Jealousy is never a pleasant trait, not even from one fierce footballing rival to another.
An old proverb says: “Kiss the hand of your enemy if you cannot chop it off.” Yet that is never realistically going to be the case with Manchester United and Liverpool. They will remain enemies for a very long time.
But you have to wonder whether there is a tinge of envy in some recent claims from the Liverpool-leaning media and fanbase with regards to United’s top transfer target Jadon Sancho.
Despite the news emerging late on Tuesday evening that United were prepared to walk away from a deal with Borussia Dortmund over Sancho due to the German club’s ‘unrealistic’ asking price, it is still very likely that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will land their man this summer. The posturing over price is to be expected and United are right to negotiate with Dortmund, especially in a world where finances have been affected by covid-19.
Yet an article in the Liverpool Echo headlined: ‘Liverpool cut out middle man to save millions as Manchester United scramble for Jadon Sancho’ appeared to draw parallels between United’s Sancho pursuit and two recent low-key Liverpool signings.
The article starts by stating how much Jurgen Klopp admires Sancho and would love to sign him. It quotes the Liverpool boss saying: “A red jersey would look very good on Jadon Sancho” and later: “He is a very interesting player.”
It then goes on to list the reasons why Liverpool have not involved themselves in the “scramble” for Sancho despite their admiration for him; namely because they have completed the acquisitions of Harvey Elliott (17) from Fulham and Sepp van den Berg (18) from Dutch side PEC Zwolle instead.
“Liverpool feel they can cut out the middle man and save themselves millions,” it says.
“They would prefer to land the player before his star has risen.”
This way of working in the transfer market is completely legitimate and may well bring Liverpool more success in the future. But to claim it’s the Anfield club’s main modus operandi and to make comparisons with United’s Sancho pursuit is wide of the mark. Miles wide.
Far more comparable to a marquee addition like Sancho would be Liverpool’s lavish 2018 transfer window spend, which saw £226million splashed on Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Alisson Becker.
Elliott and Van den Berg had barely any first team experience when they were snaffled by Klopp in 2019. The former had not started a single game for Fulham, while the latter had played a handful of games in the Dutch Eredivisie.
Sancho, by contrast, has played 78 league games for Dortmund in the past three seasons. He may be only 20 but he is inexperienced only in terms of age. He has 34 goals in the Bundesliga and Champions League to his name and is rightly considered among the world’s elite players. He already had 11 England caps.
He is simply not in the same bracket as Elliott and Van den Berg.
Like Van Dijk, Fabinho and Alisson (the jury is still out on Keita), he would be a transformative signing for a big club looking to restore themselves to previous glories. United hope Sancho can transform their team from a top four side to title contenders. Just like the aforementioned Liverpool trio have done.
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Let’s be clear, both these two transfer policies have merit. Signing ready-made stars at a great expense is fine if you can afford it. And finding cheap youngsters for the future is a genuine strategy too, which United have exemplified in recent years as well as Liverpool, with Hannibal Mejbri, Joe Hugill and Marc Jurado among those signed for the club’s academy.
But let’s not pretend Liverpool have any form of moral high ground on this issue. United will have to spend big to get Sancho, that much has become very clear in recent days. But there’s nothing wrong with that – as Liverpool have shown with their big-money acquisitions. Maybe there’s a degree of envy in the latest claims from Merseyside. Any club would surely love Sancho in their ranks.