How Fabinho transfer saw Liverpool learn from Virgil van Dijk mistake

As a private jet soared from John Lennon Airport, onwards and upwards towards Monte Carlo, the announcement from Anfield had not long past.

Inside was Liverpool’s latest star, champagne glass raised, reports the Liverpool Echo. "We are Reds baby" toasted Fabinho’s wife, Rebeca Tavares, capturing the moment on Instagram.

The elation and celebration in her voice was that of an actress in a film, when a heist is pulled off without a hitch, and the protagonists’ realisation comes just as the end credits roll.

In some manner, that is true of this transfer. It was a clandestine deal, played out publicly in the time it takes to watch Ocean’s 11, in the hope of landing number 19.

No sooner had word dropped of Liverpool’s interest – and their intent to sign him – and the Brazilian stood smiling with shirt in hand. A fee just under £40million, and another fresh face in Jurgen Klopp’s grand midfield revamp.

The move for the Monaco man was months in the making. The player himself would reveal discussions with compatriot Roberto Firmino, as well as his future manager.

He would also divulge the length of negotiations, with a month or so between contact and signature, although he had been watched by Liverpool for over a year.

Few around Liverpool knew, and it was a deal which was accompanied with little build-up or speculation, and concluded without a hint of drama or saga.

The end result was one of Ligue 1’s top prospects, one who had been interesting a number of top European clubs, an official Liverpool player before summer had officially begun.

How different this has been compared to 12 months ago. There was no treading carefully, no blink-and-you-miss-it dealings. A Dutchman on the verge of his dream Anfield move, only to see it all came crashing down around him.

Liverpool received a lot of criticism for their handling of the Virgil van Dijk saga, and rightly so. Within 48 hours, it had become known the club were in talks with the Southampton man and that Merseyside was his preferred destination; within another 24, there had been a grovelling apology, a withdrawal of interest, and the threat of being reported to the Premier League by a very unhappy Southampton.

Not only did it deal a blow to Liverpool’s public perception – even though, in truth, the club did no more than is standard practice at times amongst others – but it damaged their summer transfer plans. Van Dijk was meant to be the man to solidify the defence, to usher in a side primed for a tilt at trophies on all four fronts; given the evidence of his six-month spell so far, it was a fair expectation.

As June, July, and then August rumbled on, so did the clamour for a new centre-back; one not as good, not as expensive, but far easier to sign.

There was undoubted disruption, as proved with the three conceded at Arsenal, the four shipped at Tottenham, and the five let in against Manchester City. Even the opening day 3-3 draw with Watford demonstrated what a botched transfer deal can do to a side.

But a mistake is only truly fatal if it isn’t learnt from. And so, back to Fabinho.

Liverpool had identified the midfield as a key area to develop, especially with Emre Can departing. Though it was due to an injury crisis, the last two months of the season were played with just three fit central midfielders until Can and Adam Lallana returned towards the end of the campaign.



The arrival of Naby Keita would help with that, but a more defensive-minded player was sought. Jorginho was one name watched and linked, but Fabinho soon emerged as a target, having watched him last summer following his title-winning exploits in France.

The fact it was done with minimum of fuss, and without a modicum of drama, is testament to the club, including sporting director Michael Edwards. It now allows Fabinho to enjoy his month off before returning to pre-season training on the first day, alongside Keita, and allowing Klopp to begin working with two-thirds of a new-look midfield.

There is more to come.

The pursuit of Nabil Fekir is a little more public, but that is due to the words of those in France, rather than Liverpool. Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas has never been one to shun the possibility of negotiating in a wider domain.

Likewise, Monchi at Roma will continue to talk Alisson, even though the Reds would need the Italian club’s asking price to fall. A move for a versatile forward up front should also follow.

But after the work done for the Fabinho move, hitches are likeliest to come on the opposing side. Liverpool have seemingly learnt from their errors of last summer. Maintaining that is the next step, and then it will be translating it into success on the pitch.

But so far, so good. For once, a summer of silence should not be a reason for concern.

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