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Liverpool can channel PSG's summer transfer strategy

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If last summer’s transfer window was defined by the unknown, the financial impact of the pandemic wreaking havoc on clubs immediate finances but with the path beyond the now still a mystery, then the forthcoming window will be dominated by frugality.

Soon, supporters will be back in the stands. But the cost of the pandemic will still take years to be truly accounted for: Already, clubs across Europe are coming to terms with renewed, poorer, TV contracts as a result of budget cuts.



As the top of the market goes, so goes the rest of the market. Already, Manchester United have intimated that they will not be big game hunting this summer. After an 18-month flirtation with Jadon Sancho, the club punted on last summer; instead, they bought a batch of young players by way of installments, spreading the cost across a number of years rather than handing a duffel bag full of £100 million over to Borussia Dortmund in one transaction.



Presumably, United are waiting until the summer of 2022, when Erling Haaland’s cheap-ish release clause comes to effect and the contract of Kylian Mbappé is set to expire.



It’s not just United: Real Madrid and Barcelona are both staring down utter ruin as they come to grips with the cost of the pandemic. Neither are expected to be big players this summer. In fact, only Man City and Chelsea, one owned by a petro-nation, the other by an oligarch, have proven to be immune to the financial reality of the situation.

Even Paris Saint-Germain, another team owned by a petro-state, are set to enter a cooling down period on their transfer spending. According to ESPN, PSG have target the upcoming free-agent market as the game’s current market inefficiency.

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You likely know the names by now: Gini Wijnaldum; David Alaba; Memphis Depay; Gigio Donnarumma; Elseid Hysaj; on and on the list runs. Oh, and there’s the small matter of Lionel Messi, who will be a free-agent when the clock hits 11 pm GMT on June 30th.

Leonardo, PSG’s Sporting Director, is eyeing up the market as a chance to sign star players at all different age groups -- the best to ever do it, in-their-prime defenders and midfielders, a coming-into-his-prime goalkeeper, and one of Europe’s most underrated fullbacks -- without having to bother negotiating a transfer fee.

There will still be large fees involved -- signing on fees, agent fees, etc. -- and the Parisian club will have to deal with the same formula that all clubs adding free-agents do: When there is no transfer fee involved, the moving player expects a bump in their wage packet. They want some of the savings passed along to their pocket. And when a free agent (and agent) is dealing with a club run by one of the wealthiest agents on Earth, they will expect a whole bunch of those savings to pass to their bank account.

The equation for Leonardo is simple: Rather than spend £100-plus million on transfers this summer, can he instead spend that money on wages. Rather than adding two top-line players, can he snag four or five?

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It’s a savvy move. Not only can PSG best almost everyone in the free-agent race given the bottomless pit of cash that governs the club, it will also allow them to spread the immediate cost over the long-term, perhaps to a time beyond the financial impact of the pandemic, perhaps to a time where Ligue 1 can renegotiate its failed TV deal, perhaps to a time when there is an expanded Champions League or a European Super League.

Could Liverpool follow suit? Michael Edwards and co. will feel at home in a prudent market. The only money they spend this summer will be generated by outgoings. But if there’s no market, how will the warlock of transfers be able to raise money by selling off the club’s extraneous assets?

Last summer, Edwards walked away from deals because he didn’t think he was getting value for the likes of Marko Grujic, Harry Wilson, Xherdan Shaqiri, or Divock Origi. Instead, he kicked the can down the road, hoping that once opposing clubs knew the reality of the financial climate they would loosen their purse-strings.

But that’s not going to happen now. Any hopes that Liverpool could bring in over £100 million (the reported goal last summer) are at an end. And while that number was always relative (if it’s less but the other clubs that you’re set to negotiate with for incoming players have a proportionally less amount of money then it’s a dead heat) the numbers the club are looking at this summer are much, much lower than that projection -- not least because the likes of Wilson, Grujic and Origi have taken further knocks to their value do their on-pitch performance.

If that number isn’t £100 but is closer to £20 million or £30 million, what is Edwards to do? He could say no and roll the same group back for another year, which seems unlikely. He could accept that money and try to work some bargain-basement magic, as he did when he first joined the club. Or, he could roll whatever money is generated from assets into the wage bill rather than the transfer budget, thereby spreading the cost for costly free-agents over a number of years; perhaps into a FSG Fantasy Land future where there is a Super League.

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As I pointed out in a piece last week, net spend is a poor measure of the ambition of a club. And net spend has little correlation to winning. Wages on the hand, have a massive correlation to winning. For Liverpool not to get left behind as they begin to move to a second cycle under Jurgen Klopp, maintaining a competitive wage bill will be paramount. A higher wage bill equals more good players which equals better squad depth which equals more points which equals trophies. It’s not even an opinion; it’s a fact.

Liverpool will be linked to all-manner of players this summer -- Raphinha, Mbappé, et al. -- and while the club will certainly scour the markets for some value-for-money singings, the best value will be in the free-agent barrel. Yes, the wages will be inflated, but at least, like an installment payment, it will be spread across a number of years. And there aren’t a whole lot of better defensive/cover options than David Alaba on the market, not that you could buy in installment payments; and there aren’t many better rotational false nine options than Memphis Depay; and there aren’t many better backup right back-swing-left back options than Hysaj.

It hasn’t been a typical mode of operation for Edwards and his team. But these are not usual times. They must adapt on the fly. If chasing inefficiencies is what it’s all about, then this could be it: What was once considered an excess (handing over big wages to out-of-contract players) may now be considered preferable.


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