Statement signing lined up, three new contracts - Richard Hughes Liverpool transfer verdict

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 29: Simon Francis, Richard Hughes and Jay Mellette of Bournemouth during a training session at Vitality Stadium on February 29, 2024 in Bournemouth, England. (Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images)
Richard Hughes, pictured during a training Bournemouth training session last month, is Liverpool's new sporting director -Credit:Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images

Liverpool will have their fourth sporting director on site at the AXA Training Centre when Richard Hughes formally begins on June 1.

Having served with distinction as the club's maiden sporting director between 2016 and 2022, Michael Edwards was replaced by his assistant Julian Ward nearly two years ago before his brief stint saw Jorg Schmadtke take over on a temporary basis.

Schmadtke's one-year agreement was cut short at the end of the January transfer window with Hughes now slated to leave his position at Bournemouth to start at Liverpool from the end of the current campaign.

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Here, the ECHO's Liverpool writers outline what will be in Hughes's in-tray and what the most pressing concern will be.

Show Champions League-chasing Liverpool mean business

Paul Gorst: Richard Hughes may be of the belief that Liverpool's squad only needs minor adjustments this summer.

But with Thiago Alcantara and Joel Matip set to free up a significant chunk of change on the wage bill, ambition to ensure the Reds don't take a backwards step without Jurgen Klopp needs to be at the forefront of the thinking.

That doesn't necessarily mean a spendthrift, Chelsea-style approach to proceedings but with the Reds back in the Champions League, Liverpool must take a proactive and aggressive approach to their dealings this summer.

Who those targets are will be revealed in due course but the Reds need a centre-back, defensive midfielder and potentially a centre-forward and anything less than an emphatic transfer window will lead to inevitable questions, fairly or not, about a club struggling with a post-Klopp hangover.

Last summer's ultimately failed pursuit of Moises Caicedo at £111m, in a campaign that did not have a Champions League budget, proved the money is there to reupholster the squad. So the new-look team, with Hughes overseeing recruitment, needs to backed to the hilt.

Complete last summer's transfer saga

Joe Rimmer: Richard Hughes better not have any summer holidays planned, because he's going to be hard at it all summer.

And with a new manager at the helm at Liverpool, Hughes will start work in a fresh environment at Liverpool.

But there's a familiar problem for him to get to grips with. Liverpool spent all of last summer concerned with signing a top class, holding midfielder, a chase which only ended after a £111m transfer saga resulted in the signing of £16m veteran Wataru Endo.

Now I'm a huge fan of Endo but with the Japanese midfielder already on the wrong side of 30, Liverpool still have the need for a long-term option who can take the team to the next level. Just look at the impact Rodri's absence has on Man City or how the signing of Declan Rice pushed Arsenal to new heights.

And what a boost it'd be for Arne Slot if Liverpool were able to make a statement of such intent in the transfer market.

Who that player might be will remain open to debate but if Michael Edwards and Hughes want to show they mean business, ending a transfer saga that has now run into its second year is a good way to go about it.

Hold contract talks with key trio

Tom Cavilla: Richard Hughes must first address the futures of three players whose contracts are set to expire in 2025: Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk.

This trio have been integral to the success of the club during Jurgen Klopp’s reign and still have plenty to offer Arne Slot as the Reds prepare for a new era under their incoming coach.

Alexander-Arnold, in particular, still has his best years ahead of him and it is vital that those times are spent on Merseyside, helping guide the club to more trophies.

Van Dijk has looked back to his best this season and, while not at the remarkably high level reached in 2018 and 2019, the centre-back remains an important figure.

Salah, too, can perform into his 30s and would be deserving of a new contract should the Egyptian wish to remain at the club.

Losing any one of Salah, Alexander-Arnold and Van Dijk would be a major blow, losing two or more would be unthinkable.

Three departures frees up space to reshape squad

Grace Merritt: While coming to the end of the season, Richard Hughes has to make decisions over three players' contracts that are set to expire in the summer.

The futures of Thiago Alcantara, Joel Matip, and Adrian hang in the balance as the club's management considers their contributions and availability on the pitch.

Thiago has unfortunately struggled with injuries this season and has only made just one appearance due to a hip injury followed by a muscle problem. His time on the field has been limited and despite his undeniable talent, the question arises as to whether it is worth keeping him, considering his prolonged absence.

Matip, who has been with Liverpool since 2016, has also faced his fair share of injury setbacks. Having made 14 appearances this season, his campaign was cut short in early December due to an ACL rupture. As the club evaluates the squad's needs and defensive options, Matip's time may be coming to an end.

Adrian, the third-choice goalkeeper, has also found himself on the sidelines for an extended period. Since July 2022, he has not seen any playing time, even when Alison Becker was sidelined with a hamstring injury. In his absence, 25-year-old Caoimhin Kelleher has stepped up admirably, contributing to 19 wins across all competitions this season.

As Liverpool's sporting director Hughes faces the daunting task of reshaping the squad and he must carefully weigh up the players' injury histories, contributions, and potential replacements.

The decisions made will undoubtedly shape the team's future and determine the path forward for Liverpool.