By David Lynch
Having watched Liverpool narrowly edge out Reading on Saturday afternoon, it is perhaps hard to believe that Brendan Rodgers is concerned with strengthening any part of his squad other than its attacking options. However, the Northern Irishman is taking a typically long-term view to reshaping the Reds, as his pursuit of Schalke midfielder Lewis Holtby proves.
As Goal.com exclusively revealed on Sunday, the Merseyside club are preparing a summer move for the 22-year-old whose contract expires at the end of the season. But just what do Liverpool supporters have to look forward to should the transfer materialise?
Holtby was born in Erkelenz, Rhineland, to a German mother and an English (more specifically, Liverpudlian) father, Chris, who had been stationed at an airbase in the country.
Holtby senior’s passion for football had a clear early influence, but the youngster’s hopes of making it in the sport suffered an early blow as he was released from the Borussia Monchengladbach academy at the age of 14, after being told he lacked the physical qualities to progress.
He took that disappointment in his stride, however, joining up with perennial second-tier outfit Alemannia Aachen where he soon made a breakthrough, scoring seven Bundesliga.2 goals in 24 starts at the age of 18. That form saw him attract the attentions of Germany’s top-tier clubs, and it did not take long for Schalke to snap their man up on a four-year contract.
The midfielder’s start to life in Gelsenkirchen was perhaps not as smooth as he might have hoped, as he was farmed out on loan to Bochum and then Mainz with a view to gaining more experience. Regardless, the Bundesliga side’s approach had evidently worked as Holtby returned two seasons later to make 22 league starts, scoring six goals in the process.
Unfortunately for Schalke fans, Holtby’s time away on temporary deals was not backed up by an intelligent strategy of securing the promising youngster on a long-term contract. And that is how the club now find themselves on the brink of losing a prospect they have carefully cultivated for absolutely no compensation.
It is this aspect of the deal which might prove most appealing to Liverpool; their desire to snap up young players at low cost with a view to getting the most for their money is well known. Holtby’s father is likely to also be keen on the idea of his son going back to his roots, though as a die-hard Everton supporter he might not be as enamoured by the colour of the shirt.
Of course, suggestions that such partisanship might affect Holtby’s desire for a move are misplaced. Boyhood Evertonians Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Jamie Carragher can all vouch for the passing nature of such fandom when push comes to shove.
One change of allegiance the midfielder will certainly not be making, however, is from representing Germany to putting on a Three Lions shirt, having been handed two full caps by Joachim Low in the build-up to Euro 2012. This is of little consequence to Liverpool, though, beyond representing the opportunity to acquire a full international at a knockdown price.
Given they are unlikely to acquire Holtby until next season, the goals Liverpool desperately need to add are the obvious January priority for Rodgers. Securing the midfielder on a free transfer later on is a wise business move that does not compromise the club’s transfer kitty as they attempt to cure that particular ill.
The middle of the park is an area which has proved fruitful for the Reds since a move to 4-3-3 under new management, and that is doubtless an advantage they do not wish to relinquish come the summer. Whilst the club’s desire to retain Nuri Sahin at the end of his loan spell is clear, his situation is out of Rodgers’ control with Real Madrid holding all the cards.
Providing an adequate replacement for the occasional absences of Lucas is also a priority for which Holtby’s versatility makes him a fitting candidate.
All these factors contribute to the sort of sensible acquisition Liverpool have notably avoided in recent times, favouring a bizarre desire to shoot themselves in the foot instead. The Reds may not have solved their wastefulness in front goal yet, but a similar approach in the transfer market is seemingly over.
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