7 players Liverpool are glad they didn’t sign from China snub to Mo Salah alternative

With Liverpool still in the running for an historic quadruple, it’s impossible to ignore the transfer business which has turned Jurgen Klopp’s squad into what it is today.

The former Borussia Dortmund manager included nine of his signings in the team which beat Villarreal in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson the only exceptions. Two more Klopp pick-ups came off the bench as the Reds closed out the game, in the form of Diogo Jota and Naby Keita, while more still watched on in reserve.

Liverpool’s hit rate under Klopp has been very impressive, especially in attack where starting trio Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz were all brought to Anfield under his watch. However, the Reds haven’t always been able to secure their targets, and sometimes this has worked out better than expected.

Here, Mirror Football looks at seven men who Liverpool missed out on, quite possibly for the better. The group includes a Premier League winner, an Olympic champion, and a former Klopp favourite who might have followed the manager to Merseyside.

Nabil Fekir

For a while, it felt like barely a week passed when Liverpool weren’t being linked with Fekir. The Lyon-born forward had a breakout season for his hometown club in 2014-15, but the noises got even louder in 2018 after a 23-goal campaign ended with a role in France’s run to World Cup glory.

The Reds agreed a fee with Lyon that year, and a deal looked all but done. Fekir would later reveal he even spoke with Klopp as the move drew closer, but ultimately it fell through.

“I passed all the interviews, I spoke with Jürgen Klopp, he told me that he loved me, we all did it and, when we were about to sign, there were problems with my representative and the negotiation broke down,” Fekir said in a BetisTV and Movistar+ interview in 2021. “They said it was because I had knee problems, but the truth has been proven over time. My knee is super good.”

Fekir was on the verge of a Liverpool move in 2018
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AFP/Getty Images)

When Fekir eventually left Lyon in 2019, Real Betis was his destination. He has had good and bad spells with the Spanish club, while falling out of favour at international level, but is certainly on a high right now after winning the Copa del Rey with Manuel Pellegrini’s side.

However, the Liverpool links came at a time where the Reds were looking for a successor to Philippe Coutinho, and their change in style over recent years means they haven’t used a direct analogue to the Brazilian. Fekir isn’t a bad player by any stretch, but it’s hard to see how he’d fit into this team.

Zeca

The 2016 Olympic Games saw Brazil win gold for the first time, with Neymar leading his country to glory on home soil. However, he wasn’t the only member of the squad to impress in Europe.

South Africa player Keagan Dolly (R) vies for the ball with Brazil player Zeca, during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games First Round Group A men’s football match Brazil vs South Africa, at the Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia on August 4, 2016. / AFP / EVARISTO SA (Photo credit should read EVARISTO SA/AFP via Getty Images)
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EVARISTO SA/AFP via Getty Images)

Gabriel Jesus and Felipe Anderson have both played Premier League football in the years since, while Marquinhos and Renato Augusto had already featured in other top leagues. Zeca might have been the next to join the club, with Liverpool reportedly interested, but it wasn’t to be.

The full-back, who is comfortable on either flank, saw interest from Liverpool cool amid work-permit concerns. However, after he obtained an Italian passport and took his club Santos to court in 2017 over contractual issues, hope of a Premier League move gathered pace.

Ultimately, he stayed with Santos until 2018, while Liverpool saw Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson develop into one of the best full-back pairings in the world. After a few more years in Brazil, the defender joined MLS side Houston Dynamo in February.

Julian Brandt

Klopp was keen on Brandt when the midfielder was still at Bayer Leverkusen
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Borussia Dortmund man Brandt is a player who plenty of managers would want in their ranks. The 25-year-old played for Germany at the 2018 World Cup, and has been a key man under both Lucien Favre and Marco Rose at Signal Iduna Park.

It’s not about the player Liverpool missed out on in this case, though, but rather the player they would have missed out on if Brandt had come to Merseyside. He was an alternative option in 2017, when still on Bayer Leverkusen’s books, and was considered an alternative to none other than Salah.

According to The Times, Klopp initially preferred the German to Salah, only to have his head turned by the Reds’ recruitment team. It’s just one of the many reasons why Liverpool fans will have plenty of love for outgoing sporting director Michael Edwards.

