Liverpool have major £20m transfer decision to make as five-year plan reaches crossroads

Incoming Liverpool head coach Arne Slot will have a decision to make on Sepp van den Berg
-Credit: (Image: Hans van der Valk/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

When Liverpool were crowned Champions League winners in 2019, their response in the transfer market raised eyebrows even among supporters fully invested in the careful monetary management of owners Fenway Sports Group.

The Reds committed to spending less than £9million, with goalkeepers Adrian and Andy Lonergan joining on free transfers while 16-year-old Harvey Elliott moved from Fulham in a deal that has ultimately cost Liverpool £4.3m with several clauses having long been triggered.

Given Adrian's standby role in subsequent trophy successes and the increasing impact of burgeoning talent Elliott in the first team, few could argue against the canniness of the business.

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But it's the fourth and final transfer from that summer that now offers the greater intrigue and will leave Liverpool's major power-brokers - FSG chief executive of football Michael Edwards, new sporting director Richard Hughes and incoming head coach Arne Slot - with a major decision to make.

Liverpool spent just £1.3m in taking Sepp van den Berg from Dutch side PEC Zwolle, an outlay that may eventually rise to £4.4m should the centre-back play 350 appearances for the Reds.

Given the defender has made just four outings for his parent club in the subsequent five years, it underlines how the 22-year-old has struggled to make a considered impact at Anfield, instead spending season-long loan spells at Championship side Preston North End and Bundesliga outfits Schalke and Mainz.

And it's his form this campaign with the latter that has made Van den Berg an increasingly sought-after transfer target ahead of the summer window.

The Dutchman helped steer Mainz away from relegation during the closing two months of the season, the Bundesliga side unbeaten in their last nine games during which they conceded only five goals. Indeed, Van den Berg, having earlier in the season netted against Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund, scored on the final day in the 3-1 win at Wolfsburg.

Liverpool have dismissed claims in Germany that Mainz have an option to buy the player for £4.3m, and instead value Van den Berg, who has two years remaining on his contract, at around the £20m mark. And there has already been significant interest in the defender from both the Premier League and abroad, with Southampton, Brentford, Wolfsburg and Ajax among the clubs to be monitoring developments.

Even allowing for the emergence of Academy graduate Jarell Quansah this season, the departure of Joel Matip on a free transfer means Liverpool are likely to recruit a centre-back in the coming months. And while Slot will want to give Van den Berg a chance to impress during the summer, the Reds could find it difficult to resist a significant offer in the meantime.

Van den Berg isn't the only centre-back who could soon move on. Nat Phillips would welcome a return to Cardiff City after enjoying the second half of the season at the Welsh side, while the Reds are expected to be open to offers for both Rhys Williams and Billy Koumetio, whether as loan or permanent switch.

While Slot will want to assess each player for himself, the head coach will be guided by feedback from those already at the club. Van den Berg, though, is the biggest call. The surprise transfer business of five years ago could again prove profitable for Liverpool.