Having spent so much of the summer transfer window seemingly on the back foot—fending off Luis Suarez’s strident demands like an Australian batsman desperately ducking a James Anderson bouncer—it appears Liverpool may be about to make a few aggressive moves of their own.
On the day Suarez apologised to his teammates for his recent conduct—paving the way for a return to first-team football, if not quite Brendan Rodgers’ good graces—the Reds are now being strongly linked (by the Daily Mirror, among others) with a £30 million swoop for Willian, Anzhi Makhachkala’s incisive attacker.
What is more, Willian is apparently keen on the move to Anfield.
"[Anzhi owner Suleyman Kerimov] made it clear that, if good bids arrive, he would certainly help us go,” Willian told ESPN Brasil. "Now I'm waiting for a new bid to arrive in the next days from a few clubs, like Liverpool.
"If it's really Liverpool, then it is surely a great club. I'm hopeful and very calm, just waiting for the best."
Willian should be a familiar name to Premier League fans by now, having been coveted by Andre Villas-Boas (first while at Chelsea, subsequently at Spurs) and Manchester City during his time at Shakhtar Donetsk. But Anzhi used their sizeable financial resources to lure the Brazilian to Russia in a deal worth around £32 million in January, blowing away the more tentative English interest.
Now, however, the financial situation at Anzhi has changed and their many expensive acquisitions are all available at the right price. Chelsea are already sniffing around Samuel Eto’o, while Willian is once again open to suitors.
"Having analysed the club's recent sporting results, the decision has been taken to work on a new long-term strategy for the club," was how Kerimov justified the move at the time, via an official club statement.
Through the late timing of Kerimov’s volte-face, however, Willian’s list of suitors has changed. Villas-Boas no doubt remains an admirer, but his priorities are now in different areas after signing Nacer Chadli and closing in on Pablo Osvaldo. Unless (and until) Gareth Bale is sold, a deal for the 25-year-old is unlikely to be re-explored.
The same goes for Manchester City, who have added Stevan Jovetic and Jesus Navas to their attacking ranks and are now actually looking to trim the excess fat in that area—with Scott Sinclair expected to go out on loan to West Bromwich Albion over the weekend.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, meanwhile, just want a striker—Eto’o or Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, it seems.
Suddenly Liverpool find themselves with few obstacles between themselves and the sort of player they are pursuing above all others.
“I am confident that we will add to the team,” Rodgers said last weekend. “We are looking for someone top left with pace and who can score goals.”
Willian would appear to fit that bill. His desire to join the Reds would not appear to be absolute, as in the same interview where he expressed his willingness to move to Merseyside he also proclaimed his dream of joining either Real Madrid and Barcelona. But he is an outside bet at best for both of Spain’s biggest clubs in this transfer window.
All of which means it is an ideal time for Liverpool to approach the player. The lack of Champions League football at Anfield is currently going to see them outmuscled for the game’s best available players (Henrikh Mkhityaran underlined that to start the summer), unless those "bigger" clubs are not interested.
Right now, Liverpool are as an attractive proposition as any Willian has available (discounting financial sweeteners that might come from another club bankrolled by a wealthy benefactor, for example AS Monaco).
Liverpool have another advantage, in that Rodgers can play to Willian’s desire to force his way into Brazil’s squad for next summer’s World Cup. Unlike bigger European sides, Liverpool can offer Willian regular first-team action in a team geared towards producing attractive, incisive attacking football—something that should see him excel.
“England is a league I have dreamed of playing in,” Willian added to ESPN Brasil. “I think it would be good for my image.
“I would grow professionally in the Premier League, and it can be a showcase for me in a World Cup year.”
Rodgers appears to have added astutely this summer, carefully complementing the talented elements of his squad while selling off those parts that are no longer in his plans.
But he will have to make bigger splashes in the transfer market if Liverpool are to make a realistic step towards breaking back into the top four—that is just the nature of arms race that is the modern game.
Willian is the sort of player that fits that bill. In other circumstances Liverpool would be drowned out in the clamour for a deal, but luck would dictate they found themselves running almost unopposed.
If the price is right (an important disclaimer, but the English media appear confident Liverpool's owners are willing to finance such a blockbuster addition), Willian is a great addition for the club at an unexpected time.