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Why Virgil van Dijk and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain chose Liverpool over Chelsea

15:00 GMT 24/11/2017
Virgil van Dijk, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
The short-termism of the reigning Premier League champions foiled their major transfer plans in the summer with two top targets preferring the Reds

“When there has been interest from Chelsea in our players, the first thought is not 'what a great opportunity!',” a representative of a European sports agency tells Goal .

“No. We think ‘do they really believe in his development?’ and ‘will they do all they can to make him better?’. The answer has been very clear to us. The club does not have the patience or desire for that - they live in the short term.

“Even if you are a top, top player, there is no guarantee of success because they can throw you away if you struggle, even a little, and for a profit, too! We look very closely at what a club has done in the past and history tells us this about Chelsea.”

Chelsea 5/2 to beat Liverpool

On Saturday evening, Antonio Conte’s side will have to combat one of these background lessons at Anfield. Mohamed Salah, who moved to Stamford Bridge from Basel in January 2014 and enjoyed neither a run of games nor the trust of former manager Jose Mourinho, is now the top scorer in the Premier League and Liverpool’s offensive weapon-in-chief.

The Egyptian was afforded just 13 top-flight appearances at Chelsea before being packed off on loan to Fiorentina and then Roma, the latter whom he joined permanently for £11 million.

Liverpool more than trebled that figure to recruit Salah this past summer - still a bargain fee for a differential player.

“He did not get his chance at Chelsea – maybe because of the manager, because of the other players? I don’t know,” Eden Hazard said of his former Blues team-mate and close friend.

“He has quality but in that period I remember we had me, Willian, Oscar, so for him it was not easy.

“But he’s a top player, for sure, and we know as a team the quality he has. He is a fantastic striker and this season he has scored a lot of goals.”

Chelsea lining up against a player they discarded too soon, who is now a dominant force in the league, is not an alien phenomenon.

In September, Conte struggled to explain the rationale behind letting Kevin de Bruyne leave following the Belgian international’s winner for Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.

Bought by the English champions for £6.7m from Genk on January deadline day in 2012, he spent the rest of the season on loan at the Luminus Arena before temporarily joining Werder Bremen for the following campaign.

Voted the Bundesliga’s Young Player of the Year, De Bruyne returned to Chelsea, where Jose Mourinho assured him he was core to the club’s blueprint.

Six months later he was sold to Wolfsburg for £18m, sweeping up accolades in Germany before City shattered the country’s transfer record to recruit him for £55m.

“I don’t know, honestly, what happened in the past,” Conte said. “But for sure we are talking about a top player, the complete player. He’s good – technical, fast, and he works hard for his team. He is the complete player.”

Romelu Lukaku is another example of Chelsea’s talent drain, the striker opting for Manchester United in a £75m switch from Everton this summer, shunning the opportunity of returning to his former side.

It doesn't stop there. The Golden Ball recipient at the Under-20 World Cup, Dominic Solanke, as well as the Golden Boot winner of the Under-17 showpiece, Rhian Brewster, are both at Liverpool having realised there is no pathway to the first-team at the London club.

But it is not just tomorrow’s stars that have dropped the shoulder on Chelsea, as they discovered during the past transfer window.

A £40m fee had been agreed with Arsenal for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but he turned down the opportunity to play for Conte and joined Liverpool instead.

The England international’s decision to depart the Emirates centered around his long-term progression and pushing himself out of a comfort zone.

"I want to help myself as well, I've got aspirations of improving myself and I know how much I want to develop,” he told Sky Sports a week after his deadline-day switch to Merseyside.

"One of the main reasons I took myself out of my comfort zone was to try and push myself and really see how far I can push those boundaries. Ultimately, I want more from myself.”

Chelsea did not stack up as the correct environment to facilitate that and Oxlade-Chamberlain believed Liverpool presented a better platform to achieve his objectives given their greater emphasis on development.

The 24-year-old has only made three starts under Jurgen Klopp thus far as he fully adjusts to the German’s demands, but he is not applying a short-term assessment; he didn’t transfer with a view of what could happen over a few games, but how far he could advance in the coming years.

"I just like this player because he's already experienced, but so open to get used to what we do and that's really nice,” Klopp has said.

“He is like dynamite when he comes on. Aggressive in the most positive way. Front foot always. Looking to attack and create. These performances come because of how good his attitude is in training at Melwood. He has the highest quality in everything he does; sometimes I think he is the last to realise this.

“I am sure he is greedy for more starting selections and of course that opportunity will come. He is very much in the infancy of his Liverpool life, but the "world" in 2017 doesn't always allow for patience.

“He is doing everything right in this moment and because of this I know he will be a big success for us.” 

Oxlade-Chamberlain wasn’t alone in his conviction that Anfield would be a better destination than south-west London with Southampton centre-back Virgil van Dijk co-signing that thought process.

The Netherlands international, who Conte desperately wanted, felt he would be able to help engineer more individual and collective growth under the guidance of Klopp. Van Dijk connected with Liverpool’s traditions, in which he saw similarities to his former club Celtic, and bought into the manager’s vision for the present and future.

Even when Southampton reported the Reds for tapping-up in June and it became clear that they were hugely opposed to doing business with the Merseysiders, Chelsea did not reignite their interest in the defender, still at St. Mary’s, as he had been unequivocal about his decision.

The champions’ issues in the market were not limited to the above-mentioned names: Ross Barkley, Kyle Walker and Fernando Llorente are just three others off a long list.

Chelsea will feel vindicated by their on-pitch success as well as their ballooning profits from player sales, but their frustrations in convincing targets to choose them plus keeping hold of their premier young talents will continue through their results-now, major-return model.

On Saturday, however, if Salah continues his trend of tormenting defences, no solace will be found in their bottom line.