Reports of how much Jurgen Klopp has to spend at Liverpool this summer have varied wildly, ranging from £100 million to a whopping £250 million, depending on the source. Big moves are expected following Champions League qualification, with clear first-team needs in a number of positions.
But this summer's spend has started with a reasonably low-key addition: Earlier this week, the Reds confirmed the signing of Dominic Solanke from Chelsea. The 19-year-old striker's fee will be decided by a tribunal in the months to come, with The Telegraph suggesting it'll be in the region of £3 million.
Solanke's reputation as one of the finest young strikers in England precedes him; his 41-goal season in 2014-15, 12 of which were scored as he led Chelsea to the UEFA Youth League title, generated serious buzz. He showcased lethal finishing skills and represented the garnish for an incredible youth team including Charly Musonda, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen.
Playing in that team must have been a dream; they dominated physically and technically, winning the midfield battle every time and serving up chance after chance.
Solanke's predatory talents could not be doubted, but the question nagged: How successful would he be when forced to do a little more in the chance-creation department? Could it be that quite a few strikers would have racked up insane numbers playing ahead of that midfield?
His immediate loan to Vitesse Arnhem, for the 2015-16 season, therefore carried a serious amount of intrigue. He'd find some home comforts there—Izzy Brown, Nathan and Lewis Baker, all of Chelsea, were also sent to the Eredivisie side—but he was also given the chance to experience life in football in a different setting, a different culture and in a less dominant team.
The return of seven goals from 25 Eredivisie appearances was modest; the haul included some typical poacher goals, such as the ones he scored chasing longer shots in that rebounded off the goalkeeper, and some very impressive ones, like the chip against Groningen, but goals as a starter were in short supply.
Vitesse also dominated possession (they were managed by current Ajax coach Peter Bosz for half the season), and Solanke found it tough going due to the limited space available to move into. Bosz left in January and was replaced by Rob Maas, who made the team as a whole quite a lot worse, and they ended the season in wretched form.
The step Solanke took in 2015-16, from sheltered Chelsea youth to a half-dysfunctional Vitesse, was a big one, a bold one. It paid off in some ways, but not in others.
He returned to Cobham for 2016-17, but whatever the plan was for campaign, it was derailed by a contract dispute that saw him play a sparing number of games and stall badly in his development. Things got messy; the Daily Mail's Matt Barlow, among others, reported the striker had asked for a new contract worth £50,000-per-week—something Solanke's legal team weren't happy with at all.
And that leads us to this summer. When Solanke was named in England's squad for the Under-20 World Cup in South Korea, it brought a rare opportunity to simply see him on a football pitch. He's played a part in all four games so far as the Young Lions have qualified for the quarter-finals, netting once from the spot.
Intriguingly, coach Paul Simpson has deployed him as a support striker or No. 10 in a 4-4-1-1, rather than as the out-and-out forward (Adam Armstrong or Dominic Calvert-Lewin have taken that role). He's the one dropping in and taking possession of the ball in congested areas, helping the team build attacks, rather than relentlessly running off the shoulder.
One thing to note is that he's been extremely combative, engaging in plenty of duels each game and testing his strength against midfielders and defenders. One of the knocks on him during his time at Vitesse is that he sometimes shirked duels and battles, so to see him so willing to engage and fight is a major positive.
He played two brilliant through-balls during the opener against Argentina, neither converted by the runner, having brought it under his control in a deeper position. Again, this is something he didn't really do at Chelsea because he simply didn't have to; he was the runner, the finisher, not the creator.
He's also added value in the defensive phase for England, guarding the near post from corners well and clearing a lot of aerial balls early. He's tracked back from his support striker role, too, and against Argentina, where the Young Lions saw little of the ball despite winning 3-0, Solanke pressured and harried Santiago Ascacibar and Co. into mistakes.
There are still some technical question marks. Playing more regularly in those deeper areas and fighting for the ball has showed up a slightly iffy touch at times, and his close control could use work. Fortunately, if he does lose it, he chases it back. One thing you cannot say about Solanke is that he doesn't work hard; in actual fact, he's relentless, never giving defenders a rest.
The more layers Solanke adds to his game, the more valuable this acquisition becomes for Liverpool. His abilities in the final third—be it from a shooting, movement, or one-on-one composure standpoint—are borderline-unrivalled (at his age) and arrive on Merseyside unquestioned, but his all-round game has been an unknown quantity for years.
Solanke found the transition from Chelsea youth to Vitesse tough in places, but it's arguable the rough and tumble of the Premier League was always going to suit him better. He needs chances, though, and given Jerome Sinclair left Liverpool last summer in search of that exact commodity, this is a similarly bold step for the striker to take, albeit for different reasons.