Michael Edwards’ ‘parting gift’ to Liverpool has now been determined as a key component of the transfer rebuild.

Liverpool sporting director Michael Edwards pulled off one last transfer masterclass before he left the club, and it’s now looking more important than ever.

Speaking before Liverpool’s FA Cup defeat at Brighton on Sunday, Jürgen Klopp said it would be another ‘couple of weeks’ before Virgil van Dijk could resume training.

The center-back hasn’t played since the first half of the 3-1 loss at Brentford on January 2, having been withdrawn at the interval with a hamstring injury.

Van Dijk’s absence has now extended to five matches, but the hope will be that he’s fully fit in time for the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 clashes with Real Madrid on February 21.

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With the Dutchman still out, Klopp selected Ibrahima Konaté and Joe Gomez as his central defensive pairing for the third straight game.

Gomez was having a decent game until stoppage time when he fell for Kaoru Mitoma’s deception and turned his back before the Japanese international scored.

Konaté, on the other hand, was arguably Liverpool’s man of the match, coming up with a huge block to deny Evan Ferguson before Mitoma’s goal.

The Frenchman also made a number of clearances, but his physical dominance was the highlight of his performance.

He repeatedly overpowered his opponents to win the duel, often wrestling them to the ground while remaining within the confines of the law. The away end would then yell out in unison, ‘Ibouuu,’ almost like a war cry.

It is in these moments that Konaté is developing a Van Dijk-like aura, whereby opponents will become increasingly reluctant to engage him.

In truth, he’s been excellent during Van Dijk’s lay-off, standing out as one of the few positives even in the bleakest moments. He was Liverpool’s best (or rather, least bad) player in the wretched 3-0 defeat at the Amex earlier this month, and in the 2-2 FA Cup draw with Wolves.

His commanding displays in the third-round replay and the Premier League clash with Chelsea helped the Reds keep back-to-back clean sheets.

When the news about Van Dijk emerged, it was clear that Konaté would have to take on more responsibility, and he relished it. It’s almost as if he’s blossoming as a footballer in the most difficult circumstances this season.

Virtually every Liverpool player has been questioned this campaign amid the side’s collapse. While the most experienced stars have borne the brunt of it — the likes of Van Dijk, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, and Mohamed Salah — younger players like Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, and Harvey Elliott certainly haven’t escaped. But Konaté largely has, and rightfully so.

There are calls for a revolutionary overhaul at Anfield, but it’s clear that, whatever happens, the Frenchman is one of the players Liverpool must build around.

His arrival 18 months ago looks like a parting gift from Michael Edwards, his final transfer market masterclass at Anfield before he began to defer duties to successor Julian Ward ahead of his departure.

Edwards can’t claim credit for the bargain $45m (£36m/€41m) transfer fee — that was the player’s release clause — but he should be applauded for the timing of the deal. The Athletic reported in March 2021 that the deal was in its final stages, and it was announced by the end of May.

Thus Liverpool and Edwards managed to get in early before another of Europe’s top clubs could snap up an elite young defender.

And, with Konaté well on the road to establishing himself as one of the world’s best, the Reds should be full of gratitude for the remainder of the decade.


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