Forward Liverpool squad begged Jurgen Klopp to sign was right transfer at wrong time

Advertisement

Takumi Minamino’s Liverpool career is over after he completed his transfer to AS Monaco in a deal that could be worth up to £15.5m.

The Reds could more than double their money on the Japan international, who arrived on Merseyside from Red Bull Salzburg in the second half of the 2019/20 season and was never more than a fringe player, leaving a strange legacy as a result.

It has never been easy for Minamino at Anfield, with there always a reason why his Liverpool career didn’t explode into life. From joining the Reds midway through their title-winning campaign before seeing his bedding-in period disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic as he tried to adjust to a new culture, he essentially had to play catch-up from day one.

Robbed of a first full pre-season as a result, he also found the untouchable trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane ahead of him in the pecking order. He wouldn’t be the first player to fail to break up this triumvirate as he was left on a hiding to nothing.

With Diogo Jota thrown into the mix in the summer of 2021, Luis Diaz joining 18 months later and Divock Origi still providing the occasional match-winning moment, it was only following his half-season loan with Southampton that he flourished in his bit-part role and Kopites were given a true glimpse of the player their club had signed.

Game-time would remain limited as he only made one Premier League start in 2021/22. Yet Minamino still returned 10 goals from 24 appearances over the campaign, top-scoring in both the FA Cup and League Cup as Liverpool chased down an unprecedented quadruple and were left to settle with a domestic double.

So crucial to the Reds’ marches to Wembley, his reward for early League Cup strikes against Norwich City, Preston North End and Leicester City was to be benched in favour of teenager Kaide Gordon for the semi-final second leg against Arsenal before being left unused for the final against Chelsea. His prize for an FA Cup brace against the Canaries, after being reduced to substitute action in the FA Cup quarter-final against Nottingham Forest, was to miss out on the matchday squad for both the semi-final or final.

While he’d get his hands on both trophies, the writing was inevitably on the wall regarding his future as a result, with it no surprise to see him depart this summer. But while his exit won’t be mourned to the same extent as Mane, his absence still leaves a hole that needs to be filled.

It would be easy to dismiss his two and a half years on Merseyside, writing Minamino off as a low-budget transfer gamble that didn’t pay off on the pitch but at least profited off it. After all, his arrival was an opportunistic one because of a paltry release clause. Liverpool signed the versatile forward for just £7.25m, fighting off interest from the likes of Manchester United, with it insisted he would have fetched Salzburg at least £25m without that exit clause.

Yet Jurgen Klopp was having none of that when reacting to the 27-year-old’s departure, waxing lyrical about the player Monaco were signing.

“It’s hard to see Taki go, but it’s a great move for him and one he thoroughly deserves,” the Reds boss told the club website. “An amazing professional; super, talented player. As a person, he is full of warmth and makes everyone feel positive. A manager’s dream, to be honest.

“I’m sure there will be those who think it didn’t quite work out. Those who think this are wrong. I don’t accept that. His contribution far outweighs the opportunities we were able to give, in terms of starting matches.

Advertisement

“He made us better each and every day he was with us – not just in the games he played in but every single session in training. Perfect attitude, winner’s mentality. His performances and his goals are the reason we have had to redecorate the Champions Wall so often. His achievements here will stand the test of time.”

Minamino’s last-gasp equaliser in the 3-3 comeback draw against Leicester in the League Cup quarter-finals and match-winning brace against Norwich in what would prove to be his final Anfield appearance in the FA Cup fifth round would be his most memorable contributions for the club. Meanwhile, by scoring against former club Southampton at St. Mary’s last month, he gave travelling fans the perfect goodbye with a goal in his farewell Reds appearance.

By doing so, he joins a list including the likes of Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Daniel Agger, Vladimir Smicer, Peter Crouch, Djibril Cisse, Nicholas Anelka, Mamadou Sakho, Suso, Jordon Ibe and, most recently before Minamino, Dominic Solanke.

Yet the sad truth is before his brace against Norwich back in March, his best performance at Anfield had actually come against Liverpool when still on the books of Salzburg. Outside eyes might have been focused on Erling Haaland, but it was the Japanese who registered a goal and assist in a seven-goal thriller as the Reds ran out 4-3 winners. After facing off against Minamino, his soon to be new team-mates were convinced.

Following their two meetings with the Austrian outfit, senior Liverpool stars urged Klopp to recruit the man who had terrorised them throughout. Little did they know a deal was already well in advance by that point.

Minamino has been under the watchful gaze since 2013 when the attacker was plying his trade for Cerezo Osaka, with Klopp also taking note of him while still in charge of Borussia Dortmund. With the Reds’ coaching and recruitment staff unanimously keen to get him on board, talks were opened in November 2019 with sporting director Michael Edwards a driving force in negotiations.

Having forged a positive relationship with Salzburg’s director of football, Christoph Freund, Liverpool were made aware of Minamino’s release clause and were quick to steal a march on Manchester United to conclude the deal to the great excitement of supporters at the time.

Unfortunately for Minamino, those expectations in the circumstances proved too much for him. At the very least, the introduction of five substitutions in the Premier League has now come too late for him.

The right transfer at the wrong time, if he had experienced a middle ground between Salzburg and Anfield, as Mane and Naby Keita both enjoyed, perhaps his Reds story would not be over. Perhaps he could have been a forward to now replace the Senegalese rather than exit alongside him.

Yet Liverpool saw an opportunity and they gambled. Two and a half years later and it delivered them two trophies and up to £8.25m in profit. Now it’s up to Fabio Carvalho to fill the void left by Minamino and Origi as the Reds look to defend both cups.

Advertisement