James Milner has challenged potential Liverpool signings to prove they belong on the Champions League stage, admitting it would be disrespectful for players to opt for Anfield solely to feature in the competition.
The Reds consolidated fourth spot with a 3-0 home victory over Middlesbrough in the final game of the season on Sunday to finish above Arsenal and Manchester United.
They will face a play-off to participate among Europe’s elite next season, but will first turn their focus towards recruitment. Jurgen Klopp revealed much of the groundwork “is already pretty done” for the summer transfer window, where bringing in a pedigreed centre-back like Virgil van Dijk or Kalidou Koulibaly is high on Liverpool’s priority list, while Naby Keita is the top midfield target as revealed by Goal.
Mohamed Salah is one of the alternative wide forward candidates to Julian Brandt, who does not want to gamble on getting regular starts next season and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a versatile squad option. Left-backs have also been assessed with Fulham wonderkid Ryan Sessegnon highly coveted, while more experienced players are also being considered.
And while Milner admits a return to the prestigious tournament will add to Liverpool’s allure for incomers, he believes there are greater reasons to want to join the club.
“I think so,” responded the vice-captain when he was asked if the possibility of mixing it with the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich again make the Merseysiders a more attractive proposition. “But it’s disrespectful to the club if you say the only reason you are going to Liverpool is for the Champions League.
“With the history, the manager, and the players at this club, it’s slightly disrespectful if the only reason you come is that. It’s one thing saying you’re coming to play Champions League and another proving you’re good enough to play in it. You have to come here and do the business.”
Milner is confident Liverpool’s upward trajectory will continue given the progress they have made in Klopp’s first full campaign in charge.
Only twice in the preceding 10 seasons have the Reds recorded a higher points total than the 76 amassed, and on just two occasions in the previous eight have they finished in the top four.
“It helps,” said the 31-year-old, who would operate as a left-back again next season if Klopp required. “Obviously the bigger the games you play and the bigger the competitions, the more we are going to improve as a team. It’s about putting yourselves in those situations. This season we have improved. Last year there was good and bad. Most of the games this year, even though we have lost points, we have dominated.
“Last year we were more Jekyll and Hyde – we could be brilliant one week and terrible the next.
"This year we have dominated possession and made steps forward, winning at tough places like West Brom and Stoke. That is another side to our squad. It’s a young squad if you look at it, which is another positive – although maybe not for me because it makes me feel a lot older.
“The longer we are together, it is better and I am sure there will be more new faces in the summer. But it’s the manager's first full season, the stadium was changing [with the new Main Stand], there are plans for a new training ground…
“It’s exciting times for the football club, and that is something I wanted to part of when I came here. Hopefully now we can stick a few trophies in the cabinet. That is the next step.”