It’s a common complaint. Why didn’t we get caught [insert player here] before he was a household name? Given the thoroughness of Michael Edwards and his transfer team, it’s annoying that potential future stars usually take an extra step before becoming solid Liverpool targets. Reports of interest in Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins provide the latest in a long line of examples. The forward was mighty impressive at Brentford in 2019-20, but there was no indication that the FSG was involved in talks over his signature last summer. He ended up moving to Villa Park for £ 28m – any deal would likely cost Liverpool at least double that. However, while this is undeniably frustrating, there is ample evidence that it is part of a conscious recruiting strategy.

There are many strikers who have succeeded in the championship and have not carried over the same form to the Premier League. Jordan Rhodes is a classic example who failed to make an impact in his short top division stint at Middlesbrough. Teemu Pukki faded greatly after a strong start. Watkins, who definitely impressed in the Premier League, naturally suffered a drop in performance: his 25 championship goals were converted to 14 in the top division. The question is always how much power is affected by the level change. With all of the analysis of the world, the only reliable way to be sure is to wait to see how a player gets on at a higher level. Liverpool and Edwards are ready to play this waiting game.

These arguments do not only apply to the championship. Patson Daka is another recent example: his goal record is tremendously impressive, but success in the Austrian Bundesliga is by no means a guarantee for England. Leicester City could well have the next Erling Haaland in hand, but also the next Philipp Hosiner. Who? Exactly. The striker scored an impressive 32 goals in the Austrian Bundesliga in 2012/13, more than Haaland or Daka have scored in any subsequent season. Then he moved to Rennes. In the eight years since then, he has scored 33 times – just one more than he scored in a single season in the top Austrian group. Nineteen of these goals were scored in the German fourth division.

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None of this is meant to slander Daka, who shows all the attributes to become a top player. Interested clubs will have looked well beyond the sheer goal and assist numbers and Leicester was clearly pleased that the striker has the skills to cut it at the highest level. We’ll see soon if that’s true. If so, nothing stands in the way of Liverpool. It costs an extra cost compared to buying now, but in a few years there will be far more relevant data available to consider a transfer.

Liverpool are also in a privileged position in the sense that the starting XI is truly world class. As a result, any promising young player is likely to have a blocked path to the first team. Even if the next big thing can keep its promise, will he do it from his seat on the Anfield bench? In all honesty, the team has developed beyond the time when £ 8.5million like Philippe Coutinho threw immediately into the team and can be relied on. The club has the luxury of not having to take big risks for young talents, but that comes with the burden of not being able to offer an obvious development path for such players. Another undesirable side effect is that these players have to pay their way through the nose for these players to become established stars at other clubs, but it’s an inevitable consequence of the success that Jürgen Klopp has brought.

The system collapses when the FSG and Liverpool are unwilling to spend a lot of money when these talents become real stars. Manchester United’s move to Jadon Sancho has certainly raised a lot of concern in that regard; he appears to be exactly the kind of player Liverpool should have shown a keen interest in, especially since he first appeared on the club’s radar in his youth in Manchester City. That being said, players like Virgil van Dijk, Alisson and Fabinho should not be forgotten: all of them required huge expenses after establishing themselves elsewhere, but they were all bought with enough work for the club to be confident of its success. It turned out pretty good.

Some level of frustration is inevitable when promising players move elsewhere, but there needs to be some level of confidence in the process. Liverpool have grown into one of the biggest clubs in the world: if you miss out on potential bargains and later have to pay a premium, this is the price to pay for that success.

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