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Jude Bellingham: Did Liverpool hang on to idea of signing Borussia Dortmund midfielder for too long?

Sky Sports News senior reporter Melissa Reddy questions whether Liverpool held on to the idea of signing Jude Bellingham for too long with their interest appearing to be over; Reds believe paying more than £100m on one player is not the right strategy to rectify their form

Jude Bellingham
Image: Liverpool's long-standing interest in signing Jude Bellingham appears to be over

The chief circumstances have not shifted: Borussia Dortmund's valuation is unchanged, and Liverpool's desperate need for midfield surgery as part of a wider rebuild remains.

Why then, have the Premier League club ended their pursuit of Jude Bellingham - a player they have prized above all others for the better part of three years?

The noises from Anfield suggest the decision is practical, which if viewed in isolation, is a fair stance. The scale of work needing to be done means spending in excess of £100m on one talent - regardless of how phenomenal he is - would not be wise for a business that operates within its means.

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Vinny O'Connor explains why the club have seemingly pulled out of the race to try to sign Jude Bellingham

However, Liverpool have spent a succession of transfer windows ignoring the obvious need to fortify midfield due to waiting on "the right player". That had long become code for Bellingham, who Jurgen Klopp previously admitted the club hadn't signed solely on account of him not being available.

Which Bellingham alternatives are Liverpool looking at?

  • West Ham's Declan Rice
  • Brighton's Moises Caicedo
  • Inter Milan's Nicolo Barella
  • Bayern Munich's Ryan Gravenberch
  • Wolves' Matheus Nunes

The big play was being saved for this summer. In the interim, other targets have been missed out on, a season has been skewered, a more severe transition awaits, and Liverpool's negotiating position has been severely weakened by selling clubs alive to how badly they need to strengthen.

Why has it taken the Merseysiders such a while, with so much sacrificed, to deduce what was obvious? Bellingham was always going to cost mega-money.

Liverpool most expensive signings

The only senior option recruited permanently to Liverpool's midfield since 2018 has been Thiago Alcantara, and a rejuvenation of the department - especially factoring in the exhausted legs and injury issues of it - has been necessary for a while.

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Perhaps Klopp's desperation to land Bellingham lost to the growing realisation that securing Champions League football - and the finances it brings - is now beyond the club.

But if there wasn't an obsession that only one player can cure an ill, would Liverpool even be in the position to plan for life outside of Europe's elite?

This is not territory that they have suddenly found themselves in. The club have sleepwalked to this point, waving away the warning signs amid the success delivered by players who went again and again and again - and are now spent.

In fact, in the summer of 2021, some of Liverpool's recruitment team were flagging that the squad was veering away from the 'right football age.' They felt blanket new contract extensions were not the best strategy for a spine that had multiple seasons of exacting football taking its toll on their bodies and minds.

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Sky Germany reporter Jesco von Eichmann says he is shocked to see Liverpool pull out of the Jude Bellingham race this early

The starters needed to be supplemented in a slow build of the 'next great team'. Instead, Liverpool neglected their most pressing need.

When Aurelien Tchouameni chose Real Madrid as his destination instead of Anfield last summer, the club didn't pivot.

Ryan Gravenberch, who was also on the shortlist, had already been snapped up by Bayern Munich. Other options were passed on to be patient for the right player: remember the code.

A panicked loan move for injury-hit Arthur Melo on the final day of the window to cure an injury crisis in the centre of the park was the club's only move.

How did the smartest guys in the room get to this point? Liverpool have previously admitted that building a team to compete is an easier task than rebuilding one that has reached the summit and set a new benchmark.

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ESPN reporter Julien Laurens believes Liverpool could have saved money on Darwin Nunez and should have used some of that to invest in a top midfielder like Jude Bellingham

They've made an already loaded assignment more punishing by leaving so much to do in one summer. Over the past year, Liverpool have spent £180m on their attack while now facing a near full overhaul of midfield, and the requirement for at least one top defensive signing.

Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner (37) will be out of contract. Jordan Henderson is 32, Fabinho's drop-off has been stark, Thiago's unavailability is a (predictable) problem, while Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones are not finished articles.

Again, none of this is news. It would explain why some have greeted the Bellingham update with scepticism, believing it to be a ploy from Liverpool to drive down his price.

That negates the reality that Dortmund don't need to sell the England international, and also have Real Madrid and Manchester City ready to spend on him, with Manchester United exploring that possibility.

Unless Bellingham has made it crystalline that it is Liverpool or bust, there is no negotiating hand.

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The Times' Tom Roddy and broadcaster Shebahn Aherne discuss possible destinations for Jude Bellingham

Without a drastic change in circumstances, the situation reads like a club that held on to an ideal scenario for too long even when they were a version of the 'This is Fine' meme.

They have arrived at the right conclusion - one excellent buy isn't going to put out a myriad of fires, especially if he's very expensive and the process might drag out - but via the wrong approach in the last few windows.

It is hard to envisage how Liverpool adequately redesign their midfield without having to flex financial muscle. Mason Mount, shaping up to be a primary target, is valued at £70m by Chelsea.

Brighton rejected that figure from Arsenal for Moises Caicedo, widely appreciated by the Reds' recruitment team, and would expect far more for him and Alexis Mac Allister given the season they've had. The pair will not be short of suitors, while Inter Milan's Nicolo Barella is reported to be more moderately priced at around £50m.

Liverpool could return to Gravenberch, who is disillusioned with his lack of minutes at Bayern, and have been assessing Salzburg's Luka Sucic as well as Teun Koopmeiners from Atalanta.

Bellingham, meanwhile, has the freedom of deciding to stay at Dortmund to develop for another season or choose between Real or City.

What next for Bellingham, Rob Dorsett update. Choice of clubs thumb
Image: Jude Bellingham has many suitors this summer if he is to leave Borussia Dortmund

United's priority is bringing in a top forward and they need to be mindful of FFP, but if Bellingham was to be open to their interest, the club would not hesitate on a player they went all in for in 2020.

As revealed by Sky Sports News last November, Real believe their pitch to Bellingham is unmatched: win the Ballon d'Or and become European royalty at the Bernabeu. It is Pep Guardiola's side that the Spaniards perceive as the most serious threat to them securing the 19-year-old.

Bellingham has his pick, Liverpool need a mix.

Liverpool target Rice, Caicedo as Bellingham alternatives

Declan Rice and Moises Caicedo are on Liverpool's shortlist of Jude Bellingham alternatives, according to Sky Germany, as the club look for midfield reinforcements.

Liverpool have ended their pursuit of Borussia Dortmund's teenage midfielder over the German club's £100m asking price.

Although they are long-time admirers of Bellingham, Liverpool believe such a big outlay on just one player is not the right strategy to rectify the drop-off in form they've suffered this season.

Liverpool will be active in this summer's window as they look to overhaul their squad and are targeting at least two new midfielders.

Sky Germany reports that along with West Ham's Rice and Brighton's Caicedo, the Reds will be looking at Inter's Nicolo Barella, Wolves' Matheus Nunes and Bayern Munich's Ryan Gravenberch.

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