There are so many factors involved in completing a football transfer that sometimes it’s amazing when deals cross the finish line. Buying and selling clubs must agree on a fee, the player must be happy to join their new team and be rewarded at a level they deem acceptable, and there will always be middlemen looking for a part of the cake.
For clubs like Liverpool, there are other aspects of a deal to consider, including whether the targeted player will do his best in his potential new team and whether he meets Jürgen Klopp’s demanding requirements. Financially, the remaining length of the player’s contract is also extremely important.
Reds director of research Ian Graham has previously clarified that it was pointless for the club to approach players with several years remaining on their current deals as the costs involved would render such a deal a non-starter. Still, the stars could line up to put Liverpool in place to sign a coveted striker whose contract runs until 2026.
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The man in question is RB Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku, who has enjoyed a phenomenal campaign in 2021/22. Graham and his team of transfer analysts will dive deep into the 24-year-old’s numbers, but even the headline stats provide a powerful portrait of his abilities.
With 19 non-penalty goals, only six players from Europe’s top five leagues scored more (Nkunku finished with 35 goals in all competitions and another 19 assists). Only four men have surpassed his tally of 13 league goals for a team-mate. If you want a footballer who has improved Nkunku in the two most basic attacking measures, you only have international team-mate Kylian Mbappé, and even clubs richer than Liverpool cannot afford his signature.
Thanks to their similar records over the past year, the Paris Saint-Germain striker emerges as one of the forwards Nkunku is most similar with (at least according to Statsbomb data). Where some people might wonder where Leipzig’s main man would fit in Klopp’s squad, it’s not entirely hyperbolic to describe him as a frontline at Liverpool.
Topping his list of the 10 most similar attackers on FBRef is Diogo Jota. More telling is the dectet listed on the attacking midfielder/winger tab. At number six is Sadio Mané (a former Red now, but I’m not ready to talk about that yet), with Luis Díaz fourth in the standings and Mohamed Salah leading the pack.
Even though Liverpool are looking to change their attacking style – and the acquisition of Darwin Núñez suggests that could be a distinct possibility – other players Nkunku is similar to include Son Heung-min, Leroy Sané, Phil Foden, Kai Havertz and Karim Benzema. They’re a hell of a five-man team, although maybe a bit too attacking for the purists.
Had it not been for the four years remaining on his recently extended contract, one can’t help but wonder if the Reds would have made a move for Nkunku this summer. However, you can guarantee they will have noted that the France international now has a €60m (around £51m) release clause which comes into effect from next summer.
Although Transfermarkt’s player values are never quite accurate, they currently value Nkunku at £72million, suggesting he would be a bargain 12 months from now. If he matches his 2021/22 efforts next season, that feeling will only grow stronger.
And if Salah chooses not to extend his contract at Liverpool, the Reds will also be looking for a new striker in the summer of 2023. The Egyptian will be almost impossible to replace directly, but the figures suggest Nkunku could replace Salah, Jota, Díaz or Mané to a decent extent. The timing could be perfect next year for Liverpool to complete the next in their long string of fabulous forward transfers, and from a club they have dealt with on several occasions.