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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Why have Liverpool signed 2022 World Cup star Cody Gakpo?

Liverpool rarely waste time when completing transfers. When the Anfield club decide on a target, they move quickly – they did this when signing Darwin Nunez from Benfica in the summer transfer window and repeated the trick when reaching an agreement with PSV Eindhoven for the capture of Cody Gakpo.

Until then, Gakpo had been widely expected to end up at Manchester United, who had been tracking the Dutch forward for a number of months. Erik ten Hag reportedly pushed for the signing of Gakpo in the summer transfer window with the 23-year-old an even more attractive target following his performances for the Netherlands at the 2022 World Cup.

Now, though, Jurgen Klopp is the one considering how to fit Gakpo into his team. Most Liverpool fans expected the club to move for a new central midfielder in the January transfer window, but they have instead signed another attacker despite that already being the strongest area of their squad right now.

However, the addition of Gakpo hints at how Klopp wants Liverpool to evolve under his stewardship. In the immediate term, the Dutchman’s arrival will help the Reds, who are missing Roberto Firmino, Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota through injury for the next few weeks and months. The signing also means the long-term vision is becoming clearer.

Klopp wants Liverpool to be as fluid and interchangeable as possible in the final third of the pitch. Gakpo is capable of playing in every position across the frontline. It has even been mentioned that the Netherlands international could operate in central midfield as someone to link the lines, much like Joelinton does for Newcastle United as a forward-turned-midfielder. 

Nunez has played as a centre forward for Liverpool since arriving from Benfica in the summer, but the Uruguayan is comfortable operating on the left wing. He can play in a front two, as he has with Mohamed Salah for Liverpool of late, and is capable of playing in a front three. Meanwhile, Diaz is also adaptable in terms of where and how he can play in the attacking third.

Sadio Mane left Liverpool for Bayern Munich at the end of last season, while Salah is entering the twilight of his career. Klopp has recognised the need to transition his team into a new generation and the signing of Gakpo, coming on the back of the capture of Diaz and Nunez, underlines this intention.

Of course, there are other areas for Klopp to focus on. Liverpool have been repeatedly linked with Jude Bellingham following the 2022 World Cup, in which the teenager was one of England’s standout performers. Whether or not Bellingham ends up at Anfield, it seems likely the Reds will target a new central midfielder either in January or next summer.

Stefan Bajcetic has made a good impression following his first team breakthrough from the academy with the 17-year-old billed as the long-term successor to Fabinho at the base of Liverpool’s midfield. Bajcetic has even found his scoring touch early, finding the back of the net in the Boxing Day victory over Aston Villa.

Ben Doak is another youngster who has caught the eye of Klopp over the World Cup break with the Scottish teenager making his Premier League debut off the bench at Villa Park. The introduction of these academy graduates are yet more proof that Klopp is increasingly looking to the future with the decisions he is making.

Klopp has built a great team as Liverpool manager, winning the Champions League and Premier League titles, and now he is embarking on a reconstruction project to build another one. The challenge for the German coach is to keep the Reds competitive at the top end of the English and European game in the short-term while building for the long-term.

This is perhaps why Gakpo was targeted. The 23-year-old gives Klopp a player to build around for seasons to come, but he is mature enough, and good enough, to make an impact impact at the elite level immediately. This is what Diaz did to great effect after joining Liverpool from Porto in the January window earlier this year.

Liverpool find themselves at a critical juncture in their recent history with Fenway Sports Group (FSG) recently putting the club up for sale. That is just another complication for Klopp to contend with, but in Gakpo he has a signing who illustrates what Liverpool want to be now and in the future. 

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