If Manchester City genuinely could, as Jurgen Klopp believes, do what they want, then Harry Kane would be their striker — as would Erling Haaland.
The fact is City did not do as they wanted over Kane, did not offer Tottenham the astronomical sum that would have made Kane’s transfer impossible to refuse.
Even on Haaland, they waited until his release clause was activated and bought him for a bargain £51.2million.
Doing what they wanted might have involved going a year earlier when Borussia Dortmund did not want to sell and paying double, or treble, ensuring they could not be gazumped by Real Madrid, or others. So City were prudent, as well as patient.
Pep Guardiola’s (left) Man City side pay big transfers for players but are one of the smartest teams in the market
Jurgen Klopp suggested City can sign whoever they want in the transfer window due to their financial might
Liverpool ran out 1-0 winners against Man City at Anfield on Sunday to kick-start their season
Setting Sunday’s match up as the evil empire against the noble, straight-shooting underdogs, may have added to the febrile atmosphere inside Anfield, may have added to the coins, the graffiti, the vile chanting, the absence of boundaries on both sides — and that’s not to knock what was largely a cracking atmosphere — but that is only part of the problem with what Klopp said on the eve of the game.
The bottom line is, he was wrong. City do not and cannot act as they please. No club can. There are rules regarding financial fair play. There is also good practice in the transfer market. City now adhere to both.
The league table for net spend in the 2022-23 season may surprise. Which team is bottom? It’s not Leicester City, who are widely agreed to have starved Brendan Rodgers of investment this summer.
Erling Haaland joined Manchester City for just £51.2million in the summer – a bargain deal
City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak has navigated the club through numerous transfer windows
Spaniard Guardiola has guided City to four Premier League titles since joining the club in 2016
It’s Manchester City, because they sold three key players — Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko — to make room for Haaland and, to a lesser extent, Kalvin Phillips.
So they didn’t do as they wanted. They did what was smart. Identified players who were coming to the end of their contracts, or were expendable within the project, and cashed in as a way of supporting their investment.
The idea that Manchester City are not confined by the same financial pressures as other clubs underplays the consistent intelligence of the trades made by Pep Guardiola and director of football Txiki Begiristain.
Michael Edwards, the former head of recruitment at Liverpool, was rightly afforded enormous credit for building the team that won the club its first Premier League title.
Yet the buys that ultimately made the difference were, at the time, the world’s most expensive defender Virgil van Dijk and the most expensive goalkeeper, Alisson.
The narrative has since developed that while Edwards was a bargain-hunting genius, Guardiola and Begiristain are merely the fortunate beneficiaries of unlimited state wealth — even though they won the title last season with a starting XI that often failed to include a recognised striker, and a left back who cost £1.7m from FC Ufa in Russia’s first division.
Klopp may moan about big fees for players but it was him who sanctioned Liverpool’s moves for Alisson and Virgil van Dijk totalling £142million
And, obviously, City’s ambition is to win genuine titles, not triumph in some accountants’ net spend table, but if one existed, they wouldn’t be doing badly at all. Across the last five years, City would be 12th, Liverpool ninth.
Obviously, it’s better the nearer the bottom. How is this calculated? Take every club’s net spend each season, add it together, then divide by five.
Manchester United are top, with an average of £105.4m — and what a fabulous return they’ve had on that, by the way — followed by Arsenal (£83.4m), Chelsea (£78.6m), West Ham (£65.8m) and Newcastle (£59.3m). Liverpool’s average net spend is £36.3m, Manchester City’s £30.6m. So, hardly dissimilar.
On wages, too. Across the five years from 2016-17 to 2020-21 — no later figures have been released by any club — City spent 60 per cent of their revenue on wages, Liverpool 61 per cent, although City’s wage bill is 8.1 per cent higher, £309m to £284m.
Manchester United are the Premier League’s highest net spenders having spent £105.4million
And, no, those numbers don’t include Haaland; then again nor do they include Mo Salah’s new deal, the most lucrative in Liverpool’s history.
So, if City could do what they wanted, they are missing a trick, what with being outspent by West Ham. Yet that’s the myth of the narrative Klopp perpetuates.
He said there were three clubs in world football who were beyond limitations. He also named Newcastle, and we can presume the third is Paris Saint-Germain.