Alex Teixeira

Liverpool couldn’t compete with Jiangsu’s financial might as they looked to sign Teixeira
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In January 2016, Klopp’s first transfer window as Liverpool manager, Alex Teixeira was the name on everyone’s lips. The Brazilian had been flying for Shakhtar Donetsk, scoring 22 times in 15 games in the Ukrainian top-flight, and the Reds looked to be leading the race.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Liverpool couldn’t compete with the financial might of the Chinese Super League. Jiangsu Suning added Teixeira to their ranks along with his compatriot Ramires, guaranteeing the forward a significant pay packet in the process.

“Yes, it’s correct I want to go there [to Liverpool], it’s a huge club and so many great players have passed through there,” Teixeira said at the time. “But there has only been one offer of 32m Euros and Shakhtar rejected it.

“It is frustrating but the manager and club president decided against it so now I am just waiting, trying to be patient. I know my agent is still attempting everything possible to help me get to Liverpool.

“The team received one official offer. It was rejected but I don’t know why because it was a great offer.”

In 2016, Teixeira was on the verge of his Brazil debut, making the provisional squad for the Copa America Centenario that summer. Six years on, he has left Jiangsu for Besiktas and is still waiting on that first senior international cap.

Danny Drinkwater

Drinkwater stayed at Leicester for their Champions League campaign
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After Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016, plenty of their squad members were in high demand. Some left immediately, with N’Golo Kante joining Chelsea in the most notable switch, but Drinkwater stayed put despite Liverpool sniffing around.

A £14m switch was mooted, but Drinkwater gave Leicester another season and helped them reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League. By the time he did move, reuniting with Kante in west London, it was for a whopping £35m.

Liverpool only made one central midfield signing in the summer of 2016, but it was a good one. Gini Wijnaldum joined from Newcastle United, and would go on to play more than 200 times under Klopp and win all there was to win.

The success of the Wijnaldum deal paved the way for further moves for relegated players, with Robertson and Xherdan Shaqiri following in subsequent summers. Without that canary in the coalmine, who knows what path the Reds might have taken.

Thomas Lemar

Liverpool ended up missing out on Lemar
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The players who led Monaco to the Champions League semi-finals in 2017 have had mixed fortunes since leaving the Ligue 1 side. Liverpool midfielder Fabinho and PSG star Kylian Mbappe have been two of the bigger success stories, but the same can’t be said for the likes of Tiemoue Bakayoko and Djibril Sidibe, with the latter now back on the French Riviera after a stop-start loan at Everton didn’t bring a permanent exit.

Lemar was certainly in demand, having scored home and away against Tottenham Hotspur in the competition before impressing in the knockout rounds. Liverpool were reportedly ready to spend a club record £82m on the Frenchman, who would have joined as well as – rather than instead of – 2017 arrival Salah.

12 months later, the former Caen midfielder was on the move, but not to England. As Klopp found a cheaper option in the form of Shaqiri, Lemar joined Atletico Madrid.

His time in Spain has been broadly fine, but there’s been nothing to suggest he’d have justified a club record fee for Liverpool. And that’s before considering who might have missed out on minutes if he’d joined.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Mkhitaryan had played under Klopp at Borussia Dortmund
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Mhkitaryan was linked with Liverpool target on more than one occasion. The Reds were interested in 2013, when the Armenia star was still at Shakhtar, and Klopp was later asked about the player after making the most of Mkhitaryan’s talents at Borussia Dortmund.

“I spoke two or three times on the phone to Brendan Rodgers,” Mkhitaryan would later tell Mail Online. “He was saying he really wanted me and that I’d get to play with Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard,”

“Half of me thought I had to go there, the other half was not so confident, that the gap to the Premier League might be too big for a skinny player from the Ukrainian League. Two weeks later, Jurgen Klopp broke off his holiday on an island next to Denmark to come and see me in Dortmund.”

Still, while Klopp saw Mkhitaryan’s qualities in the Bundesliga, he wasn’t going to stand in the way when Manchester United came calling in 2016. The manager explained as much at the time, as reported by the Liverpool Echo.

“I knew quite early that he was going [to United],” Klopp said. “There was absolutely no reason for me to jump in there. That isn’t how we work.

“We could have gone for a lot of players. But, first of all, you have to think: what do I need?”

As it turned out, what Klopp did need was Sadio Mane, who joined Liverpool in the same summer Mkhitaryan left Dortmund for Old Trafford for a similar fee. That one didn’t turn out too badly.

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