It is August 2017 and Liverpool finds itself under siege. Faced with a crucial Champions League qualifier against Hoffenheim, a bigger game takes place off the pitch.
Barcelona had targeted Philippe Coutinho, then recognized as Anfield’s most important and influential player. Their attempt to sign him has been relentless with emails frequently dropping into the inbox of Liverpool sporting director Michael Edwards.
The numbers were rising steadily, reaching £ 119million; £ 82.35million of that figure was guaranteed in advance, £ 36.65million is said to be coming in top-ups. Edwards never blinked, even though Coutinho handed in a transfer request.
Liverpool sporting director Michael Edwards (left, pictured with Jurgen Klopp and FSG chairman Mike Gordon) will leave Anfield next summer
Edwards put Barcelona where he wanted them and struck a £ 146million deal for Coutinho
Famous transfer guru Edwards is one of the best negotiators in the world of football
If Jurgen Klopp had been happy that Coutinho was sold that summer, Edwards would have made the deal with Barcelona. Klopp has always had the final say on which players move to and from Liverpool, this point needs to be underlined.
There would always come a point in the future, however, when Coutinho would move but, in their desperation, Barcelona had shown the hand to Edwards so that when they returned he and Liverpool had all the aces.
What followed four months later brought down the house. When Klopp was happy Coutinho was sold, Edwards negotiated arguably the most transformative transfer in modern Liverpool history – £ 146million was kicked out from Barcelona.
However, there was more than what was the third biggest transfer fee of all time. Edwards insisted that if Barcelona try to buy another Liverpool player before 2020 they would have to put in an additional £ 100million on top of the fees. It did put them on their guard.
Of that £ 146million there were two more spinoffs: Virgil van Dijk (£ 75million) and Alisson Becker (£ 64.6million). Selling Coutinho has allowed Liverpool to strengthen their squad in a different way.
From Coutinho’s money, Liverpool signed Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson and soared
Edwards’ big moves in Liverpool
Mohamed Salah – £ 39million
Virgil van Dijk – 75 millions de livres sterling
Alisson Becker – £ 65million
Sadio Mane – £ 30million
Andy Robertson – £ 8million
Georginio Wijnaldum – 25 millions de livres sterling
Philippe Coutinho – £ 146million
Rhian Brewster – £ 23.5million
Danny Ings – £ 20million
Dominic Solanke – £ 19million
Mamadou Sakho – £ 18m
Danny Ward – £ 12.5million
It was two for the price of one with some change left over – £ 6.4million to be precise.
We are revisiting this story because it is arguably the crowning achievement of Edwards’ 10 years at Liverpool.
In the high stakes of professional football, reputations and jobs depend on the success of how clubs make their way through the transfer market and few have done it better in this decade.
Prior to Klopp’s arrival, the Liverpool transfer committee came under scrutiny and criticism, but Edwards – along with Dave Fallows, Barry Hunter and Ian Graham – was intrinsic to delivering the men who made it through ‘Anfield one of the must-see places in Europe.
It was Edwards who came up with Mohamed Salah’s name as an option for Liverpool signing in 2017 after Julian Brandt, then Bayer Leverkusen, made it clear he did not want to accept Jurgen Klopp’s opportunity. Edwards and Hunter had never stopped hunting down Salah in Italy.
It was Edwards who constantly suggested the club signed Mohamed Salah from Rome
That’s why Wednesday’s news is so important. Edwards may hate being in the public eye – he felt uncomfortable the only time he spoke to the media, after being promoted to sporting director in November 2016 – but his work has brought him to the fore.
Liverpool have no concerns about the suitability of the man who will replace them. Julian Ward has worked at Anfield for nine years in different technical roles, his contacts are exceptional and, most importantly, already has Klopp’s confidence. The transition should be seamless.
Ward worked alongside Edwards this summer when sales of peripheral figures such as Harry Wilson (£ 12million at Fulham), Marko Grujic (£ 10.5million in Porto), Xherdan Shaqiri (9.5 £ million at Lyon) and Taiwo Awoniyi (£ 6.5million at Union Berlin) allowed Liverpool to sign Ibrahima Konate (£ 36million from RB Leipzig).
There is no doubt, however, that Ward has a tough act to follow. Coutinho is perhaps the best selling example, but some of Edwards’ other activities were notable, such as brokerage deals worth over £ 40million with Bournemouth for Brad Smith, Jordon Ibe and Dominic Solanke. .
Edwards will be replaced by his assistant Julian Ward, who was promoted from his position as Loans and Routes Manager last December.
They may be one of the biggest clubs in the game, but Liverpool, after the pandemic, still have to cut their fabric accordingly.
This has always been the way under Fenway Sports Group, but it has not been a hindrance to success. With Edwards, they had the right man in the right position.
“I loved working here, but I’m a strong supporter of change,” he said in an open letter to the Liverpool website.
Time will tell if the change turns out to be for the better.