“Of course we are interested in Kylian Mbappé,” Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp said ahead of his trip to Southampton. “We are not blind. We like him and if you do not like him, then you have to question yourself. ”
Klopp is right. In his 281 career games so far, Mbappé has scored or assisted 305 goals (200G, 105A), he’s been named the best young player at the FIFA World Cup and he’s twice featured in the FIFPro World XI. The list goes on. And on. And on longer still.
“But, no,” Klopp regrettably continued. “We are not, we can not be part of these battles. There must be other clubs involved and that is fine. He is a great player. ”
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Sure enough, it emerged this week that Mbappé had agreed personal terms with Real Madrid. He’s yet to formally commit, and PSG are still trying to keep him, but it certainly looks as if he’s headed for the Santiago Bernabéu in the summer.
Mbappé, according to DiMarzio, will net € 25m per year with Los Blancos. That works out at about £ 400,000 per week. Liverpool are committed to maintaining their wage structure, and that may well be a large part of the reason Mohamed Salah’s future remains uncertain.
And so, even though Mbappé is nominally available on a free transfer, a move to Anfield was never realistic. But could these deals actually become a staple of the Reds’ transfer business moving forward?
Joël Matip, the first signing Klopp ever made, remains the only high-profile free transfer arrival of his tenure. That’s not to say the club haven’t exploited contract situations – Thiago, for instance, only had one year left on his deal at Bayern Munich.
But Bosman deals appear increasingly common at the elite level. Last summer, PSG snapped up Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Georginio Wijnaldum and Gianluigi Donnarumma when their deals expired, while Real Madrid did not pay Bayern a penny for David Alaba, nor did Barcelona for Lyon’s Memphis Depay.
And this year, in addition to Mbappé, there’s plenty of big names moving on as free agents. Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger will be joining him in the Spanish capital, while team-mate Andreas Christensen may be bound for arch-rivals Barcelona. Ousmane Dembélé might cross paths with Franck Kessié on his way out of the Camp Nou, while Dingel Di María, Paulo Dybala and Paul Pogba are presently set to walk away from PSG, Juventus and Manchester United respectively.
Why is this happening? One theory, put forward by a senior Premier League figure speaking to The Athletic, is that clubs are playing ‘hardball’ over wages as they look to limit costs, and comply with Financial Fair Play requirements in the wake of the pandemic. That inevitably means more contract negotiations are breaking down.
Perhaps this will only be a temporary trend, then, lasting only until big clubs have fully recovered. But for the suitors, free transfers will only become more and more appealing. Price tags have been rocketing, above all as a consequence of the first £ 200m transfer in 2017 (Neymar’s move to PSG). That could lead clubs to urge their targets to patiently run down their contracts, removing the need to negotiate with, say, the Daniel Levy’s of the world. Indeed, this may be the best, or even the only, way for Liverpool to sign a player from a fellow ‘big six’ club.
It’s not a perfect solution, because there may be an effective ‘wage auction’ if a player is known to be running down his deal. But the overall costs involved will probably be considerably lower.
Come January, the Reds will be able to negotiate with foreign players who are out of contract in the summer of 2023. Whom might they approach? Well one candidate is Barcelona’s Gavi, a player they reportedly admire but someone who could cost £ 60m if his CIES Football Observatory valuation is accurate. For Fenway Sports Group and their self-sustaining business model, these deals may make a great deal of sense.