Michael Edwards would be a brilliant signing for Manchester United or Chelsea – but is the timing right for him?

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We are living in an age in which football supporters are hungry – ravenous even – for any titbit of information about who their club might be signing. A new season is approaching. The transfer window is open and everybody wants to know how the Premier League teams, in particular, intend to splurge their money as they attempt to improve.

But could it be that one of the smartest pieces of business this summer might involve going after the guy who, quietly, and largely out of view, made Liverpool such formidable opponents to Manchester City? His name is Michael Edwards and, in the parlance of the sport, he has become available on a free transfer. He would be some signing.

Edwards was the sporting director who helped Liverpool clamber back on top of their perch (expletive removed, if you are familiar with Sir Alex Ferguson’s old quote), after 30 years of staring up at it, while managing to keep such a low profile that, even now, he could probably wander in for a drink at any of the pubs around Anfield and largely go unrecognized.

Inside the football industry, though, all the relevant people are aware of his work and the reasons why he is considered among the best in the business – maybe even the best – when it comes to buying and selling players.

Edwards spent 10 years at Liverpool before leaving at the end of last season, without specifying what he planned to do next.

His intentions are still unclear but there is one absolute certainty: it would be daft in the extreme if Liverpool’s rivals, Chelsea and Manchester United in particular, are not trying to investigate what’s on his mind.

If you are not entirely familiar with his work, just consider his part in the success story that, at its highest point in the summer of 2020, meant Liverpool could call themselves champions of England, Europe and the world all at once.

Edwards was not just instrumental in bringing Jurgen Klopp to Liverpool early in the 2015-16 season but also identified the players who would fit into the new manager’s system. That list features, among others, Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk, Alisson, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Andrew Robertson. Klopp has shaped a team with legitimate credentials to be recognized among the best in Liverpool’s long and often distinguished history. Edwards’ fingerprints are all over it.

“I want to acknowledge Michael’s reign as sporting director,” said Tom Werner, Liverpool’s chairman The Athletic before the Champions League final last month. “You could point to player after player who was identified before they became superstars.”

Chelsea, for one, would be guilty of a dereliction of duty if they had not already explored Edwards’ potential availability during a summer of revolution at Stamford Bridge that has already seen Marina Granovskaia and Petr Cech follow owner Roman Abramovich out of the club.

Todd Boehly, Chelsea’s new co-owner, may have many strengths – and, just as important in this business, a serious amount of money – but the best operators also understand their own weaknesses and it was not hugely encouraging to discover the American had appointed himself as interim sporting director, taking over Granovskaia’s work.

Maybe, like a lot of sports executives, Boehly likes the chase. Maybe he wants to be the one who goes after the players and closes the deals. But perhaps he underestimates how difficult it is to get right.

It needs expertise. It needs acute knowledge of the industry because, if you get it wrong, it can cost your club an absolute fortune and potentially set them back years.

Just look at Granovskaia’s legacy after her departure was announced in the same week that Chelsea were coming to terms with one of the more calamitous deals of their money-spending history.

Granovskaia, lest it be forgotten, won Europe’s Best Club Director at the annual Golden Boy awards put on by Italy’s Tuttosport newspaper in December. Six months on, her time at Stamford Bridge will always be blighted by the sequence of events that saw Chelsea buy back their former striker Romelu Lukaku for £ 97.5 million from Inter Milan and now, the following summer, after an unhappy 12 months that brought only 16 Premier League starts and eight top-flight goals, return him to the same Italian club for a loan fee of £ 7 million. In this line of work, one lousy deal can seriously damage someone’s reputation.

Edwards, on the other hand, has left Liverpool after a season in which they won the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup, reached their third Champions League final out of the last five and scared the hell out of Manchester City in a title race that went to the dying minutes of the final Sunday. It was the closest any club have come to the elusive Quadruple, so of course it makes sense if Chelsea are attracted to someone with his record for identifying players.

michael-edwards


Edwards, right, celebrates with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp (Photo: John Powell / Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Chelsea are also said to have Paul Mitchell, Monaco’s widely-respected sporting director, in their thoughts, as well as Maxwell, the former Barcelona player who now works in Paris Saint-Germain’s recruitment system. Of all the candidates, though, nobody has had Edwards’ sustained success. He would be ideal for the new era at Stamford Bridge.

