Manchester United manager visiting Liverpool training ground led to four major FSG transfers

It is a relationship that saw its roots put down some 10 years ago.

When current Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick took on the director of football roles at both RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg it would provide the Liverpool with an ‘in’ to a relationship that has served them well so far, and one that could well do so for some time to come.

It wasn’t until Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group landed their number one target in Jurgen Klopp in 2015 that things really clicked into gear, with Klopp a long-time friend of Rangnick, and someone who had been influenced heavily in his own management style by the so-called ‘Godfather of the Gegenpress’. The high energy method of counter-pressing, something which he is credited with playing a significant role in the rise of through the influence he has had on the likes of Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann, has been the hallmark of Liverpool under Klopp, a style of play that has helped them return the club to its former glories at the summit of the domestic and European game.

When FSG took over the reins at Liverpool in 2010, once the issue of the debt had been dealt with the plans were put in place to try and find the club an identity with the way that it recruited its players. Investment and, crucially, time was given to establishing a strong strategy that would underpin what the club did on the playing side, where seeking value in players others may have missed and fitting them into a specific system was to be adopted. It wasn’t until Klopp arrived that they had the captain at the helm who could truly take the ship on the course that they had envisioned.

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Michael Edwards, Liverpool’s departing sporting director who has been key to the club’s revival in recent years, was an admirer of what Red Bull had in place with Leipzig, Salzburg and their other network of clubs, including the likes of FC Liefering. So enamoured with their approach, visits were organised for Liverpool staff to visit Germany to see what Leipzig were doing, while Rangnick himself made the trip to Melwood. Liverpool’s grand plan was that they would find a home for their players from outside the European Union to help them achieve eligibility for the Premier League.

The partnership never materialised given Red Bull’s desire to see RB Leipzig take on the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Real Madrid for top European honours. Becoming a feeder club was never on the agenda for them.

But a strong working relationship endured between the two, something that has been evidenced by the players who have arrived at Liverpool from Red Bull clubs, or who have appeared for Red Bull clubs at some stage in their careers; Naby Keita, Sadio Mane, Takumi Minamino and, most recently, Ibrahima Konate.

While Minamino, who has struggled to make the kind of impact he would have hope for during his time at Anfield, was watching on during the FA Cup final victory over Chelsea on Saturday, three of those players were key to the Reds lifting their eighth FA Cup and their second domestic cup of the year, following on from February’s Carabao Cup success. The chance still remains for Liverpool to complete an unprecedented quadruple with a Champions League final to come and the race for the Premier League set to go down to the wire after Manchester City dropped points at West Ham United on Sunday.

Mane, while he may have missed his spot kick, was exceptional, Keita excellent, and Konate showed once again that he could be the man to be the long-term successor to Virgil van Dijk. The Frenchman has everything in his game, and the £36m that the Reds paid to activate his release clause last summer already seems like a shrewd piece of business, something that Liverpool have garnered a reputation for in the transfer market in recent years.

Players who have travelled the Red Bull to Liverpool path, either directly or indirectly, are already well versed in the style of football that Liverpool play under Klopp as the Gegenpressing that was introduced under Rangnick and the way in which they approach the game has remained pretty much constant even after the departure of the Austrian from the Red Bull group back in 2019.

Mane arrived via Southampton, meaning he had already gained the experience of the Premier League but also had become accustomed to the Red Bull style during his time at Salzburg, the side he signed for the Saints from in 2014. He has been one of the most important signings in Liverpool’s recent history.

Then there is Keita, a player who seemed to be weighed down by the £50m-plus price tag and the expectation and anticipation that existed given the drawn out nature of his arrival from Leipzig. It has taken time but he has become an integral part of Klopp’s plans this season and has almost been like a new signing, giving Klopp more options when moving around his midfield for what has been a gruelling campaign where the battle has been fought on all fronts deep into the season.

Minamino hasn’t made the impression that it was hoped he would and his game time has been limited, with a loan spell out at Southampton last season an indication of what Liverpool feel he needs. But with a price tag of £7.25m that Liverpool paid there is little doubt that they would make a return on their investment, although given what has happened with Keita’s fortunes the club will still hold out the hope that he too can find a way back to the best version of himself.

At just 22, Konate looks like the real deal. He has grown with each game he has appeared in and his performance in the FA Cup final, where he marshalled and bullied Chelsea’s £100m man Romelu Lukaku was another indication that he can be a world class performer down the line, and that the £36m that Liverpool paid could double, maybe almost triple in time.

The success of Konate and re-emergence of Keita comes at a good time for Liverpool. The Red Bull route is one that has the least amount of risk for Liverpool in that they know the system that these players have played, meaning that they will find the transition to the Premier League with Liverpool a little easier.

While the signings of Minamino and Keita might not have hit the notes that Liverpool had anticipated earlier in their Reds careers, the form of the latter and the performances and continued growth of Konate has been something that has demonstrated the relationship between the two clubs, while an unofficial one, has major benefits still.

Edwards may be leaving for pastures new at the end of this season but his replacement Julian Ward will ensure the continuity behind the scenes, and he is someone who also has intricate knowledge of the way that Red Bull work and how their role as something of European talent factory can be of benefit to Liverpool, particularly as the Reds continue to push ahead with a piece by piece transformation over the next two or three seasons due to an ageing squad.

The more success stories that emerge, the more likely it is that the relationship remains and that Liverpool return to the well again in the future. It has been a smart move thus far.

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