Forget Coutinho – Losing Emre Can could be Liverpool’s biggest 2018 transfer fail
Among the many compliments to have been paid to Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane this season, the biggest could be the fact that they have managed to make the red half of Merseyside forget all about Philippe Coutinho.
A situation which on January 6 appeared to only benefit Barcelona, as they parted with a cheque for £105 million, could now be argued to have worked in Liverpool’s favour.
The Reds would rather have retained the services of a Brazilian playmaker — that goes without saying — but money in the bank could prove as important as they head towards another intriguing transfer window.
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Jurgen Klopp now has vast sums burning a hole in his pocket, but how he sets about investing them could prove era-defining as the German tactician seeks to lift his side out of the also-ran category and back onto the winners’ podium.
There is, of course, a chance that he could achieve that feat in 2018, bringing to an end a six-year wait for silverware at Anfield, but a miracle to match that of Rafa Benitez’s Istanbul heroes of 2005 may be required in order to secure a sixth European Cup.
Liverpool are contenders, but there are still issues needing to be addressed before they can feel truly comfortable among the continental elite.
Up top, few sides can boast the firepower of the Reds’ ‘Fab Three’, with Salah enjoying a remarkable return to English shores, Firmino showing that he is about much more than hard running and Mane back in the groove after an uncharacteristic dip.
Take attack out of the equation, though, and there are as many questions as there are answers.
When the window of opportunity re-opens in July, where will Klopp chose to spend? And where does he need to spend?
The goalkeeping department continues to offer little cause for optimism, even when taking Loris Karius’ recent displays into account, while the £75m addition of Virgil van Dijk could be considered the first piece of a defensive jigsaw still some way short of completion.
If Liverpool intend on being in the market for proven performers who require little adjustment period, then addressing either or both of those areas will not come cheap, if the reported €70m asking price for Roma goalkeeper Alisson is any indication.
It could, however, be argued that the Reds’ biggest recruitment headache is set to come in the middle of the park — an unheralded area where value to the collective cause can slip under the radar.
Coutinho’s presence may not be missed, with others having more than stepped up to the plate in his absence, but the seemingly imminent departure of Emre Can may not be as easy to counter.
The Germany international is not a £105m talent – he would probably admit as much – but he has been a vital cog in a well-oiled machine that Klopp has worked hard to keep ticking over and could well do without seeing another key component removed.
The Reds boss has said of a man who continues to run down his contract with no indication that fresh terms will be penned: “Emre is still a young lad but he has developed into a great player and is very important for us. Sometimes a player just wants to sit out his contract. That’s not cool for the club, but there are moments in which you have to accept it. And as long as the player behaves like Emre does, then I have absolutely nothing to complain about. He gives everything he has and identifies with the club.”
Can claims to have “not signed with another club yet”, and suggested in January that he was in discussions with Liverpool, saying “I am talking with everyone, of course I am talking with Liverpool. Why not? I still have a contract here. It is an amazing club. What can I say? My agent does the rest.”
The problem there is the word “everyone”, with Can aware that he suddenly holds all of the cards as a potential free agent and can tout his services to whoever wants them, with Goal having confirmed that Serie A champions Juventus already have an offer on the table.
Such interest may have turned the 24-year-old’s head to the point of no return, and that should be of concern to those who continue to cling to the hope that they can prove the grass to be greener in England.
Since Klopp’s appointment in October 2015, only Firmino and James Milner have made more appearances than Can, nobody has made more passes, tackles or interceptions, while he ranks second for touches, recoveries and fouls won, in the top four for dribbles attempted and top five for blocks and chances created.
His standing in the eyes of his manager is clear for all to see and it will not be easy to find someone capable of filling his boots, despite interest already being shown in the likes of Napoli’s Brazil-born Italy international Jorginho and the imminent arrival of Naby Keita from RB Leipzig.
Gary Neville, a man hardly renowned for his love of all things Liverpool as an ex-Manchester United stalwart, told Sky Sports of the Can saga in January: “The news about Can leaving, for me, I think he’s a fantastic player, with personality and character. I think he brings a lot to this Liverpool team in terms of character.
“It’s a big blow for Liverpool. It won’t make the headlines that Coutinho’s sale made. Juventus are a clever club, they sign intelligent players who are shrewd and know the game. I know there’s a mixed reception on Merseyside to Can in terms of how good he is, and I’ve even had debates with Jamie Carragher. He looks like he has authority on the pitch, and there aren’t many of those characters around in the game.”
Neville is not wrong, but Liverpool might be.
Salah and Co may be providing the fireworks on Merseyside, while Coutinho often lit the fuse, but they can only shine so brightly as a result of the safety net around them, and the Reds may be about to find that out the hard way as the man in charge of health and safety prepares to head for the exits.