Jurgen Klopp made his name in discovering under-the-radar talent and finding success, but at Liverpool, he's joined the crowd in spending big to land preeminent, sought-after talent.
Jürgen Klopp smashed the world record fee for a defender on Wednesday night with confirmation of the £75m deal to bring Southampton center back Virgil van Dijk to Anfield.
This represents the third time during Klopp's reign that the Reds have broken their own transfer record - following deals for Mohamed Salah and Naby Keïta during the summer - however, Klopp's transfer activity on Merseyside is a far cry from the reputation he gained during his time with Borussia Dortmund.
Klopp was largely praised for his ‘shrewd’ approach to transfer dealings at Dortmund; ignoring the lure of established stars in favor of placing faith upon lesser known – and cheaper – alternatives.
The likes of Neven Subotić, Shinji Kagawa, Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gündoğan were all recruited to make up the core of Klopp’s 2011 and 2012 Bundesliga title winning sides at a combined fee of less than £15m.
Klopp targeted a similar approach upon his Anfield arrival, signing Marko Grujić from Red Star Belgrade for £5m. Kopites were understandably excited by the signing given Klopp’s track record of uncovering future stars.
However, a hamstring injury during his debut season and limited game time since has stalled Grujić’s development. The Serbian has made just 13 appearances in all competitions for the Reds; mostly off the substitute’s bench.
Loris Karius acts as another example of Klopp’s attempt at securing a ‘shrewd’ acquisition at £4.7m from 1. FSV Mainz 05. It was hoped that the German ‘keeper would oust Simon Mignolet and establish himself as Liverpool’s number one between the sticks; however, nervous early performances have seen Klopp continue to favor the Belgian.
While Klopp’s attempts at unearthing a lesser known talent have proved less successful on Merseyside than in Germany, the same cannot be said for his more high-profile arrivals.
Take Liverpool’s biggest transfers from the previous two summer windows, Sadio Mané from Southampton and Salah from Roma, as prime examples.
In his inaugural season at Anfield, Mané scored 13 goals and was named Liverpool’s Player of the Season at the club’s annual award ceremony in May; while Salah has scored an astonishing 22 goals in his first 29 club appearances so far this season.
Between them, Mané and Salah make up half of the so-called ‘fab four’ attacking quartet earning lavish praise this season alongside Brazilians Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.
Introducing SPORTS ILLUSTRATED TV, your new home for classic sports movies, award-winning documentaries and original sports programming such as Planet Futbol TV, SI TV’s weekly soccer show. Start your seven-day free trial now on Amazon Channels.
Klopp’s big money signings at the Westfalenstadion meanwhile represent a mixed bag of success. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was bought in from Shakhtar Donetsk and, despite bagging 23 goals during his final season at Dortmund under Thomas Tuchel, the Armenian managed a respectable yet less prolific 18 goals across two seasons for Klopp.
Ciro Immobile was another big money addition. Bought in to replace the outgoing Lewandowski, Immobile lasted just one season at the club, managing a mere three league goals in a Dortmund side who finished in a disappointing 7th place.
Liverpool fans can therefore welcome Van Dijk to the club in the confidence that Klopp has found greater success with his higher profile recruits at Anfield. The ultra-competitive and highly scrutinized nature of England’s top flight has meant Klopp can ill-afford to throw the likes of Grujić and Karius into Liverpool’s first team on a regular basis in the same way he was able to do with Lewandowski and Hummels, for example.
Perhaps this says more about the nature of the Premier League than of the quality of Klopp’s lesser known signings as, while they may go onto become star names at the club in due course, their immediate impact is non-comparable to that of Klopp's Dortmund arrivals.
Add into the equation the greater sums of money involved in the English game and the financial backing Klopp receives from owners' Fenway Sports Group, as exemplified by the Van Dijk deal, and it is easy to understand how Klopp has transitioned from shrewd operator in the transfer market to big spender during his time with the Reds.