First isn’t always best in the world of transfers. A player can start off as a club’s number one target but the stance can quickly change once negotiations get underway, when prices swell and demands increase with both player and club starting to weigh up their options.
Liverpool’s success in the transfer market over recent seasons stems from the fact they have contingency plans in place.
Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Andrew Robertson and Gini Wijnaldum weren’t first choice Liverpool transfer targets, yet all four played an invaluable part in helping the club reach the Champions League final as well as finishing fourth in the Premier League.
Alternatives aren’t always a downgrade and, if reports are to be believed, Jurgen Klopp and the recruitment team at Anfield might have already identified the player they want if Ousmane Dembele doesn’t make the move. Our friends at Football Whispers take a closer look.
Reports over the weekend emerged claiming the Merseysiders had sent scouts to watch Steven Bergwijn every week following the winter break in Holland. De Telegraaf said the Dutch youngster will soon decide on whether to remain at PSV Eindhoven or move elsewhere with a number of clubs joining Liverpool in the race to sign the 20-year-old.
Holland’s next big star
The Amsterdam-born winger, who swapped Ajax for rivals PSV in 2011, shares a lot of similarities with Dembele and regularly caught the eye for the Eredivisie champions during the 2017/18 campaign. The versatile winger notched eight times at a rate of 0.35 goals per 90 minutes and finished with nine assists.
His explosive pace coupled with his aggressive style, in and out of possession, mean he’s the type of winger who gives every full-back nightmares. He’s incisive, progressive and is always looking to get into threatening positions. The PSV No.17 is a whirlwind and he’s difficult to stop. He’s still very raw but that’s part of his charm and why, perhaps, Liverpool are taking such a keen interest. There’s a lot to work with but he’s can still be shaped and turned into the forward Klopp wants.
While the Dutch wonderkid had a season to remember, his Barcelona counterpart had one to forget. Injuries derailed Dembele’s campaign and reports emerged to suggest Ernesto Valverde wasn’t a big fan of the former Borussia Dortmund showman.
However, despite this, the Frenchman, named in Didier Deschamps’ World Cup squad, still managed to post impressive per 90 minute numbers, shown in the graphic above.
What’s impressive, though, is the fact the PSV man keeps pace with the world’s third-most expensive player. He scores more goals but falls short when comparing assists. He completes more key passes, too. Dembele, famed for his dribbling ability, is only successful with 0.85 more on a per 90 minute basis.
As always, context is necessary. The Barcelona No.7 appeared in just 930 minutes in La Liga but he was playing in one of the best attacking units in world football while Bergwijn appeared in more than 2,000 minutes for the first time in his career. He benefited from the sustained run in Phillip Cocu’s starting XI.
It’s when comparing the Dutch under-21 international to the 2016/17 version of Dembele that the link begins to make even more sense.
Better suited than Dembele?
Liverpool clearly have a particular player profile in mind. Using the persona radar, exclusive to Football Whispers, it’s clear Bergwijn and Dembele at Dortmund are similar stylistically.
Though the Frenchman is better characterised by his dribbling and crossing, the PSV man is more of a goal threat who is identified by his goalscoring, on-target shots as well as missed shots. The radar, however, shows that the two share a similar playing profile.
After weighing it all up, Liverpool’s interest in the Dutchman makes a lot of sense, perhaps even more than Dembele. Barcelona are believed to only be interested in loaning him meaning Liverpool would be developing a player they don’t own and it doesn’t benefit them as a club in the long-term.
Furthermore, he’s likely to be on big wages and would demand a starting place in Klopp’s team, something which cannot be guaranteed.
There’s nothing about the Dembele deal which ticks the boxes of a stereotypical Liverpool signing. The polar opposite of a Bergwijn deal. The Dutchman would not only learn from the likes of Mane, Roberto Firmino and Salah, he’d also be able to stand in for all three which would give Klopp the chance to keep his forward line fresh.
The 20-year-old isn’t going to break the bank but the potential is there for him to be a world beater down the line. A bit-part role on paper might not be what’s best for his development but he’s likely to see more than enough action, playing in a stronger team, to aid his progression.
Bergwijn might not appeal to fans as much as Dembele, Leon Bailey or Malcom but it’s purely because he’s something of an unknown playing in a league that carries little weight these days. Make no mistake about it, though, the PSV forward is one of the most exciting talents in world football today and shares characteristics with Justin Kluivert and Kylian Mbappe.
He could well be the Dutch club’s best export yet.
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by Tom Bodell