As Liverpool quietly works behind the scenes on its next move (and a deal for Dominik Szoboszlai is close as the time of writing) it seems as if the Premier League transfer window is bursting into life.
On Wednesday, Arsenal agreed a British-record $132m (£105m/€122m) fee for West Ham midfielder Declan Rice in what looks set to be the highest-profile transfer of the summer.
But just down the road, arch-rival Tottenham may have struck a better deal, paying Leicester $50m (£40m/€46m) for James Maddison in a deal that slipped under the radar amid all the hype around Rice.
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Maddison was about to enter the final year of his contract at Leicester, which was bound to sell its best players after a shock relegation from the Premier League, and yet, $50m still looks like a bargain.
The 26-year-old is an England international who’s made Gareth Southgate’s last three squads, including the World Cup roster, and is a proven Premier League talent who’s looked ready-made for a top club for a number of years now.
Maddison has scored or assisted 77 goals in 163 top-flight matches in a predominant midfield berth for Leicester, and those kinds of numbers are hard to come by at this level.
It’s no surprise that a couple of pundits have urged Liverpool to make a move.
“James Maddison is probably the one player from the relegated clubs that has the class to play for a Chelsea or a Liverpool,” ex-Reds defender Glen Johnson told Betfred. Elsewhere, former England international Carlton Palmer told Football League World that Maddison ‘would be a tremendous signing for Liverpool’.
Liverpool needs a specialist attacking midfielder to replace Jordan Henderson if it is to maximize its current system, someone who can push towards double figures for both goals and assists as well as pressing enthusiastically out of possession. Maddison has consistently done that for Leicester.
In Szoboszlai, though, Liverpool might have to pay a little more, but would be getting a player more suited to the pressing style of play that the Reds use. The Hungarian is also four years younger.
That probably explains why Liverpool didn’t jump at the chance to snap up Maddison as it did with Alexis Mac Allister for $44m (£35m/€41m) when a cut-price deal looked like a similarly inviting opportunity.
Ultimately, though, it’s clear that Liverpool thinks that it can find better value elsewhere, otherwise it would surely have entered the race for Maddison.
One common thread uniting many of the Reds’ midfield targets this summer is youth — strongly-linked players like Szoboszlai, Gabri Veiga, Manu Koné, Khéphren Thuram, Ryan Gravenberch and Roméo Lavia are all between the ages of 19 and 22.
Maddison certainly isn’t at an age where you would fear that a decline is imminent. Rather, with his 27th birthday coming up in November, he’s probably just entering his prime.
Based on the names who have made Liverpool’s shortlist, the Reds want to think even longer-term. They might believe it’s better business to recruit a youngster who will probably sign two long-term contracts during their time at the club than it is to pursue a player like Maddison who may only last the duration of one.
Even if you’re paying a bit more at first, you might ultimately see a greater return on your initial investment.
Without Szoboszlai, Liverpool might have lived to regret its stance on Maddison. In truth, though, its record when it does enter the market means that Liverpool should be trusted to get it right.