Those in the Liverpool transfer headquarters could be forgiven for rolling their eyes at the latest twist in the Kylian Mbappé saga. Having made initial inquiries, FSG had ultimately decided to stay well away from the whole thing, leaving two financial behemoths to slug it out. Yet despite this prudence, it seems as though Anfield may feel the biggest impact from the eventual outcome, with Real Madrid now weighing up moves for Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané.
However, the merry-go-round transfer does not stop at Liverpool. Even in the worst-case scenario, where the Spanish giants do prise one of the star duo away, Mbappé’s choice could well open up alternative options for FSG. In particular, one player cited as the heir to Lionel Messi could just have become far more available.
Messi himself, of course, is still at PSG. His arrival appeared to unsettle Mbappé, and the 23-year-old’s new agreement with the club reportedly contains assurances that he will be the center of the brand moving forward. Yet the Argentine will still be there, along with Neymar and (for now) Mauro Icardi. It is a well-stocked front line.
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Admittedly, PSG have not exactly been averse to hoarding top attacking talent in the past. But it would still appear to be a stretch for them to make a move for Ousmane Dembélé, who looked a lot like he was the Mbappé fallback plan. As things stand, the Barcelona man still hasn’t signed a new contract, meaning a free transfer bargain could be in the works.
Barcelona are reportedly continuing to work on a new deal, with Xavi reneging on his promise to freeze Dembélé out and instead coming to rely on him in the second half of the season. But they are working under severe financial constraints, and Liverpool could certainly sense an opportunity.
Blessed with the rare gift of true two-footedness, Dembélé would be the ideal replacement in the event of a departure for either Salah or Mané. While things have not been plain sailing for him at Barcelona, where he was meant to ultimately take over from Messi, his quality has shone through in the periods where he has been able to overcome injury.
This alarming injury record is certainly a worry, but Liverpool have a specialist team in place. Even Naby Keïta has been able to put his troubles behind him since the appointment of Doctor Andreas Schlumberger in late 2020. For a player with such an impressive profile, it may well be considered a risk worth taking.
Delving into that profile, it is apparent why Dembélé has previously been mentioned in the same breath as Messi. Keeping such a company is a rare honor – even in his season of ‘decline’ at PSG, few players boast such a well-rounded game as the 34-year-old. Sure enough, the French prodigy is lacking in terms of goal output (both expected and actual). But in almost every other respect, he has similar elite-level characteristics.
Assists and expected assists? 99th percentile among wingers and attacking midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues. Dribbles completed? 99th percentile. Progressive carries? 99th percentile. Dembélé is creating at a better rate than Messi, who has 14 assists this season and is regarded as one of the all-time great playmakers.
Dembélé even presses at a rate of a little over 15 per game, putting him broadly in line with Salah and Mané. Jürgen Klopp would have some work to do in order to improve the effectiveness of this pressing, but the underlying work rate is there – in this respect he is actually more suited to Liverpool than either Mbappé or Messi.
Naturally, a ‘free’ transfer is never truly free. The eye-watering signing-on fees offered to Mbappé by both Real Madrid and PSG only served to emphasize that fact. Dembélé could yet price out Liverpool in a similar manner. But with his most realistic suitor now potentially off the table, and Barcelona still struggling financially, a major opportunity could open up.