Ask anyone connected with Liverpool about three controversial years in the early 2000s and they’ll cite El Hadji Diouf as a good example of why buying players after a World Cup can be a bad idea.
Of course that £10 million deal with Lens was in the works before his exploits for Senegal in 2002, but the arrival of Diouf and compatriot Salif Diao is now firmly linked to that iconic run to the quarter-finals. The striker made 80 appearances for the club, scoring eight goals, before being sold to Bolton in 2005.
There have been instances to the contrary, however, with Gilberto Silva shining again in Japan and South Korea that summer before establishing himself as a key player for Arsenal, and 20 years later recruiting is at top level, especially for a club of Liverpool’s sophistication , less haphazardly.
So while a handful of World Cup appearances may not convince Liverpool to sign a player, they can certainly cement their conviction about a transfer.
Despite the turmoil in the club’s boardroom, with sporting director Julian Ward preparing for his departure in the summer, there will have been a strong presence at this year’s tournament in Qatar, with players long seen as potential targets , were monitored.
Here are five players who have shone in the World Cup who could be smart signings for Liverpool – exclusive target Jude Bellingham.
Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina and Morocco)
During Morocco’s inspiring run to the semi-finals, where they were knocked out by France, all-action midfielder Amrabat earned admiration as one of the tournament’s players.
Stationed at the base of Walid Regragui’s midfield, the 26-year-old turned in a series of dominant performances as Morocco kept a clean sheet in a draw with Croatia to win against Belgium, Spain and Portugal.
A tough tackler tasked with stopping play and moving his way up the pitch, Amrabat’s heart and desire saw him flourish in Qatar, with an incredible recovery tackle on Kylian Mbappé in the semi-finals that delivered a standout moment.
There is a gap in Jurgen Klopp’s team that would suit Amrabat’s skills, especially after Fabinho’s struggle for form without a specialist back-up, and with his contract due to expire in 2024, a deal at a lower price could be agreed.
However, there may be concerns about his transition from a slower, defensive-minded system to Liverpool’s forward-footed system, but there are clear signs he could adapt.
Karou Mitoma (Brighton and Japan)
Brighton winger Mitoma played little part in Japan’s enthralling campaign, coming off the bench in all four matches, but he showed glimpses of his vibrant, game-changing potential.
Liverpool would have already known about this after an influential cameo in the Seagulls’ 3-3 draw at Anfield in October, but the lightning fast 25-year-old reinforced that during several challenges in Qatar.
It was his unwavering desire that produced the winner as Japan fought back for a 2-1 victory over Spain to rock Group E, while his dedication to the defensive cause led manager Hajime Moriyasu to rely on him as a substitute.
Mitoma is only a few months into the Premier League having spent his first season in Brighton on loan at Belgium’s Union SG, but it probably won’t be long before bigger clubs consider a move.
Liverpool could be among those showing their interest in the future, with Mitoma able to bolster an attacking group with the likes of Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez as options on the left.
Mohammed Kudus (Ajax and Ghana)
While the versatile youngster flirted with a move to Everton in the latest transfer window, there was also “informal contact” between Kudus and Liverpool, he said. The athletic (opens in new tab)by David Orstein.
Ajax were reluctant to let another key player leave in the same summer that Anthony, Sebastien Haller, Ryan Gravenberch and Lisandro Martinez all moved on, and the Ghanaian stayed put.
For his club, Kudus has largely operated as a centre-forward, netting the equalizer in September’s 2-1 defeat to Liverpool in September, but for his country he alternates between central midfielder, No. 10, striker and winger. with a brace from the right flank against South Korea at the World Cup.
That flexibility would no doubt endear him to Klopp, as would his advantage as a 22-year-old with 120 appearances for FC Nordsjaelland and Ajax, along with 21 caps and counting for Ghana.
Ajax are by all accounts a selling club and it is unlikely that the price tag for their number 20 would be unaffordable for Liverpool.
Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig and Croatia)
Ahead of the World Cup, legendary manager – and Klopp’s inspiration – Arrigo Sacchi named two Liverpool centre-backs in his ideal tournament eleven, with Virgil van Dijk joined by Ibrahima Konate.
That speaks to the respect with which the Reds’ first choice is held, and while there are concerns about the fitness of Joel Matip and the form of Joe Gomez behind them, the centre-back is far from the Reds’ priority in the transfer. market.
However, if they rearranged and strengthened their ranks, it would be a wise decision to supplement Konate with another of the world’s best young defenders, Leipzig’s successor Gvardiol.
Gvardiol arrived at Leipzig in 2021, after spending a year on loan at Dinamo Zagreb, and it wasn’t long before he secured a starting spot and won wide acclaim; a physical, forward-legged, left-wing centre-back, he has also emerged with Croatia.
Weeks before his arrival at Leipzig, Gvardiol admitted he “absolutely” wants to play for Liverpool in the future – it just depends on whether circumstances and finances stand in the way of the 20-year-old.
Enzo Fernandez (Benfica and Argentina)
Bellingham may be the priority for Liverpool as they oversee the evolution of their midfield, but 21-year-old Fernandez has emerged as a popular alternative – or, in an ideal world, counterpart – to the England prodigy.
Fernandez only joined Benfica from River Plate in June, but it is said those in the Reds’ recruiting staff were already monitoring his progress ahead of the move to Europe.
The youngster now excels in the Primeira Liga and has been praised by none other than Lionel Messi as a “spectacular player” for Argentina.
It would require a hefty fee, with Fernandez’s release clause set at €120m (£104.6m), but his ability to shine in a plethora of roles makes him an ideal candidate for a midfield in need of regeneration it’s time.
Whether it is instead of or as good as Bellingham remains to be seen, but it is certainly possible that Fernandez will feature prominently in Liverpool’s transfer plans for 2023.
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