Another week has come and gone, with one high-profile transfer nearing its conclusion, the Bundesliga title fight looking all but over, the Black Lives Matter movement receiving more support and much more. It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the sport of football from the past week.
Liverpool’s Werner loss is Chelsea’s gain
Timo Werner’s move to Chelsea has yet to be finalized, but it would be the London club’s second big signing before the season has even finished, following the capture of Hakim Ziyech from Ajax. The fact that Werner will end up at Stamford Bridge rather than Anfield comes as a shock, given the long — and public — flirtation between the RB Leipzig striker and Jurgen Klopp, as well as the relatively manageable fee of €60 million (£53.5m/$67.8m). That’s a very reasonable amount for a versatile, speedy forward who only turned 24 in March and has averaged nearly 19 goals a season in the past four years in the Bundesliga.
On paper, he’s a natural fit for Chelsea. He offers an alternative to Tammy Abraham at center-forward or he can line up out wide and come inside. Should Frank Lampard want to mimic the setup at Leipzig, he can put his new signing in a front two, with Abraham playing a similar role to Yussuf Poulsen.
Werner’s arrival means that even if Willian and Pedro move on as expected, Chelsea still have plenty of options in wide positions with Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount, Ziyech and Werner himself. Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud’s contract extension means the London club have another big-man option when required.
Chelsea had long been looking for someone to share the scoring load with Abraham, and Werner can certainly do that. The roughly €100m-plus spent on Werner and Ziyech is a hefty investment — and there’s probably more to come in their defense — but equally, Chelsea have plenty of saleable assets, particularly in midfield. The return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek to a group that already includes N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Ross Barkley, Mateo Kovacic and Billy Gilmour, plus Mount and Ziyech as attacking midfield options in a potential 4-2-3-1, suggests one or two guys will move on in that department.
So why didn’t Liverpool pull the trigger?
Klopp, speaking to Sky Germany, trotted out the party line, saying the financial climate made such an expense impossible: “All clubs are losing money… How do I discuss with the players about things like salary waivers and on the other hand buy a player for £50m or £60m? … If you want to take it seriously and run a normal business, you depend on income, and we have no idea how much the club will earn, especially because we don’t know when we can start playing in front of spectators again.”
Maybe so, but Liverpool recorded a profit of £29m ($36.7m) in 2018-19 and £101m ($128m) the year before. And while the 2019-20 numbers obviously aren’t in yet, they did make a £28m ($35.5m) profit over the two windows, while their imminent first title in 30 years guarantees they’ll earn more than every other Premier League side in TV income.
Sure, maybe they budgeted to go further in the Champions League this year (they were knocked out by Atletico Madrid in the round of 16) and yes, they’ve extended a number of contracts, which means a rise in wages. And, of course, playing behind closed doors, as Klopp points out, means a decrease in revenue. But Liverpool’s matchday income was around £84m ($106.5m) last season. Even assuming no fans are allowed back until March (and that has to be a worst-case scenario given that some countries, like Spain, are already talking about allowing fans back next month, albeit in a reduced capacity, let alone next season), that’s maybe a 15% hit in revenue.
Given their success elsewhere, was there really no way to find the Werner money?
This idea, peddled by some, that such an outlay on a “fourth-choice” forward (considering Werner would initially back up Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino) could not be justified doesn’t really hold water either. First off, Werner wouldn’t be “fourth-choice” — he’d be the first option to back up all three. Plus, all three will be 28 by the time next season starts, and all three have contracts that expire in 2023.
Werner would, effectively, have become part of a rotation, helping reduce their minutes and prolong their careers, and he’d be ready to step in to the starting lineup if and when Liverpool decided to move one of the three on. Given that right now their options are Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino and possibly Harry Wilson, you’d think they’ll want to shop in the forward department once the window opens. Which, presumably, was why Klopp was so enamoured with him in the first place.
You can’t help but feel that this was an order that came from the bean counters at Fenway Sports Group. But based on the numbers available, unless there’s something we don’t know, it doesn’t make much sense. And Liverpool’s loss here is very much Chelsea’s gain.