Liverpool let head rule heart on two key decisions - and dropped big hint over summer transfer plan

-Credit: (Image: John Powell/John Powell)
-Credit: (Image: John Powell/John Powell)

If there was an outward sign of the handover in power at Liverpool prior to Jurgen Klopp's exit, it was the decision to allow Joel Matip to leave.

The centre-back saw his season ended in early December when he ruptured an ACL in a 4-3 win over Fulham at Anfield and in the immediate aftermath, Klopp outlined his hope that a new deal could be struck for the long-serving defender.

With the veteran sidelined for the remainder of the campaign and his contract up in the summer of 2024, question marks quickly sprung up as to what the future held, with Klopp indicating his desire to see the 2016 arrival pen extended terms.

“I’m pretty sure the club will show their class, just how they should do,” Klopp said at the time. “I’m pretty sure the club told Joel already that whatever happens so long as he is injured. Now we have to make decisions together with Joel, how it looks after that. That’s a normal thing to do. But yes he deserves all the support from us and he will get it. A new deal? I would say so but it’s not my decision in the end. I cannot sign the paper.”

Matip had spoken a few months earlier of his own desire to remain with the Reds, stating: "I had the opportunity to do that for a long time and here in Liverpool, with these absolute top conditions, you don't just walk away. In addition, I also feel incredibly comfortable here in my private life. I think it's desirable not to change clubs all the time."

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As it turned out, Matip was quite right. Things may very well have been on course for fresh terms for a low maintenance player who was not one of the top earners, but the injury against Fulham changed the course entirely.

Klopp's hope that Liverpool would "show their class" speaks to the loyalty he has always had to his players, particularly ones who have served him so well across the years, but a new-look Liverpool structure decreed that a new contract for a defender with such a chequered injury history - at a time when there are no guarantees he returns to those pre-rupture levels - was taken free of emotion.

The former Schalke man is one of the most well-liked players in the squad with his team-mates using his name instead of their manager's when they sing of being "so glad that Joel is a red" on the team bus to away games, but offering an injury-prone player, particularly one who will be 33 by the time the new season is underway is simply not prudent business.

Matip's situation is a case study in how cruel football can be at the elite level. That such a cult hero - and one of the most underrated defenders in the Premier League - can be cast aside at the end of his contract while he convalesces from a long-term injury reveals a lot about how the game operates.

That is not to say Liverpool have acted untoward, of course. It might seem ruthless but they have simply taken the decision which they feel will serve the club best for the coming campaign and the emergence of Jarell Quansah has certainly softened the blow of Matip missing the second half of the campaign.

"Have you ever seen a better free transfer than Joel Matip?" Klopp asked in his final pre-match press conference last week. "You will not find a more likeable person than Joel Matip. He is funny in his own way. He has to make a decision, does he want to play on or not?

"We will see that or read it. But whoever gets him is a lucky club definitely, because he is world-class and super-humble. That together is really rare. Like, super-humble."

What they plan to do next, however, will intrigue. Quasah's ongoing development, which was rewarded with a call-up to the provisional England squad for the European Championships, could see him easily transition into the spot Matip had within the squad but with Joe Gomez now something of a high-quality utility man, there is a school of thought that another centre-back should be on the agenda for the summer.

If the call not to offer Matip a fresh contract was taken with a heavy heart, Thiago Alcantara's situation was somewhat more straightforward. Having featured for just five minutes of the campaign - in February's 3-1 loss at Arsenal - the midfielder was sadly unable to contribute anything last season.

The plan was to keep his undoubted quality in the mix of a revamped midfield to offer experience as Alexis Mac Allister, Wataru Endo, Ryan Gravenberch and Dominik Szobszlai settled in last summer. Thiago was supposed to be the guiding hand who would be able to lead his colleagues through the early stages, but he never came close to being fully recovered after surgery on a hip issue in May 2023.

And with a reported wage of around £200,000 a week, it was no surprise to see Liverpool wave a fond farewell as they lamented just what might have been with a fully-fit Thiago on board across the last four years.

"The next world-class player is then obviously Thiago," Klopp reflected last week. "In a parallel world, I would have loved to see the career without injuries. He is, I'm not sure the best, but definitely one of the best I ever saw. He can do things, I'm not sure before that I thought were possible. He is in control of absolutely everything on the pitch. Unfortunately, the body didn't play exactly a part."

Like Matip, it will be fascinating to see how the new setup plans for life without Thiago in the squad and early indications are a decision will be ruled by the head and not the heart.