In the last week, Liverpool midfielders Jordan Henderson and Fabinho have both been linked with lucrative moves to the Saudi Pro League. Former Liverpool midfielder Steve McManaman believes that there’s a chance that the club’s captain Jordan Henderson will remain at Anfield this summer. McManaman also spoke to Betfred regarding Liverpool’s interest in Kalvin Phillips and Roméo Lavia, as well as what he believes Jude Bellingham needs to do to be successful at Real Madrid.

Jordan Henderson is reportedly considering leaving Liverpool this summer and joining his former teammate Steven Gerrard at Al-Ettifaq in Saudi Arabia. How much of a shame do you believe this would be if it came to fruition, or do you have no problem with players going out to make a fortune in Saudi Arabia?

“Well I don’t know if the move involving Jordan will happen because he’s gone with Liverpool to Germany for pre-season. Fabinho hasn’t gone to Germany, so it does look like he may leave the club. It’s like when players made the move to China a few years ago, it’s part of a new movement. We’re going to have to wait and see if Jordan actually makes the move or not, but it seems less likely than the Fabinho deal to be honest.”

Jordan has faced some backlash from LGBT+ supporters groups in the wake of the news of his potential move to Saudi Arabia. Do you believe Jordan could opt against the move due to the backlash he’s received?

“I believe Jordan will have to think about it, of course he will. He’s also a permanent fixture in the England team, so I presume he will have to give that up if he moves to Saudi Arabia. That’s another scenario he needs to think about and he’s also going to have to consider what the living conditions are going to be like for his family as well, which is a big issue really. WIll he take his wife out there? Will he take his children out there? If you’re not going to do that and you go out there for two or three years, then it’s going to be an even tougher decision, so I’m sure there are many different factors weighing on his mind regarding whether he should go or not. 

“I’m not in his boots, so I have no idea what the actual figures surrounding the deal are, but if it’s an astonishing amount of money, then he will have to weigh up the pros and cons regarding whether it’s the right move for him and his family. It’s a big move and that’s not just regarding the money, it’s about everything else. If I was in his position, my principles would be that you can’t necessarily take your family over there, they’d probably have to live elsewhere, so you’d effectively be living there on your own.”

If Jordan was to move to Saudi Arabia this summer, do you believe his England career will be finished?

“I think his chances of getting into England’s Euro 2024 squad are finished if he moves to Saudi Arabia. He won’t get into the England team. The football isn’t competitive enough, you can’t keep an eye on him, so it goes without saying that he will lose his place in the England squad if he moves to Saudi Arabia. That’s something that he will have to give up straight away and I believe everybody realises that. 

“He could go over there and be the league’s player of the year, but when you go over to a lesser league such as the Saudi Pro League, you give up your chance of representing your country because you’re not playing the highest standard of football. Jordan can’t expect to remain in the England squad when his international colleagues will be playing at the highest level every single week.”

If Henderson was to leave this summer, then who do you believe should replace him as Liverpool’s permanent captain

“It will probably be Virgil [van Dijk]. James Milner has already gone and I know we’re speaking hypothetically about Jordan departing. The fact he’s gone for pre-season training and that he came back to Liverpool looking fit, well and raring to go could be an indication that he’s not planning to leave. I personally don’t believe Jordan will leave.” 

Fabinho could also be on the way to Saudi Arabia with Al-Ittihad, a side that have already added N’Golo Kanté and Karim Benzema to their ranks so far this summer. If he and Henderson leave this summer, alongside the departures of James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keïta, do you believe that Liverpool will be losing too many midfielders from their squad? Also how much of an impact will their departures have on the dressing room?

“If Liverpool are prepared to allow players to leave the club, then they will already have replacements lined up. Are they potentially losing a lot of experience? Absolutely. If Jordan Henderson and Fabinho leave, along with James Milner’s departure, then they’re going to miss their experience because they’ve been so successful over the years. If Fabinho and Jordan are allowed to go, then I presume they will have an arrival lined up straight away as I don’t believe the club would be that naive. 

“The departures of Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keïta were in the pipeline a long time ago, so Liverpool were prepared for that and they brought in Alexis Mac Allister from Brighton early on in the window. They were also looking at Dominik Szoboszlai for a while. They both came in almost instantaneously, so there’s no way on earth that they’ll allow an additional two midfielders to leave without bringing somebody else in. I can see one midfielder leaving, but I can’t see two of them going.”

Sticking on the topic of players moving to Saudi, do you believe the Saudi Pro League poses a real threat to the biggest leagues in Europe?

“No. I don’t really know what’s happening, but I struggle with the figures as I don’t understand why they need to be so big. When you look at the Karim Benzema figures or the N’Golo Kanté figures, then if somebody at the club is earning £10 million-a-year at the club, then why not go to £30 million-a-year? It just looks a little bit like it was in China a while ago, where the figures were so extraordinary, that they proved to be unsustainable and players and managers stopped going. I know that the Saudi government has taken over four of the teams, but even with all the money on offer I still can’t understand the appeal to play over there. The lifestyle is so different and the European players and those from western cultures can often find it hard to adjust. Many may choose not to take their family and then if you are without them, it can make it really hard on the players in the longer term as it can be lonely.

