One of Julian Ward’s first tasks in replacing Michael Edwards as Liverpool sporting director has been to freshen up the Reds’ front line. Considering Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were on the wrong side of 30 and out of contract in 2023, it’s easy to see why that has been a priority for Anfield bosses.
Mane made Liverpool’s job easier by departing on a potential £35m transfer to Bayern Munich, but it remains to be seen what the Reds will do with the Egyptian and Brazilian as they enter the final year of their contracts. Regardless of whether they agree to new terms or not, with Divock Origi also leaving and Takumi Minamino set to follow, it’s clear that Ward has begun to implement the club’s life plan beyond its once untouchable three fronts.
He had already started putting together Liverpool’s new attack for 2022/23 in January, truth be told, after signing Luis Diaz six months earlier than originally planned, before agreeing to a deal with Fulham for Fabio Carvalho after to run out It’s time to conclude a mid-season deal on the day of the transfer deadline. Meanwhile, Mane’s desire to leave the club saw the Reds bring in Darwin Nunez from Benfica in a deal that could be worth a club record £85m.
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Going into negotiations with the Portuguese side, Liverpool were aware that the deal would not be easy to close and warned that they had no intention of getting caught up in a bidding war or paying the odds for the Uruguayan. And while an initial fee of £64.1m with possible add-ons of £21.3m, it took time for the Reds and Benfica to agree all the terms of the deal to suit all parties.
Such a fact should not have surprised Liverpool, truth be told. They’ve been stung trading with the Eagles twice before, after all.
The first time came in 2005 when, having won the Champions League the previous May, the Reds were in negotiations to complete a transfer deadline day for Simao Sabrosa. A £10m fee was even agreed with Benfica, as the Portuguese international was given permission to fly to England for a medical, only for Portuguese club president Jorge Baidek to increase the asking price to £13, 6 millions. With Liverpool only willing to pay a maximum of £12.3m, he called off the deal fearing a last-minute backlash from supporters as he ran out of time to sign a replacement for his captain and talisman.
“The decision is exclusively Benfica’s. An offer from the European champions is huge for any player,” Simao lamented at the time, as he opened up about the failed transfer several times in recent years.
“At that moment I am in the national team, three or four days to go. [of the window]Simão said. liverpoolfc.com earlier this year after the two teams met in the Champions League. “I got a call at around five in the morning, ‘you have to come, we’re going to Liverpool’.
“I’m going to [Luiz Felipe] Scolari and the director of the selection to give me permission to go out. When I go to my agent’s office, at that moment the president of Benfica calls me and tells me, ‘we don’t have a deal, you don’t have permission to fly, so you have to stay’.
“It’s strange because I thought it was done. But when the chairman went home, he called again and said: ‘It’s impossible to fly to Liverpool and get a new contract with Liverpool, so you have to stay. Because if you sign for Liverpool, the Benfica fans will be angry [with me]’. At that point I said, ‘Okay, I’m staying.’
“My agent’s office is near the airport and the agent gave me an impression, ‘let’s go to the airport. When we get to Liverpool, maybe the president will say yes.’ I said, ‘no, it’s impossible to take the plane.’ and fly to Liverpool’. I was representing the national team and if I make this decision, I have a lot of problems with the national team, my club, so I decided to stay.”
And Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry would reveal that Simao had been waiting at the airport to fly to England for his medical when the deal finally fell through.
“We had a deal with Benfica, but when the story was leaked there was such a strong reaction that they felt they couldn’t sell,” Parry said at the time. “Simao was sitting on a plane waiting for a medical examination, but Benfica canceled it.
“In a way it was similar to the Steven Gerrard situation here when Chelsea were interested. It was disappointing, but there is nothing we can do. If the deal had been broken on June 30, maybe there wouldn’t be so much pessimism because you know there’s time to find someone else. That is not the case on deadline day.”
The following February, Simao would hurt Liverpool again when he scored at Anfield to finish off the Reds’ Champions League defense at the round of 16 stage in March 2006. However, his failure to land Simao would not be the deal with Benfica. That’s what the club’s bosses regret most, with the successful signing of a winger eight years later arguably a more disappointing transfer from Anfield.
Before Núñez, Liverpool had only signed one other player directly from Benfica: Lazar Markovic. The highly rated Serb was just 20 years old when he joined the Reds in a £20m deal, having only signed for Portuguese side Partizan Belgrade 12 months earlier.
