Dominik Szoboszlai signing shows why Liverpool feel justified by Jude Bellingham decision

Dominik Szoboszlai is Liverpool’s second midfield signing of the summer – Getty Images/Odd Andersen

Liverpool have confirmed the £60 million signing of Dominik Szoboszlai.

The Hungarian international has signed a five-year contract, and joins with Jurgen Klopp having targeted the 22-year-old after stepping away from the pursuit of Manchester United-bound Mason Mount.

Klopp was originally keen on the England international but decided the fee and personal terms for Szoboszlai represented great value.

While Mount is understood to be commanding around £250k a week at United, Szoboszlai will be earning less than half that salary. His age profile also made him a highly prized alternative after Liverpool’s recruiters completed due diligence on a range of targets.

Liverpool were also able to conclude negotiations swiftly with his former club, RB Leipzig, after triggering a release clause on Friday. Szoboszlai will add a new dimension to Klopp’s midfield. Klopp sees him being able to fill a variety of roles, either as a number 8, a deep striker, or a wide man.

When Liverpool confirmed they were stepping aside in the pursuit of Jude Bellingham, Klopp’s explanation was that he needed at least three class players to reboot his starting XI, not one.

The £60 million signing of Szoboszlai means Liverpool already having two on board for £20 million less than Real Madrid committed for England’s coveted young superstar.  By any metric, that looks like canny work, especially as Szoboszlai’s former RB Salzburg coach, Jesse Marsch, is widely quoted suggesting the Hungary midfielder is “just as talented as Erling Haaland”.

It remains to be seen how effective Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister — signed with haste from Brighton and Hove Albion for a meagre £35 million — will be at restoring Liverpool’s top-four status, let alone reigniting title bids.

But after all the emotion when Liverpool candidly admitted they were neither willing nor able to compete for a £115 million generational talent, the rationale of the club’s transfer policy is being put into practice.

The cold hard truth is that logically and financially, Klopp and owner Fenway Sports Group had to spread their resources rather than engage in a time-consuming saga they probably would have lost anyway given Bellingham has subsequently said he always dreamed of the Bernabeu.

It should be said there was some misunderstanding at the reaction to Liverpool dropping out of the Bellingham race when they did. No matter how great Bellingham is, three class players will always enhance a squad more than a single, albeit exceptional purchase. The source of angst on the Kop was that a club which has been lavished in praise for its forward-thinking needs so much right now.  With smarter signings in the summer of 2022, Liverpool would not be in such a situation in 2023.

Liverpool badly misjudged how rapidly their central zone needed upgrading to avoid last season’s fall. It should never have reached that point so — at the time — walking away from Bellingham seemed emblematic of self-inflicted weakness, even if the same decision may have been taken from a position of strength 12 months earlier.

Jude Bellingham was strongly linked with Liverpool before moving to Real Madrid – PA/Isabel Infantes

Klopp argued with some force that is retrospective wisdom given this time last year his side was coming off the back of a quadruple bid, but he was asked about midfield reinforcement in his first press conference last summer and insisted that could wait, listing his many options.

“What do we want? This ‘Golden Cow’ that is producing absolutely everything, milk as well!” he said in July, 2022.

He had not foreseen how long it would take for senior players such as Fabinho and Jordan Henderson to recover from the rigours of successive campaigns. A month later, 36-year-old James Milner was deputising in central midfield and Liverpool were seeking an emergency replacement on deadline day for their injured captain Henderson.

The average age of Klopp’s most experienced midfield starting options last August was 29-years-old. That dropped as the season progressed with the emergence of 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic, and return to fitness and form of 22-year-old Curtis Jones.

With the departures of Milner, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, Naby Keita and the barely seen Arthur Melo, replaced by 24-year-old Mac Allister and 22-year-old Szoboszlai, Liverpool’s midfield is younger and more dynamic. The salaries of the new recruits should offer more value for money than Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain, too. Add Trent Alexander-Arnold’s hybrid role and the ever-improving teenager Harvey Elliott and the foundations are in place for the next four years.

Liverpool’s ageing midfield was a major weakness last season – Getty Images/Robbie Jay Barratt

Changing of the guard at Anfield

Szoboszlai’s arrival will reinforce the changing on-field as much as the age profile of Klopp’s midfield, the pragmatism of the Champions League and Premier League winning side evolving into a more creative unit.

Szoboszlai is multi-faceted, his productivity particularly impressive with regards to his goals and assists. The Red Bull empire has proven adept at unearthing gems, Szboloszlai was responsible for 26 goals and 35 assists in 83 games for RB Salzburg before moving to Leipzig in January 2021.

After injuries delayed his debut, his impact was immediate with two goals on debut. Measuring six foot one and described as two footer, Bundesliga aficionados have compared his style to Portugal legend Rui Costa. Not since Philippe Coutinho have Liverpool possessed such an attacking presence among their middle three, although it would seem Szoboszlai would be equally comfortable playing higher upfield.

“He’s an unbelievably ambitious player, who wants to win,” Leipzig coach Marco Rose said last January. “His shooting is exceptional, especially from range.”

Will it appease the section of the fanbase who were questioning FSG’s recruitment strategy? Now the Szoboszlai deal has gone through, the critics ought to be temporarily appeased, content that the promise of summer spending is being kept.

Klopp went into last season with an exhausted, ageing midfield. With the first two deals and a reinvented Alexander-Arnold the position looks re-energised. After missing out on Bellingham, perhaps Klopp has found his ‘golden cow’ after all, while still having cash to spare.

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