Cody Gakpo looks set to join Liverpool in January. And things could still get even better for Jürgen Klopp, with the perfect transfer window in sight.
As ever, the World Cup proved a great stage for up-and-coming players to make a pitch for a big transfer move. In fact, Liverpool look set to make history as the first team to make a winter purchase off the back of the sport’s biggest tournament, with Jürgen Klopp sufficiently impressed by Cody Gakpo to authorise a bid.
Of course, Liverpool are a data-driven operation, and will have had an eye on Gakpo long before his brilliance in Qatar. Being brutally honest, even the most rudimentary of recruitment departments would have picked up on the nine goals and 12 assists he has crashed in for PSV over the course of 14 Eredivisie games this season.
But the World Cup could plausibly have been the pièce de résistance for Klopp, particularly as the one thing Gakpo had really been lacking was evidence of performance at the very highest levels. There are debates to be had about where the crown jewel of international football ranks in terms of the actual quality on show, but his exertions for the Netherlands at least showed he is not one to be fazed by the big occasion.
However, not every player got the chance to prove this point. Plenty of potentially ripe transfer fodder had to stay at home and watch the tournament, by virtue of having been born in a country not blessed with an abundance of football talent.
On these shores, the heartbreak of the UEFA playoffs is most closely associated with Scotland. The more eclectic football fan might extend that to Italy, the European Champions who could not even book their place in Qatar. But precious few will have given a second thought to the team that ensured Roberto Mancini’s men would not need to pack their bags.
North Macedonia were the ones to thwart the Italians, preventing them from even reaching the play-off final with an inspired 1-0 win away from home. And while Eljif Elmas may have been absent that day, he was certainly back for the crunch fixture against Portugal, with a place in the World Cup on the line.
In the end, he was powerless to prevent his nation from falling to a 2-0 defeat. Diogo Jota of Liverpool played his part in destroying North Macedonian dreams, setting up Bruno Fernandes for the killer second goal. But Elmas had been a key part of a fairytale journey up to that point, scoring two and assisting two in the final two group games to help book their place in the play-offs.
Though the midfielder was robbed of the biggest stage, Klopp appears to have kept an eye on Elmas nonetheless. When not with the national team, he can be found plying his trade for Napoli in Serie A, the league where his most celebrated compatriot Goran Pandev made his name. And Italian publication Calciomercato reports that the 23-year-old is a January target for Liverpool.
Indeed, it is claimed that Klopp has already gone as far as to personally call Elmas, hoping to take him to Liverpool ‘immediately’. That seems doubtful, but some kind of transfer interest would make a lot of sense.
Liverpool clearly need a midfielder, ideally before summer. But with potential plans for Jude Bellingham and Enzo Fernández, any acquisition would need to be well-suited for a depth role long-term. Ideally, they would also be able to slot into the deeper midfield position occupied by Fabinho, where depth would still be lacking even in the event that both marquee transfers were sealed.
Elmas is by no means a defensive midfielder by trade, having played there just three times. He is the creative force for his country, and indeed has often cropped up on the left wing for Napoli this season. But he does generally offer something of a metronomic presence — if not defensive then at least controlling, somewhat in the Thiago mould.
A more out-and-out defensive body would perhaps be the most obvious Liverpool target, but signing off their January with an extra midfielder to go with Gakpo would complete a more or less perfect transfer window for Klopp. Links to Elmas are certainly interesting.