By Jonathan Birchall and Kris Voakes
If Manchester United new boy Phil Jones wasn’t keen on taking charge at the centre of Liverpool’s defence, there can be little doubting that Udinese’s Cristian Zapata is a little more receptive to the idea of playing at Anfield.
The 24-year-old centre-back from Colombia has already spoken of his desire to become the latest player to join Kenny Dalglish’s side this summer, even at the cost of throwing away the chance of spending 2011-12 in the Champions League. The only question that remains, albeit quite a pressing one, is whether he is wanted on Merseyside.
Liverpool certainly need to bolster their defensive options and the Serie A star has proved a formidable player at the Stadio Friuli in the last 12 months but his talk of an imminent arrival in the north west should be approached with caution.
"Juventus, Fiorentina, Milan, Arsenal and Villarreal have requested information about me," said Zapata in June 2009. "There are many teams that are keen to sign me but an official offer has not been made so far.”
Two years on and the Colombian international is still at Udinese. His claims may be genuine but having seen their bid to sign Jones fail, as well as the last-minute collapse of the deal to secure now Newcastle-bound Sylvain Marveaux, the red half of Merseyside will know that pen still has a way to go before it touches paper.
Having become one of the most consistent performers at arguably the most attractive side in Italy, Liverpool fans will be hoping that the club’s director of football Damien Comolli is as keen on the defender as he is on them.
As Jamie Carragher's legs grow a year older, Martin Skrtel dips in and out of form and Daniel Agger battles his fitness demons, the man who left South America for Italy at 18 in 2005 is an attractive prospect.
|CAREER STATISTICS | Cristian Zapata (Udinese & Colombia)
In five words: No nonsense, growing in confidence
Zapata bounced back in 2010-11. After a disappointing previous season by his high standards, his return to form helped to take Udinese into the Champions League.
Yes, Alexis Sanchez, Antonio Di Natale, Kwadwo Asamoah et al had the attacking force necessary to push the side on, but in Zapata they had the defensive rock on which they could base their dynamic play.
Their struggles of the previous campaign were intertwined with the young defender’s poor form, as the Colombian turned in a spell which had some wondering whether he had reached his limit during the days in which he had attracted the interest of clubs across Europe.
But in the past 12 months he has proven that it had simply been a blip. Back came his authoritative manner both in the air and on the ground. His positioning was rarely out. And his biggest flaw, his ability on the ball, has even improved, though he is still better off clearing first time rather than attempting to take a man on, and he has become more receptive to that.
Udinese fans don’t want to see him go. His team-mates want their vice-captain to stay around for their journey into Europe’s biggest competition.
But it’s not an opinion that appears to be shared by the player himself. Now that he’s got the huge clubs looking at him again, Zapata wants to take his chance to move on.
He wasn’t always confident of his ability though. One time when on international duty in Colombia in 2007 an English Premier League scout was staying in the same hotel as the national team. When the scout greeted Zapata and told him he had what it takes to become one of the world’s best defenders, the centre-back simply shook his head and blushed.
Despite the platitudes, he refused to accept he could be so sought-after. Now he is, and he appears to want to make the most of it.