How Liverpool swooped United for Dutch World Cup star

    For Virgil van Dijk in 2017, read Cody Gakpo in 2022. Jurgen Klopp must now hope the symmetry continues when the focus turns to the forward’s impact on the pitch.As Gakpo prepared to arrive on Merseyside for a medical that will finalise his pounds 37 million ($59m) – rising to pounds 44 million – move from PSV Eindhoven, there was no longer any rush to conclude the formalities of the transfer. Friday’s match against Leicester will be an occasion to enjoy, rather than be immersed in, just as it was for Van Dijk five years ago, given the transfer window does not officially open until January 1.Gakpo would be eligible for the Premier League trip to face Brentford on Monday but, having only returned to training at the end of last week after Holland’s World Cup quarter-final exit to Argentina, the FA Cup third-round meeting with Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield on January 7 seems a more realistic option. Van Dijk will no doubt remind his compatriot that he scored on his debut, against Everton, also in a third-round tie.This waiting game serves as a contrast to the speed with which Liverpool moved to capture the 23-year-old and take him off the market before the winter window had even opened. Gakpo had been a target for next summer but, with Manchester United and other rivals circling, Liverpool decided to accelerate their interest and negotiations advanced on Christmas Day between the club’s sporting director, Julian Ward, and his PSV counterpart, Marcel Brands.The Manchester United manager, Erik ten Hag, shares the same agency, SEG, as Gakpo, and it had been thought that Ten Hag was in pole position to sign his compatriot. But Liverpool’s actions mirror the pursuit of Luis Diaz 12 months ago, when the club brought forward their transfer plans to gazump Tottenham Hotspur for the Colombia winger.The arrival of Gakpo gives Klopp the chance to rotate in forward areas, given that Diaz and Diogo Jota are both recovering from long-term injuries and likely to be sidelined until March.Liverpool’s priority for the coming months is to gatecrash the top four – they are at present five points behind fourth-placed Tottenham. Gakpo’s presence should bolster those ambitions. Given the absences of Diaz and Jota, Liverpool are likely to use him on the left of a front three, but he is a versatile player who can be played at centre forward – as he was at times for Holland during the World Cup, scoring three goals in five matches – as a No 10 and also on the right. That gives Klopp the flexibility he likes from his forwards, with Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Diaz and Jota all able to play in multiple roles.Gakpo should also enhance Liverpool’s potency. He has 18 goals and 18 assists in 34 appearances in all competitions this season and ranks first in the Dutch top flight for goals, assists, shots and chances created. Gakpo’s signing also shows that, despite the Liverpool owner, Fenway Sports Group, seeking investment, and Ward’s looming departure at the end of the season, business can take place as normal. Should they prevail in the pursuit of a top-four spot, the additional money that goes with competing in the Champions League will in effect pay for Gakpo’s deal.Taking their place among Europe’s elite would also help in Liverpool’s pursuit of Borussia Dortmund’s England star Jude Bellingham. A pounds 130 million price tag is hefty, but Liverpool will work to structure a deal in an attempt to ward off their rivals.It is something they are proving accomplished at doing.

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