In many ways it was the classic ‘old school’ signing.
Liverpool’s capture of Fabinho came as something of a surprise when it was announced on Monday evening. There had been rumblings of interest in the French and English media earlier in the day, but the speed at which suggestion became confirmation was rapid – pleasingly so, for many.
Less than 48 hours after losing the Champions League final in tearful fashion, the Reds had begun their fightback. A summer of spending was expected at Anfield, and it is already well underway. On July 1, they will have around £90 million worth of new midfielders to add to their squad.
In fact, given their interest in Lyon’s Nabil Fekir, maybe it will be even more.
Regardless, these are significant moves from Liverpool. No transfer will take away the pain of defeat to Real Madrid in Kiev, but football, as life, moves on quickly. Supporters can be reassured by the sight of their club showing genuine signs of ambition ahead of next season. They’d love to see even more between now and August.
Make no mistake, Fabinho is a coup for Liverpool. He’s a player of pedigree – a Ligue 1 winner with Champions League experience – who can play in multiple positions and, at 25, is entering his prime years.
The Brazilian was coveted by others, too. Paris Saint-Germain would have signed him last summer but settled instead for Kylian Mbappe, his Monaco team-mate. Atletico Madrid were keen this time around, Manchester United have long been linked while Arsenal are understood to have made late enquiries.
They were told there was no point; the player wanted Liverpool. His contract is for five years, the deal worth a guaranteed €45m, plus up to €5m in add-ons.
It is also another example of the pulling power of Klopp. Defeat in Kiev may have extended the German’s much-publicised losing run in major finals to six – something that he is both acutely aware of and desperate to change – but in terms of attracting players he is very much in the ‘elite’ category. And the thrilling way in which his side has played football this season is making Europe’s most sought-after talents sit up and take notice.
Naby Keita had choices last summer but wanted Anfield. Virgil van Dijk had his pick of the Premier League’s top clubs but was desperate to play under Klopp. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain snubbed Chelsea in favour of a move north. Liverpool hope Fekir will do the same – Chelsea have tracked him extensively – and join the party.
Significant, too, is the identity of Fabinho’s agent. Jorge Mendes is one of football’s most powerful figures, his client list featuring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, Diego Costa and Jose Mourinho among others. His company, Gestifute, is responsible for many of the most high-profile transfers in Europe over the past 10 years.
Mendes was pictured alongside Fabinho at Melwood as the deal was confirmed by Liverpool, having travelled to Merseyside with the player. Does this signing show the Reds have now moved into the upper tier of European clubs in terms of attractive destinations?
Certainly, the work of Michael Edwards, the sporting director, and his recruitment team is creating waves across the continent. Liverpool’s transfer record since 2010, when Fenway Sports Group took ownership of the club, has been mixed to say the least, but Klopp’s arrival in 2015 brought with it a more joined-up approach.
“Collegiate” is how one Anfield source describes the policy, with the manager happy to back the judgement of Edwards and his scouting team, who in turn are able to better identify exactly the kind of player (and character) that can fit into his plans.
It was notable that Klopp spoke about Fabinho’s personality, background and family on Monday; Liverpool’s dressing room is extremely close-knit, and the club are keen to retain that unity going forward.
Notable, too, was how the deal was kept largely under wraps. Liverpool, Goal understands, first enquired about Fabinho last summer, when they were also keen to sign Benjamin Mendy and Thomas Lemar from Monaco.
They missed out on all three in the end, but retained dialogue with the Ligue 1 club, and with the player’s representatives. And while interest in Lemar has faded – Liverpool will not be signing the France international this summer – the reports coming back on Fabinho were overwhelmingly positive.
Klopp was keen to add a multi-functional, defensively-strong midfield player to his squad. Jorginho of Napoli was looked at, while there were links with Ruben Neves, another Mendes client. Neither were deemed appropriate; Jorginho is expected to join Manchester City, while Neves will likely spend at least one more season with Wolves following their promotion to the Premier League.
Fabinho, then, was the chosen one, but Liverpool were still keen to keep things quiet.
Last summer’s incident with Van Dijk is still fresh in the mind at Anfield, while there is a belief within the club that the work of their scouting and research team is so respected across Europe that teams are happy to ‘piggy-back’ and let the Reds do the background work for them before swooping in with suitcases of cash. Mohamed Salah’s move to Chelsea in January 2014 is seen as a prime example.
Klopp’s presence, it seems, is helping to negate that risk. His Liverpool revolution may have suffered a blow on Saturday, but by Monday it was back on track. Reds fans will hope there is much more to come.