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Tough negotiations at Christmas and United on the nose: Gakpo’s transfer story

It was Virgil van Dijk who gave the first hint that something unexpected was about to happen at Liverpool.

Speaking after the Reds’ Boxing Day win against Aston Villa, the Dutchman said, seemingly inter alia: “Hopefully we’ll be welcoming some new players to our club.”

His comments naturally got fans wild, but they didn’t have to wait long to find out what the star meant. And within just an hour of the final whistle at Villa Park, it emerged that a deal had been agreed with PSV Eindhoven to sign Cody Gakpo, Van Dijk’s team-mate in the Netherlands national team.

To say this was surprising would be an understatement. Liverpool were expected to be active in the January transfer window, but everyone assumed that signing a new midfielder was top of the agenda.

Instead, the Reds did something they did last year, adding a young, versatile forward midway through the season. And now Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that Gakpo can produce the same impact that Luis Diaz produced 12 months ago when he arrived at Anfield from Porto.

The two deals have some striking similarities.

Like Diaz, Gakpo was initially a target for the summer window, but when circumstances changed and an opportunity presented itself, Liverpool decided to act in a flash to complete the deal, rubbing the nose of a rival – in this case Manchester United.

Everyone believed that the Red Devils were the big favorites for a new Gakpo team, especially after the infamous departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, but Liverpool’s speed and discretion proved decisive.

Sports director Julian Ward, who around Christmas managed to reach an agreement with his colleague from the Netherlands, Marcel Brands, after long negotiations, has the greatest credit for what happened. Ward has announced he will retire at the end of the season, but indicates that while he is still fulfilling his duties, he has no intention of taking his foot off the gas pedal.

Liverpool wanted to complete the deal in time for the window to open on January 1 to fend off United’s interest and allow Gakpo to start training immediately with his new team-mates.

Ward was also aware that PSV have two other highly valued assets in Ibrahim Sangare and Nodi Madueke who are attracting huge interest. And if one or both of them were to be sold, “Philips” would have to keep Gakpo until the summer in order to be able to fight for the Eredivisie title.

The deal is a record for PSV, but Liverpool are not complaining because of the money paid – a guaranteed £37m plus a further seven in individual and team performance bonuses.

Considering Gakpo’s age (23) and his form for the Phillips over the past 12 months, the fee seems really reasonable and is also comparable to those paid for Diaz, Diogo Jota, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane in the past.

The aforementioned four have been able to make rapid and significant progress under Klopp, and the hope is that it will be the same under Gakpo.

Liverpool are aware of his qualities, and Klopp’s assistant Pep Linders has very strong contacts in PSV, and the player has been under scrutiny. A great talent, at the perfect footballing age, with a built-in work ethic and desire to improve – a player who fits the profile of Liverpool’s transfer targets perfectly.

Gakpo has signed a 5.5-year deal and Klopp will be hoping that his presence can be felt immediately, with Diaz and Jota both seriously injured and Roberto Firmino also having health issues.

Gakpo is expected to be initially deployed on the left, as was the case with Diaz following his arrival from Porto.

But his versatility was one of the main reasons why Liverpool were in such a rush to sign him. Gakpo played for PSV as a center forward as well as on the right. His signing will therefore give Klopp important options for the busy schedule ahead and the German will be able to change his attacking line depending on the opposition.

Gakpo’s transfer also means that Liverpool have almost completely transformed their attack over the last 2.5 years. Salah is still in line, of course, and Klopp would also like to re-sign Roberto Firmino, but the Merseysiders have brought in Jota, Diaz, Fabio Carvalho, Darwin Nunes and now the Dutchman.

All are 26 or younger, and their prime years are yet to come.

We are talking about players with quality and potential – diamonds in the rough who will shine even more after working with Klopp and Linders.

“We believe in our methods – said the German last week. – When the players come here, especially the offensive ones, they all progress because of the way we work and the way we can help them. That makes the Gakpo transfer extremely interesting.”

Anfield are likely to get their first taste of their new signing when Wolverhampton take on the Merseysiders in the FA Cup third round at the weekend.

It will evoke associations with 2018, when a Dutch debutant scored the winning goal against Everton in front of the Kop.

We’re talking about Van Dijk, of course, and if Gakpo ever achieves half the impact his compatriot has had on Liverpool, then the Reds are in for good times ahead.

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