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Cody Gakpo: Liverpool match Dutch star’s electric pace to steal another signing from rivals

The Reds’ gradual updating of their forward line will now see them beat Manchester United to the Netherlands forward

Richard Jolly
Senior Football Correspondent
Tuesday 27 December 2022 12:16 GMT
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The problem, for Southampton and Leeds United, was that the window when they might have signed Cody Gakpo was just that: one transfer window. The Dutchman was always bound to attract more illustrious admirers in the January market. Until, with a few days of December remaining, Gakpo became 2023’s first major move. The new year will begin with a new club for him: Liverpool.

Maybe it is a sign he does everything at pace. Certainly, he has progressed swiftly enough to swap suitors, from clubs nearer the foot of the league a few months ago to those with aspirations of being at the top. The constant in the conversation was Manchester United: Erik ten Hag spoke to his compatriot in the summer. Not for the first time, given United’s past interest in Darwin Nunez, Liverpool showed stealth and speed to take a player rivals wanted.

United were outpaced, not outbid. A fee of €40-€50m means Gakpo arrives from the Netherlands for half the price Antony cost: the winger who is the reigning Dutch Footballer of the Year is the man who played for PSV Eindhoven last season, not under Ten Hag at Ajax. The notion Gakpo has outgrown his native league is shown by the numbers: he tops the statistics in the Eredivisie this season for goals, assists, shots, shots on targets, key passes and shot-creating actions. Only Dusan Tadic comes remotely close to him in the creativity charts.

Liverpool can take added satisfaction from the sense that an era of change at Anfield has not affected their ability to act at speed and spring a surprise with their dealings. Not the impending departure of director of football Julian Ward, or the reality that owners Fenway Sports Group have put the club up for sale, stopped them getting Gakpo. He is evidently willing to join a club that might not be in the Champions League next season.

He has the air of a quintessential Liverpool signing, and not merely because two of Jurgen Klopp’s best buys, in Virgil van Dijk and Gini Wijnaldum, are his international teammates. The Reds tend to target the rising stars, looking for players accelerating to the next level. They have raided the second tier of European leagues for fast, direct forwards: Luis Diaz last January, Nunez in the summer, now Gakpo.

The 23-year-old’s star has risen in the last 18 months, with 21 goals for PSV last season, 13 and a further 17 assists this campaign, and goals in each World Cup group game. That they came with his left foot, right foot and head show the variety in his game. That he leads the way in the Eredivisie for assists this season indicates he is as much provider as scorer.

Gakpo grew up studying clips of Thierry Henry. He has been clocked at a speed of 32kph, so he brings similar pace. Liverpool have their own example of a right-footer cutting in from the left proving prolific. In that respect, Gakpo could be the replacement for Sadio Mane. If he has a trademark goal, it is from the inside-left channel. Some are Henry-esque, some the product of electric dribbling. His ability to score from long range adds another dimension.

Gakpo has excelled for PSV Eindhoven across the last two seasons (Getty)

He is versatile enough to be able to play on the right. He spent his World Cup either as one of two strikers or a No 10 in Louis van Gaal’s versions of 3-5-2. He nevertheless looks best equipped for the role on the left in Klopp’s 4-3-3. Diaz’s latest injury, initially a curse, could seem a blessing if it made Liverpool accelerate their interest in Gakpo. They resumed after the World Cup with only two of their five main attackers. In two December games, Fabio Carvalho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have been the starters on the left. Nunez’s misses have made Mohamed Salah seem more important still.

But, within 2022, they have now refitted a forward line for the 2020s, signing Diaz, Nunez and soon Gakpo, committing Salah and Diogo Jota to long-term deals. If it leaves Roberto Firmino, who is out of contract in the summer, as the odd man out, it may point to a situation where, when all are fit, Diaz and Gakpo compete for the spot on the left and Jota and Nunez to be the man in the middle. It does give Klopp enviable levels of firepower.

In the short term, Liverpool may hope he provides impetus, much as Diaz did with his mid-winter arrival last year. The Colombian was wanted by Tottenham then; he, too, was suddenly diverted to Anfield. Before Gakpo has kicked a ball for Liverpool, he may be used as evidence to support a case that they have won the winter window. It is often a time when clubs are panicked into short-term measures but, for the second successive January, Liverpool look to have found a long-term solution, at a very reasonable price and when stealing a march on their rivals.

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