The outcome of Liverpool’s long-running pursuit of Shakhtar Donetsk midfield player Henrikh Mkhitaryan will tell us a lot about the state of health the Merseysiders are in going into the new season and beyond.
At this exact moment in time, it is still too hard to ascertain exactly what the conclusion will be to the Reds’ reported interest in the Armenia international. Wayne Veysey at Goal.com and the Daily Mail's Sami Mokbel say the likes of UEFA Champions League runners-up Borussia Dortmund and Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur are keen on landing the player this summer as well.
In fact, Jim Daly of the Daily Mirror even claims that Jurgen Klopp and Co. have already beaten Liverpool to the punch by lodging an official bid worth around $30 million for the attacking midfield player, but the Ukrainian champions value him at nearer the €30 million mark.
However, were Liverpool able to successfully see off competition for Mkhitaryan’s signature from Dortmund and Tottenham, then the message that would send out to both the club’s supporters, as well as the watching world at large, would be a powerful one indeed.
Conversely, were the 24-year-old to spurn the Reds’ advances this summer and opt for a different challenge elsewhere, then equally that would also resonate powerfully with all those associated with the famous old club.
The former would indicate that the continued absence of UEFA Champions League football from Anfield was not having a negative impact on Liverpool’s prospects of still being able to attract world-class footballers to Merseyside, as was the case when they managed to persuade Luis Suarez to join the club from Ajax in January 2011.
And yet the latter scenario would be the clearest sign yet that four straight years without competing in Europe’s premier club competition was now starting to have an effect after all on the Reds being able to sign top-level talent from across Planet Football.
After all, this is a Champions League-quality footballer we are talking about here, as we saw with some of Mkhitaryan’s eye-catching displays for his club in last season’s competition against the likes of the then holders Chelsea and Serie A champions Juventus in the group stage.
Meanwhile on the domestic front, the three-time Armenian Footballer of the Year scored a quite remarkable 25 goals in just 28 league matches for Shakhtar, and he created a new Ukrainian record in the process, which explains just why his employers are currently insisting that any interested suitor meets their full €30 million valuation of their star man.
But while Liverpool may be able to offer more financially attractive personal terms to Mkhitaryan, Dortmund can give the player a realistic chance to compete for next season’s UEFA Champions League. Additionally, Spurs can make a strong argument for suggesting that they are more likely to finish in the Top Four at the end season than Brendan Rodgers’ team .
Consequently, while the recent words of wily Shakhtar boss Mircea Lucescu may have stung the ears of Liverpool fans throughout the world, when read in the cold light of day the experienced Romanian coach’s remarks actually carry a lot of truth to them. Speaking to Ukrainian publication Terrikon, Lucescu said:
It is his [Mkhitaryan’s] decision, his desire, but there is still time for him to change his mind, because I think he is making a big mistake.
I can understand the urge to leave if he has a chance to go to a club that surpasses Shakhtar, like Barcelona or Real Madrid, but not many clubs are beyond our level - not clubs like Liverpool or Tottenham.
We are a strong club with 50,000 passionate supporters every week, and every year we are fighting for the league, the cups and the Champions League. This place is good for him, and he is making a mistake if he thinks there are many teams above this level.
That, unfortunately for Liverpool and their loyal supporters, is the reality of the situation that the club find themselves in four years on from their last appearance in the UEFA Champions League.
And the worrying thing for Rodgers and Co. is that it is now only going to get much harder to return to Europe’s top table, at least until the full impact of UEFA’S Financial Fair Play regulations really start to kick in further down the line.
The Reds are no longer seen as being a “Champions League” club on the Continent due to their continued absence from the competition, and as the Merseysiders are slowly beginning to find out, they are stuck in a vicious circle at present in trying to make their long-awaited return to the European Cup.
As, with no guaranteed Champions League income which to rely upon, not only are the club unable to attract the stars to Anfield to help them bridge that gap to the Top Four again, but they also continue to financially fall behind the likes of mega-rich top-flight rivals Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and, now to a certain extent, even Spurs as a result.
And so which club Mkhitaryan ends up at next season will be illuminating for many reasons, but none more so than for what it will reveal about Liverpool’s continued status, or otherwise, as a genuine European football superpower.
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