It’s not just Chelsea either. Manchester United have made more expensive mistakes in the transfer market – and we are talking about when selling players too, not only buying them – than they would probably wish to remember. Are they attracted to the idea of ​​hiring the guy who helped Liverpool return to a position of greatness? Would they see Edwards as an upgrade on what they currently have? And if not, why not?

Of all the leading Premier League clubs, United’s need might actually be the greatest, bearing in mind there are already rumblings that Erik ten Hag, their recently-appointed new manager, is not wholly impressed by the system they have in place for identifying targets and getting the best deals possible.

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As difficult as this might be for Liverpool’s followers to accept, it might also be that United are a more attractive proposition to Edwards than Chelsea would be.

He lives in Cheshire, so would not have to relocate his family. And there is an enormous amount of job satisfaction to be had for whoever eventually fixes the recruitment model at Old Trafford. Edwards would be acclaimed as a hero if he helps to re-establish United as authentic title challengers.

The fact he must know all of Liverpool’s secrets should make him even more tempting for their arch-rivals.

The stumbling block, it seems, is the timing.

Germany’s RB Leipzig have tried. Spanish and European champions Real Madrid are often linked. Dutch heavyweights Ajax, too. Edwards, who turned 43 this month, announced his plans to leave Liverpool last November. Potential employers have had plenty of notice to set up something in advance.

Yet there are people close to Edwards who say his wish is to take a break from football and devote more time to his family rather than immediately throwing himself straight back into a profession that demands long, punishing hours.

It has also not been ruled out that he modifies his line of work and turns his attention from finding players to helping the ultra-rich in their acquisitions of clubs – a line of work that pays substantially more than he’s been earning in the talent-spotting business.

Chelsea, in particular, might try to fix that position by doing what they always do when they want somebody to change their mind: offer them a shedload of money. But it would be a surprise to many people at Liverpool if Edwards decided to take a job, this soon, with one of their domestic rivals.

His departure from Anfield was on good terms, involving a handover to successor Julian Ward and a place on the open-top bus parade last month when Liverpool’s players and staff returned from their Champions League final defeat in Paris. Edwards has not received any kind of settlement that might involve legal stipulations about what he can or can’t do next (his contract simply ran out and he elected not to sign another one) and that, in theory, means he is free to join whoever he likes, whenever he likes.

“I had always planned to cap my time at the club to a maximum of 10 years,” Edwards wrote in an open letter to Liverpool’s fans, published on the club’s website in November. “I’ve loved working here, but I am a big believer in change. I think it’s good for the individual and, in a work setting, good for the employer, too. That’s how I believe businesses / football clubs stay ahead; you need to evolve. ”

There will be no shortage of offers when, to put it into context, he was the first person to receive a congratulatory text from chairman Werner – yes, even before Klopp – when Liverpool emerged from the 2019-20 season with their first league championship in 30 years.

Equally, it is probably safe to assume it will not be City offering him that way back, no matter how much they might like the idea of ​​hiring one of the people who has been so instrumental to Liverpool’s recent success.

There is history here – and some lingering resentment.

Edwards was one of three staff members from Anfield cited in the alleged hacking of City’s scouting system in 2013. Liverpool offered a. 1 million settlement, including a legally binding confidentiality agreement, to stop the matter going any further. But it created a lot of bad feeling and Edwards’ presence has been one of the reasons why relations between the two clubs are often strained, to say the least, at boardroom level.

Far more likely, Edwards will eventually return to the Premier League with another of the clubs who want to prevent City from turning the league into a procession.

It might not be straightforward. But if it means hanging on for a while because Edwards wants a break to recharge his batteries… well, there is plenty of evidence to suggest it would be worth playing the long game.

(Top photo: John Powell / Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

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