Manchester United couldn’t afford to sign Cody Gakpo , but they also had one other reason not to pursue the signing. Liverpool are about to challenge their theory.
For Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, seeing Cody Gakpo unveiled in Liverpool red is bound to hurt.
Ten Hag had a ‘long-standing’ interest in Gakpo (via the ECHO), with whom he shares an agent (SEG), and there was time when he seemed destined to move to Old Trafford.
Manchester United’s football director John Murtough even met with SEG chief executive Keev Vos at Carrington earlier this month (via The Athletic). But as it turned out, United didn’t have the money available to sign Gakpo this month, having spent just under £230m last summer.
And, according to The Athletic, there were also some figures at Old Trafford who had their reservations. United need a centre-forward following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, but Gakpo has operated exclusively as a left winger for PSV this season, and some questioned his ‘suitability’ to play through the middle.
For their own £44m transfer to be a success, Liverpool will have to address these concerns. If Gakpo isn’t an effective number nine option, then the transfer may prove to be a mistake. He may wind up as little more than cover and competition for Luis Díaz.
The Reds, according to The Athletic, believe that ‘he can play across the forward line’. Manager Jürgen Klopp, meanwhile, said on Wednesday when the transfer became official that he saw Gakpo as a ‘very versatile’ footballer (via liverpoolfc.com). But will their vision be realised?
Encouragingly, Gakpo has already talked himself up as a potential Roberto Firmino successor, insisting he has the qualities to operate as a deep-lying centre-forward in Klopp’s system, as well as a left winger.
“When I played at the World Cup, I played more in the centre,” he told liverpoolfc.com. “I played like a ‘false nine’, something like this — try to find my spaces to get the ball and to dribble or to move the ball forward.”
It’s tempting to wonder whether, as he set out his plan for Gakpo in their talks, Klopp placed a big emphasis on this dual role.
Perhaps the most important endorsement comes from Loran Vrielink, the founder of Tactalyse, a company that has been offering tactical coaching to Gakpo since January. Speaking to The Athletic, Vrielink described Gakpo as ‘a multi-functional player who can perform in different positions and adapt really fast’.
🔴 A first Jurgen Klopp hug, a message for #LFC fans, and catching up with Virgil van Dijk in the gym…
That and more spotted as Cody Gakpo becomes a Reds player.https://t.co/Ps47vAqw17
— Matt Addison (@MattAddison97) December 28, 2022
The Dutchman’s experience of central positions is limited to just 19 games at club level and 10 games internationally, but he’s put so much work into understanding tactical nuances that he can confidently slot into different systems and different roles under different coaches. This could prove to be one of his biggest assets at Anfield.
“He is a smart player who understands what is needed and what it takes to play at the highest level,” as Vrielink succinctly puts it.
There is clearly an expectation among all parties that Gakpo won’t simply be a left winger at Liverpool, and that he will be able to deliver as a centre-foward too when required. He is, after all, only 23, and still in an early phase of his development as an elite footballer.
If he can shine both through the middle and out wide for Liverpool, then their arch-rivals Manchester United will truly rue this transfer as the one that got away. With Ronaldo gone, Gakpo made plenty of sense for Ten Hag. But Liverpool had other ideas.