He would go on to score seven goals in 49 appearances for the Eagles in his only season in Lisbon, helping the club win a domestic treble of Premeira Liga, Taca de Portugal and Taca da Liga, while also reaching the Europa League final. Having also impressed in Serbia with Partizan, his former manager Avram Grant tagged him with the highest praise after his move to Anfield.
“I can say that apart from Ronaldo and Messi, Markovic is one of the best talents I have seen at 19 years old,” praised Grant. “It was great to play with this boy for six months. He has such huge potential that if he changed his attitude in training he could be one of the best players in Europe in his position. But he is young, he will mature and then no one will be able to stop him.”
Unfortunately for Liverpool, Markovic never lived up to such praise as he ultimately became one of the Premier League’s worst signings. As good as Grant rated the 19-year-old, it seems his attitude in training continued to be an issue following his move to Anfield, with Markovic maturing to live up to the ex-manager’s expectations of him. .
Limited to 34 appearances in all competitions in a disappointing year for the Reds under Brendan Rodgers, he would start 23 games and appear just 19 times in the Premier League as he struggled to live up to expectations. Particular negatives included being sent off against Basel just 15 minutes after coming on as Liverpool suffered a Champions League group stage elimination and being withdrawn at half-time at Wembley in a Cup semi-final defeat. FA against Aston Villa when their manager was trying to play. the side as right side.
“I did not have a good relationship with the coach,” Markovic would later admit to the Portuguese newspaper A Bola. “That was a problem. I played in many positions but I didn’t play in mine.”
Ending the season with late substitute appearances against Hull City and Queens Park Rangers, Markovic was an unused substitute as Liverpool embarrassingly ended the campaign with a 6-1 loss at Stoke City and, despite a new manager at Jurgen Klopp, he never played a competitive match for the club again.
Markovic spent the 2015/16 campaign with Fenerbahce before seeing a season switch to Sporting Lisbon cut short midway through the 2016/17 season, then relegated to Hull City. With clubs unwilling to meet the Reds’ asking price as they looked to sell the Serb permanently, he spent the second half of the 2017/18 season with Anderlecht, only for his fitness and condition to be so bad at his arrival in Brussels that it would take him six weeks to get up and on his feet. He played just eight times before returning to Anfield as a result, although he did take aim at his parent club while he was away for ruling him out of a permanent exit.
“It’s to show that I’m still the same player, to show the people of Liverpool that they can’t treat me that way,” he fumed after scoring his only goal for Anderlecht. “Yeah, it’s okay to take it personally when they won’t let you go because they’re asking for an unrealistic transfer amount.”
With Liverpool in pre-season 2018, even scoring against Blackburn Rovers, he remained frozen the following campaign before signing for Fulham on a free transfer on the day of the January 2019 transfer deadline after being recommended by his compatriot Aleksandar Mitrovic. However, he would only make one appearance for the Cottagers, who suffered relegation that year, coming on as a half-time substitute against West Ham United in February before being released at the end of that season while his former Reds team-mates raised the Champions. League.
He would re-sign with Partizan Belgrade in September 2019 and eventually impressed with his first club, scoring 21 goals in 89 appearances after signing a three-year deal. However, the 28-year-old was finally deemed by new head coach Ilija Stolica to be above the requirements following his appointment earlier this month. As a result, Markovic was one of eight players released by the club.
Eight years after his £20m move from Benfica to Liverpool, Markovic is a free agent after being turned down by his boyhood club. With the Reds struggling for years to find a new home for the winger, it remains to be seen how long he will remain out of contract.
And now, eight years after that doomed transfer, Liverpool have re-signed from Benfica by signing Nunez after impressive performances in Portugal. Celebrating his 23rd birthday today, his arrival has helped renew at least the Reds’ attack, and the Uruguayan will be tasked with becoming Klopp’s leading striker as he continues to soft-launch his team’s next generation.
Having seen the triumvirate of Mane, Salah and Firmino score 374 goals between them since the latter moved to Anfield in the summer of 2015, Nunez certainly has big boots to go on, with the success of his £85m transfer to define what what comes next. for Liverpool beyond their famous three.
And while it remains to be seen whether he can replicate the form that saw him score 48 goals in 85 appearances over two seasons in Portugal, including two against Klopp’s Reds, Liverpool will, at the very least, be hoping to be lucky for a third time when he does. he comes to them by knocking on Benfica’s door after previous negotiations didn’t really go as planned.