed for Saudi Arabia.
Henderson’s exit sparked a huge debate after the Englishman betrayed those in the LGBTQ+ community to renege on previous allyship as one of few high-profile male players to support gay people. Soon followed a football-related debate about what Klopp’s side were losing.
Though Henderson and Fabinho had seen better days on the pitch - neither reached their best levels last season - the pair’s departures left Liverpool incredibly light in midfield and they went into the new season without a recognised holding midfielder.
Endo represented smart business at £16.2million but was evidently not the club’s first choice No 6, after public pursuits of Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia. As it is, Liverpool have ended up with four midfielders for not much more than Chelsea paid for Ecuadorian Caicedo.
‘We pretty much had to reinvent the team, the midfield will be this and completely new, over the last few years we had to do the same with our front line,’ said Klopp, who is said to be delighted with the incomings especially noting they lacked the pull of Champions League football.
‘We got younger but we had to, we are less experienced but that is normal but we are full of desire. I love this team. Age is no issue. These players have already played a lot of games at a really high level.
‘I know it was ages ago, but at Dortmund we became the youngest champions ever and a year later the second-youngest champions ever as the team was a year older. That’s no problem, it didn’t hold us back then and it will not hold us back now.’
Based on three league games this season, Szoboszlai is looking like one of the best transfers of the summer. Unlike drawn-out sagas for a defensive midfielder, Szoboszlai was wrapped up quickly, with him joining just three days after Liverpool opened talks.
Sporting director Jorg Schmadtke is said to have been key to much of the summer business, with it notable that three of four signings the German made were from Bundesliga clubs. Former super-agent Mino Raiola’s right-hand man Jose Fortes Rodriguez was influential, too.
Hungarian midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai has impressed in games so far in a Liverpool shirt
30-year-old Japan skipper Wataru Endo was signed for £16m from Bundesliga side Stuttgart
World Cup winner Alexis MacAllister joined the Red's from Premier League rivals Brighton
Jurgen Klopp will be delighted with his additions in midfield over the summer transfer window
In the six permanent departures this summer, Liverpool lost 1,776 worth of Premier League games. But all the new boys come with decent experience despite their young age. Endo and Szoboszlai captain their national teams, Japan and Hungary respectively.
Mac Allister has won a World Cup and played a pivotal part in Argentina’s success and those close to the former Brighton man say he is ‘like a bulldog’ in training. Gravenberch, though it didn’t work out at Bayern Munich, played more than 100 times for Ajax.
Klopp loves Gravenberch for his versatility and the Dutchman will play across the midfield. It completes the midfield rebuild. ‘Ryan knows he has to improve things but he's 21, it would be crazy if not,’ said the manager.
‘But he is super-talented, he can drive the ball, he can be a box-to-box threat. He has a good eye for a pass and a good pass. I said before, we have a big challenge to reinvent one of the most successful midfields this club ever had, and I really like it.’
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