Casemiro joined Man United for £70million in the summer
So they are all lumped together, again, the Arab states; just as they were when UEFA fined City and PSG exactly the same for FFP rule breaches, even though their cases were far from identical.
Just as they were when in 2019 Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, said PSG and City distorted the transfer market, when PSG had Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in their ranks, and City’s record acquisition was Riyad Mahrez for £60m.
Whether wilfully or otherwise, Klopp also misinterpreted the comments of Dan Ashworth, the sporting director of Newcastle, who spoke of there being no glass ceiling at his club. ‘He’s absolutely right,’ Klopp said. ‘There’s no ceiling for Newcastle.
‘Congratulations — some clubs have ceilings.’
Yet Ashworth was not talking about a ceiling on spending, as Klopp implied. He was talking about there being no limit on Newcastle’s ambition.
In spending terms, of course there is a glass ceiling at Newcastle. That’s why they’ve appointed Ashworth to work the transfer market and improve youth development, rather than just phoning Daniel Levy and asking him how much he wants for Kane.
Mo Salah signed the most lucrative deal in Liverpool’s future in the summer, keeping him at the club until 2025
That’s why in the same interview, Ashworth raised the possibility of selling arguably their best signing, Bruno Guimaraes, to raise money for the next round of recruitment.
While Manchester United paid £70m for Casemiro, who will be 31 in February, Newcastle shrewdly gave £30m less for 24-year-old Guimaraes, his Brazilian counterpart and now coveted by Real Madrid as his replacement.
So there is a ceiling for Newcastle, whose owners have the reserves to tell Madrid to go away and find their own rising stars, but cannot due to the restrictions of financial fair play.
FFP is the glass ceiling, and who pushes for its ever-more stringent enforcement?
Eddie Howe (middle) has huge funds behind him after Newcastle’s ownership takeover
The Magpies paid £38million for Bruno Guimaraes in January – the club’s second highest transfer at the time
Clubs like Liverpool, to protect their position within the elite. It is a protectionist stance, and always has been.
The idea that the established European elite are in some way the rebel upstarts against PSG, Manchester City and Newcastle is perhaps the biggest con of all.
Klopp has done a brilliant job. His club is superbly run from bottom to top, yet Liverpool are not the underdogs here. This summer, they paid £85m for a striker, Darwin Nunez, who has scored just three goals to Haaland’s 20, and was not in the starting line-up on Sunday.
In reverse, it would be considered the epitome of City doing what they like, if one considers how the transfer of Jack Grealish has been received.
The reality is that City have consistently withdrawn from auctions and negotiations for players when they have considered the value is no longer there.
Liverpool broke the bank to sign Uruguayan Darwin Nunez in the summer paying Benfica £85m
All of these players have then found homes with Premier League rivals: Fred, Harry Maguire and Alexis Sanchez went to Manchester United after City withdrew, Marc Cucurella and Kalidou Koulibaly to Chelsea. And it wasn’t that City were bidding for bidding’s sake.
They definitely wanted a left back, but instead of paying Brighton £60m for Cucurella, gave Anderlecht £11m for Sergio Gomez.
Klopp is a populist. He tries to position his club this way, too, even if Liverpool have been prime movers behind two of the most unpopular concepts in football history, Project Big Picture and the Super League.
No doubt his disciples lap up the idea that Liverpool are in some way disadvantaged, gamely challenging big, bad Manchester City — yet where is the evidence?
Klopp is a populist trying to position Liverpool as small spenders but the club have been prime movers in the transfer market in recent years
Liverpool have attained 90-plus points in three of the last five seasons, and Klopp has beaten Guardiola more times than any manager in history, including their last three meetings and eight of 18 games since they first locked horns in England. City have won just four of those encounters.
Liverpool’s most recent triumph was on Sunday. They were the better side on the day. Not because they do what they want, but because they have the world’s formerly most expensive defender, formerly the most expensive goalkeeper, and an £85m striker who can’t get in the team and the winning goal was scored by Salah, their most well-rewarded player, ever.
But to put it all down to numbers undervalues the role played by Klopp, and others, just as Klopp’s misdirection distracts us from the achievements of Guardiola and his team. If it was just about money, anyone could do this.