Takumi Minamino Liverpool 2019-20Getty

Minamino can save Liverpool millions despite unusual start

This is not how Takumi Minamino imagined his first few months in England.

The Japan international’s adaptation period at Liverpool has been a testing one, to say the least. It is hard enough adjusting to a new club, a new league, a new language and a new culture, without dealing with the impact of a new pandemic as well. 

For now, uncertainty reigns at Anfield. Uncertainty over the resumption of the Premier League, uncertainty over the title that the Reds were pretty much guaranteed before Covid-19 rocked up, uncertainty over what the future holds for clubs across the world, elite or otherwise.

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Plans, for the most part, are on hold. Liverpool had, Goal understands, already begun making progress with regards to their summer transfer business, identifying potential signings, liaising with agents and intermediaries, plotting the next phase of the team’s development under Jurgen Klopp.

How many of those plans will survive this crisis? Even if football is somehow able to resume in June or July (or earlier, as may be the case in Germany) big changes are coming, short and long-term. 

The impact on the transfer market, for example, is expected to be seismic. Goal has spoken to numerous sources within the game, and the message is clear; prepare for a glut of loans and free transfers, and do not expect the kind of eye-catching signings we have become accustomed to. Across the globe, spending will fall dramatically. How could it not?

Liverpool, at least, are in a relatively secure position to cope with such changes. Not only are they one of the world’s best teams, one devoid of a single glaring weakness in fact, but the majority of their players are in their 20s. All regular starters, with the exception of Gini Wijnaldum, are tied to long-term contracts. 

And should Klopp wish to pad out his squad, as some have suggested he needs to, he has the option of promoting a gifted teenager – Rhian Brewster, Neco Williams, Curtis Jones or Harvey Elliott – or taking a punt on a more developed player who has progressed out on loan – Marko Grujic or Harry Wilson, say.

He also has Minamino, of course.

Jurgen Klopp Takumi Minamino Liverpool 2019-20Getty Images

The 25-year-old has been given a gentle introduction into the rigours of English football. Up to now, he has made just seven appearances, totalling 339 minutes. He is yet to start a Premier League game, and has completed 90 minutes just once.

No surprise there, and no cause for alarm either. He may have arrived with a fanfare, thanks mainly to the promise he showed in two appearances against Liverpool for Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League before Christmas, but Klopp and his staff always anticipated taking a patient approach. 

The plan was to integrate him gradually, in much the same way Andy Robertson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Fabinho, to name but three, were eased in. Like that trio, Minamino’s attributes and profile fit with Klopp’s idea of what he wants his team to look like going forward.

So far, we have seen him mainly playing as a centre-forward, charged with leading Liverpool’s press while creating space and angles through intelligent, pre-designed movements, dropping deep or moving wide. Roberto Firmino-lite, if you like.

There have been encouraging signs. Minamino clearly has good tactical awareness, and knows how to find room to receive passes between the lines. His brain is sharp, even if his body looks like it will take a bit of time to adjust to the demands of playing in a Klopp side, where smartness must be matched by physicality. You do not play for Liverpool if you cannot run, and run hard. 

“I have to be more aggressive,” Minamino told reporters after the FA Cup draw at Shrewsbury Town in January. A few days later, he would talk about English football’s “very high intensity” adding that “I have to adapt to it as quickly as possible".

Takumi Minamino GFX

It is not ideal, then, that Minamino has missed out on crucial training time with his new team-mates. Video conference calls are not the best way to learn the ropes at a club, though sources at least say the new boy’s English has come on markedly in recent weeks. Quarantine has its benefits, after all.

Minamino has wasted little time in becoming a popular member of the Reds' dressing room; he already knew Naby Keita and has struck up a friendship with another ex-Salzburg man, Sadio Mane. ‘Taki’, as he is known, is settling in well, a positive figure with humility and a desire to improve. Liverpool will hope that improvement can continue on the field sooner rather than later. 

It remains to be seen just how big an impact the coronavirus crisis will have on the club’s summer transfer plans. A move for Timo Werner, the RB Leipzig and Germany forward, has been widely expected, but with a huge reduction in spending anticipated across the board, it would not be a huge surprise if Liverpool opted to keep their powder dry. The risks associated with big-money transfers are amplified in times such as these. 

Good news for Minamino, one would suggest, as he waits to explode on Merseyside. At just £7.5 million (€8.4m/$9.3m), he was a bargain in January and looks even more of one now. 

For the time being, though, all he can do is wait.