When a Liverpool transfer plan gets as far as a Jürgen Klopp phone call, it’s usually an indication that things are pretty advanced. Nonetheless, in the summer of 2020, the manager used up some of his international minutes to no avail — he did not get his man, with the riches of Roman Abramovich and Chelsea ultimately winning the day.
Timo Werner seemed destined for Liverpool. Aside from the aforementioned chat, there was the strong relationship between the club and RB Leipzig to consider. Not only that, but the striker was said to be sold on a transfer, even despite the fact that Klopp could not offer immediate assurances on game time.
However, Liverpool were not banking on a global pandemic. FSG baulked at the sudden loss of matchday revenue. As a club looking to run sustainably, the extreme reaction was perhaps understandable — although the initial attempt to make use of the government furlough scheme remains a major blot on the owners’ copybook.
In any case, paying RB Leipzig almost £50m up front to trigger Werner’s release clause was certainly off the table. Only clubs whose resources were not as intrinsically tied to revenues could pull off such a deal at such a time. Enter Abramovich: Chelsea stumped up the cash, and one of Europe’s hottest properties was heading to Stamford Bridge.
Liverpool, in hindsight, will not regret this turn of events. They opted for Diogo Jota instead, with Wolves willing to structure a deal in a manner that involved a small up-front payment. The versatile forward has gone on to become a huge hit at Anfield, disrupting the traditional ‘front three’ and racing to 30 goals for the club. Werner, meanwhile, has struggled at Chelsea. Of his 19 goals, only seven have come in the Premier League.
The German took some unfair flak in his first season, no doubt thanks to some high-profile misses. His under-the-radar return of 12 Premier League assists was actually quite impressive — and exactly the kind of thing Klopp would have been looking for in a Roberto Firmino heir.
However, things have undoubtedly taken a turn for the worse this season, with the reality catching up with the perception. Werner has struggled to break into Thomas Tuchel’s plans, featuring for just 575 minutes in the Premier League. In that time, he has one goal and one assist. Now, he is said to be considering his future at Chelsea, with the Daily Mail claiming that his representatives are ‘set to hold talks’ amid increasing ‘frustration’.
Liverpool could sense a belated opportunity. FSG’s finances have bounced back healthily, with the latest pandemic-affected accounts showing remarkably resilient revenues. Equally, Chelsea will struggle to command a price in the region of the £47.7m they paid; Werner is still a young striker, so the discount won’t be massive, but the transfer fee will surely have come down slightly.
Furthermore, despite the signing of Jota and subsequent arrival of Luis Díaz, Werner could still have a place in Klopp’s ‘Liverpool 2.0’ plans. The Portuguese star boasts the versatility to play across the front three; the Colombian has only really played on the left in his career to date, but even in his fledgling Anfield career has already popped up from the right flank in-game quite often. That leaves a possible gap through the middle, a role which Werner performed amazingly well at RB Leipzig.
Obviously, there is the small issue of Salah still being at the club. The best player in the world will not be displaced in a hurry. But in this sense, the situation is the same as when Klopp and Werner had their initial phone call — game time is not guaranteed, but there will be chances at Liverpool if the striker can fulfil his potential.
Nor is Werner the only one who might be looking for a way out of Chelsea. Abramovich has confirmed that he will look to sell the club. The effect this will have on transfer business is still a big unknown, but it will certainly upset the apple cart. As such, dealings between the ‘big six’ — a rarity in recent times — could plausibly come back onto the table.
Werner will not be top of the transfer priority pile for Liverpool, but another young forward is certainly on FSG’s wishlist. Klopp liked the striker in the past, and even since his move to Chelsea will have seen plenty of underrated positives. With the player keen to move, and the Abramovich situation causing turmoil, it might finally be time to complete the plan.