Timo Werner RB Leipzig 2019-20

Why Liverpool pulled the plug on £54m Werner as Chelsea prepare to pounce

Liverpool will not be getting their man, it seems.

Having identified Timo Werner as a player who could come in and make Jurgen Klopp’s European, world and soon-to-be Premier League champions even stronger, the Reds must now watch as the RB Leipzig striker moves elsewhere.

To one of their rivals. 

Their loss will be Chelsea’s gain. Werner has been offered a five-year deal by the Stamford Bridge club, who have agreed to pay the release clause of £54 million (€60m/$68m) in the Germany international’s contract.

It’s a big move for Frank Lampard, who has already secured the exciting Ajax winger Hakim Ziyech for the 2020-21 season. Chelsea also hope to add another former Liverpool target, the Leicester left-back Ben Chilwell, in the coming months. After their two-window transfer ban, the Londoners are coming out swinging.

Liverpool, meanwhile, are left with plenty to ponder. The league leaders may have posted a healthy profit in their latest set of accounts, £42m ($53m), and a record turnover of £533m ($671m), but even they are not immune to the damage being caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Sources have told Goal that their interest in Werner was genuine, but that cooled significantly in the last month, as the full implications of Covid-19 began to emerge.  

Klopp spoke with the player via video link in April, and Liverpool’s recruitment team were convinced the former Stuttgart man, who has scored 31 goals in all competitions for Leipzig this season, represented an ideal signing.

Timo Werner RB Leipzig 2019-20Getty

The view was that Werner was speedy; still young and hungry enough to improve. He was seen as versatile enough to play in at least two positions in the Reds’ 4-3-3 system, and a clear upgrade on Divock Origi, who would have been sold this summer if a suitable offer was forthcoming

Before Covid-19, the fee would have appealed too, especially when compared to the kind of numbers being spoken about for other high-profile Bundesliga stars such as Jadon Sancho and Kai Havertz. A deal at around £50m ($64m) for a player of Werner’s experience and potential was not to be sniffed at, and the player could not have made his desire to move to Merseyside much clearer.

Liverpool’s stance now, though, is that they simply couldn’t commit such money with so much uncertainty swirling around. 

It is a stance that will attract criticism, including from their own supporters, but one which is in sync with the way Fenway Sports Group has tended to run the club – as a business, rather than a toy.

Premier League clubs, remember, are facing huge losses. On the same day as Chelsea’s move for Werner emerged, it was revealed that Tottenham had taken out a £175m ($220m) loan with the Bank of England amid fears they could lose up to £200m ($252m) due to coronavirus. 

Clubs must still pay back significant money to broadcasters – although the league did secure an important 12-month deferral recently – and that figure will rise significantly if they are unable to complete the current campaign, which is due to restart later this month.

Longer term, the prospect of playing games behind closed doors will cost clubs further. Liverpool are braced for a drop in matchday and sponsorship revenue, and have already postponed plans for a £60m ($75m) upgrade of the Anfield Road stand for at least 12 months. Chief executive Peter Moore warned in April of the prospect of “unprecedented operating losses” for the club going forward. 

“Our revenues have been shut off yet our outgoings remain,” Moore added. He is among a number of senior employees who voluntarily took a pay cut of 25 per cent during the early stages of the coronavirus crisis. The club, meanwhile, reversed its decision to furlough non-playing staff following heavy criticism.

Liverpool’s wage bill, £310m ($390m), is one of the highest in world football. They may not have spent big on transfers recently – last summer they added only Harvey Elliott, Sepp van den Berg and Adrian, much to many supporters’ dismay – but they have spent significant sums tying the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Jordan Henderson, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold to lucrative, long-term contracts. They are the Premier League’s biggest spenders when it comes to agents’ fees.

All of which helps explain, if not entirely justify, their stance on Werner. Ultimately, it was decided the numbers just don’t add up.

The Reds would reasonably have hoped to raise significant funds through the sale of unwanted players this summer, with the likes of Origi, Dejan Lovren, Xherdan Shaqiri, Loris Karius, Harry Wilson and Marko Grujic all available, but it remains to be seen if the markets which existed in February still exist in July, August or September. Experts predict clubs outside the elite bracket will reduce spending significantly. “It will be loans and frees outside of the big boys,” one prominent agent told Goal recently.

Frustrating in the extreme, especially given Werner’s clear willingness to join, and his subsequent destination. Chelsea posted losses of £100m ($127m) in their most recent accounts, but the Blues are backed by one of the world’s richest men, and are seemingly willing to take the gambles other clubs are not. Lampard’s side will fancy their chances of making a jump up the league table next season.

It should be pointed out at this stage that Liverpool could, in theory, be crowned Premier League champions before June is out, and that there are clubs in far worse situations than they are. At a time like this perspective is never a bad idea, and the Reds are far from the worst victims of this global pandemic.

But if the Werner situation shows anything, it is that there will be significant challenges for them to overcome going forward – and that they will arrive both on and off the pitch.