Manchester City and Liverpool have got their key business done early. The arrivals of Erling Haaland and Darwin Núñez respectively will provide the clubs with great positivity going into pre-season and rivals will already be wondering how they can catch up.
It is of great importance for a player and team to allow a signing as much time to settle as possible. Tying up deals in June means they can sort out the off-pitch details, such as where to live and, if necessary, arrange schooling for their children. That is a real help because it allows a player to focus on adapting to a new work environment and everything that comes with it.
Teammates will be given a huge boost when they see that a world-class player, who will improve their squad, has signed. If Liverpool had not replaced Sadio Mané quickly their players might have been uneasy knowing a top performer had left and there was no one to replace his goals, assists and all-round play.
That City and Liverpool have brought in players will excite the team and individuals will realise they need to up their game because the new arrivals will push them hard and challenge them. Players need a competitive environment to thrive.
When things are done early, it seeps into everyone’s mindset. I spoke to a player who said his team did not bring in anyone one season and they did not perform well. The next season they signed three top players and won the Premier League because new players inspire confidence and inspire people.
For those in the chasing pack in the top six it brings pressure to get things done. Seeing a rival spend considerable sums on a striker will leave players at those clubs asking why their teams are not doing the same and why they are having to read transfer rumours in hope while City and Liverpool are integrating Haaland and Núñez. Watching others improve while you stagnate is tough for ambitious players. They will be wondering how they can match them when they are already on the back foot in mid-June.
Selling Mané was the right decision for Liverpool, not because he is not good enough – he was their best player in the season’s final months after coming back from the Africa Cup of Nations – but when the money is put on the table for someone going into their final year of a contract, it is the sensible option to take it. It was clear he wanted to leave, so reacting to replace him is better than forcing him to stay.
If I had to choose one manager to use money wisely, it’s Jürgen Klopp. I don’t think any other manager would use that £30m as wisely. It is not always a strength for other managers but Liverpool recruit well and use funds smartly. Núñez has a six-year deal, giving him plenty of time to grow, and he will have a sell-on value.
Business-wise, it was the right move. I am sad to see Mané go because he’s been brilliant and Liverpool fans rightly adore him but change should not be feared.
Because of the team Núñez was in at Benfica he did not always have the greatest support but he held the ball up well and could dribble. He caused some problems against Liverpool in the Champions League.
He was very different for Benfica and stood out like a sore thumb. I always try to look not only at a player but what they have around them: Núñez had two decent wingers but the whole team was based around him. He was all about goals and even if he could not score he would hold it up and link the play. I can see why Liverpool went after him.
At City, Pep Guardiola is always evolving; he has different styles and changes the small details often, which he will do with Haaland. City are not going to make such an effort to sign Haaland and not play to his strengths. With the wide players they have and the areas they attack down the flanks, Haaland will be six to eight yards out tapping them in. He will get 20 goals next season because of the players around him.
There will be expectation on him but City got 93 points last season, so there is not much room for improvement. They are bringing in Haaland to keep evolving, while making sure their rivals do not get a world-class striker. They know he will have a sell-on value if City decide to let him go down the line, perhaps to Barcelona or Real Madrid.
There will be pressure on him to make the difference for City in Europe but we have to manage expectations. Many of City’s big-name signings have taken time to settle. It took Raheem Sterling three seasons to hit double figures for league goals, Rodri took a long time to adapt to the Premier League and Jack Grealish has shown how difficult it is to automatically fit into a Guardiola team. But Haaland has the talent and temperament to do so.
City and Liverpool are the teams to beat on the pitch and their smart business sense and ruthless nature in the transfer market show they are hard to catch off it, too.