Liverpool could give new manager perfect start by revisiting £179m transfer plan


Jurgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool, looks on during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace at Anfield on April 14, 2024 in Liverpool, England. 

If you were to take a quick glance at the list of players Ruben Amorim has managed throughout his career to date, a number of names immediately stand out.

Beyond your litter of Premier League stars, past and present, three former Liverpool players feature among the Portuguese’s alumni. Sebastian Coates is his second most-used player, with the Sporting Lisbon captain making 172 appearances for Amorim to date.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, Rafa Camacho and Tiago Ilori, both made a handful of appearances under the Sporting boss.

But after a second glance, something else becomes clear. Without ever playing for Liverpool, an awful lot of Amorim’s former players have found themselves linked with moves to Anfield at various points in recent years.

Pedro Goncalves, Goncalo Inacio, Marcus Edwards, Matheus Nunes, Joao Palhinha, Manuel Ugarte, Ousmane Diomande, Jerry St. Juste, Nuno Mendes, Viktor Gyokeres, Morten Hjulmand, and Eduardo Quaresma can all boast the speculative ‘Liverpool transfer target’ mantle. Though obviously, some links are stronger than others.

For example, the ECHO reported back in January 2023 that the Reds were interested in Nunes, prior to him joining Man City last summer, while Liverpool have regularly been credited as admirers of Palhinha too.

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Meanwhile, the Reds have repeatedly been heavily linked with Inacio for example, while the ECHO reported last January how they were monitoring Diomande.

Admittedly in modern football, where scouting has grown more complex than watching an individual player in person then directly making your move, it is perhaps difficult to separate the paper talk and agent talk from genuine interest.

Those representing Liverpool will attend matches to cast their eye over a number of potential prospects, with such a strategy perhaps explaining how so many of Amorim’s players have found themselves credited with earning admiring glances from the Reds.

But one thing is clear at least. Liverpool have had an eye on Sporting Lisbon, and de facto Amorim, for a while.

With the Portuguese one of the favourites to replace Jurgen Klopp as manager in the summer, club bosses will have consequently done plenty of homework on the Sporting boss and his side behind the scenes in recent years.

Admittedly, the Reds’ links with Portugal in recent years are well-documented and extend beyond Sporting. Even if they are yet to have snapped up anyone directly from the Estadio Jose Alvalade, they have signed Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz, and Diogo Jota for a combined £179m fee.

After signing Diaz in a deal worth up to £49m in January 2022, Klopp paid tribute to Reds assistant manager Pep Lijnders and elite development coach Vitor Matos, who had both previously worked at Porto, with the latter, having been at the club when the winger was signed from Colombian side Junior de Barranquilla, for first alerting Liverpool to the Colombia international and helping engineer the switch to Anfield.

"We cannot watch all interesting players closely, me or the coaches; our scouts are doing that and that's what we have the department for," the German said. "Very often we just get a hint that we should have a closer look at him or him and we do that.

"That doesn't mean he's a player for us in the next transfer window but with Porto obviously it is different because of Pep and Vitor (Matos). I'm not sure but Vitor probably watches all Porto games and Pep a lot of them, and they were very early and told me, 'That's a very interesting boy there and we should have a closer look'. Since then we are watching him.

"It is part of the process. We cannot constantly watch the whole world but the club is pretty busy with that. If there's a good player or a real talent out there, we know him. We just have to make decisions on whether it is interesting for us or not, do we have somebody in that position or not, do we have someone coming up in that position, do we have a young player to follow on? All these kind of things. That's the process."

In stark contrast to the days when the likes of Geoff Twentyman and Tom Saunders would scour the UK for talent first-hand before altering Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan, it is normal for initial scouting to be done virtually these days. But Lijnders and Matos’ links to Porto and Portugal both aided Liverpool when it came to moving for Diaz.

Indeed, it was a similar story when the Reds signed Jota from Wolves. When the Reds were deliberating over a three-man attacking shortlist in the summer of 2020, it was Lijnders who spoke to trusted allies at Porto for a glowing reference on the forward, who eventually fought off competition from Ismaila Sarr and Jonathan David to join the club in a £45m deal.

Liverpool's number two spent eight years at Porto in his formative days as a coach and spoke to several at the biggest club in Portugal about Jota as interest started to gather pace behind the scenes.

"Through his contacts back in Portuguese football, Pep was given glowing references on the player's character and he believes [Jota] can become a difference maker within our framework over time," said one source at the time.

Meanwhile, with former sporting director Julian Ward also having his own close ties in Portugal and with Benfica, the Reds were also able to quickly complete a deal for Nunez, which could end up being worth a club-record £85m.

The striker was already on Lijnders and Matos’ radar before Liverpool had faced Nunez and Benfica in the Champions League quarter-finals in 2022.

"He was on the list of players and we have this Portuguese department who watch each game even though they struggle a little bit to watch the Benfica games because they are both from the blue side of Porto, but it was clear he was really good,” Klopp would later reveal.

“Luis Diaz was the best player in the Portuguese league and we got him,” Lijnders also teased after signing Nunez. “After he left, Darwin Nunez was the best player in the Portuguese league and we got him. He’ll be fine here.”

Of course, it remains to be seen how strong Liverpool’s links to Portugal will remain going forward. Ward left the club last summer, after all, while the 'Portuguese department' of Lijnders and Matos will both join him as former Reds employees when they follow Klopp out of the exit door at the end of the season.

But Michael Edwards will have his own list of contacts, along with new sporting director Richard Hughes, having returned to the club after being appointed as Fenway Sports Group’s CEO of Football. Meanwhile, FSG are also close to appointing Benfica technical director Pedro Marques, who started his coaching and analytic career with Sporting, as part of their new-look football operation.

Consequently, Liverpool’s doorway to Portugal is in no danger of closing anytime soon despite looming exits. Having served them well in recent years, it is poised to do so again, regardless of whether they turn to Amorim as their next manager or not.

After Xabi Alonso announced his intention to stay put at Bayer Leverkusen, the ECHO reported earlier this month that while the process to recruit the next Reds manager, led Edwards, is ongoing, Amorim has emerged as an attractive option. The 39-year-old has, after all, impressed during his time in charge at Sporting, where he is closing on a second Portuguese title in four years.

In fact now eyeing a potential double after reaching the Taca de Portugal final, he has also previously lifted two Taca de Liga titles with the club, as well as triumphing in the competition with Braga prior to joining Sporting.

As of the start of the month, the Reds were still identifying and researching a shortlist of feasible candidates, and yet to determine and formally act upon a preferred choice. But with Liverpool’s monitoring evidently extending beyond this season, having learned of Klopp’s decision to step down as manager last November, club bosses will already be well-placed to assess whether Amorim could be the right man to succeed the German as a result.

Likewise, if they instead chose to look elsewhere, there would be method in their madness despite the Portuguese’s emergence in place of Alonso as the supposed frontrunner for the job.

Over the years, supporters have grown savvy to the endless list of transfer rumours, with pinches of salt on hand aplenty. But while nothing has seemingly ever come of Liverpool’s reported scouting of Sporting Lisbon, it could still prove decisive when the Reds make their move for Klopp’s would-be successor.

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