“They’re trying to hoover up a lot of the players on free contracts and I can understand that. That’s why they’re going for a lot of players who are older, that don’t command a large transfer fee, but we’re at the very early stages of this project and we have to wait and see how it plays out. In the long term I just can’t see the sustainable value of paying players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kanté, such astronomical wages when they could potentially retire in the next two years or so. For other younger players I believe they’re just going to go, play, make their money and then leave at the earliest opportunity to move back home.

“I presume every club is going to lose hundreds of millions of pounds because it’s not like they’re going to make that money back from record crowds or from being successful. If the biggest clubs in the world have to balance their books, then you can’t see how it can sustain itself if the Saudi clubs continue to pay the stars of the league an absolute fortune. It’s going to be incredibly interesting to see how it all plays out.”

Southampton’s Roméo Lavia is heavily linked with a move to Anfield at present and considering that Fabinho and Jordan Henderson could soon depart the club, do you believe it’s a risky move replacing them with a player that only has one year of senior football under their belt?

“Hypothetically, if Fabinho and Jordan Henderson both leave, you’re not going to get the same level of quality from Roméo as he is still a young kid. However, I don’t believe it will be risky as Liverpool still have enough midfielders already at the club, but it goes without saying that Romeo won’t provide the same level of quality and experience. But if only one of them leaves and another midfielder comes in, then I don’t think they’ll be leaving themselves short at all.” 

With additional midfield departures a possibility, it’s been reported that Liverpool could be prepared to hijack Chelsea’s bid to sign Brighton midfielder Moisés Caicedo. His move to Stamford Bridge has stalled due to Brighton demanding a £100 million fee for the Ecuadorian. Do you believe that Liverpool would offer such a fee for Caicedo if they’re in desperate need for midfield reinforcement? Is this a move that you’d welcome as a former player of the club?

“No, they won’t pay that money. I understand what Brighton are doing and if it’s true that Arsenal offered them a lot of money in the January window and they said no, then now his price tag would have gone up even more, so I don’t believe that any team would pay £100 million for him.

“He’s a good defensive midfielder, but the prices we’re talking about are ridiculous aren’t they? I presume that Declan Rice’s move to Arsenal has set the benchmark now. Clubs can play the game now and claim if one defensive midfielder is worth £100 million then their player is also worth that too. I very much doubt that Liverpool would pay £100 million for Caicedo.”

Another shock midfield target said to be on Jürgen Klopp’s shortlist is Manchester City’s Kalvin Phillips. Now considering the struggles he’s had at City with both injuries and lack of gametime, do you believe that Kalvin would be a serious target for Liverpool?

“If Liverpool lose Fabinho, then I believe that Kalvin’s name would come into the mix. He’s English, he’s an England international, he plays in that role and I don’t believe that Manchester City would expect a club to break the bank for him. There may be a deal there to pursue and if Jürgen Klopp is to lose a defensive midfielder this summer, then a move for Kalvin could certainly be an option, but it all depends on whether Manchester City would be willing to let him go to a Premier League rival. 

“Manchester City have brought in Mateo Kovačić after losing İlkay Gündoğan, so they still have a similar nucleus of players that were there last season, so it’s still up in the air, but a move for Kalvin could easily happen as he fits the profile of what Liverpool would need if Fabinho leaves. He likes to work hard, he wants to prove a point, but it all depends on whether Pep Guardiola would be willing to let him join a rival and whether Kalvin would want to leave Manchester City after they’ve just won the treble.”

Do you believe Liverpool will be challenging for the Premier League title next season? If not them, then who do you believe will be Manchester City’s closest challenger to the Premier League crown?

“I believe Liverpool could challenge. If you go back to last season, they were full of injuries for a large period of the campaign, which was very disappointing, but they finished the season off very well and in good form, so I don’t see why they can’t challenge. 

“The forward line should be a lot fitter next season with Luis Díaz and Diogo Jota both being back from injury and I expect Darwin Núñez to improve as well. The main thing for Liverpool is keeping their key players fit, as the injuries in the early part of last season really affected them and you can’t have that if you’re attempting to mount a title challenge. 

“I can see Liverpool challenging and by looking at other club’s transfer business at the minute, you’d expect Arsenal to have a go as well with the additions of Declan Rice, Kai Havertz and Jurrien Timber, three positions that they needed to strengthen in this summer and they’ve got their business done early. 

“You don’t know what’s happened at Chelsea and despite the appointment of a wonderful manager in Mauricio Pochettino, with the merry-go-round of players coming in and going out, it just has to cause disruption. Manchester United have brought Mason Mount in, but we’re all waiting to see if they buy a striker and a goalkeeper. Before we can predict who’s going to challenge for the title, we need to see what all the clubs do transferwise between now and the start of the season, as we can only take things on face value at the moment.

“Liverpool have already brought in two midfielders and we know Trent Alexander-Arnold can play there too, so they could potentially bring in another right-back this summer as well. Manchester City and Arsenal look as if they’re the two most stable teams at the moment. They’re the two clubs with least to answer at this moment in time.” 

Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai have already arrived at Anfield this summer, from Brighton and RB Leipzig respectively. What are your thoughts on Liverpool’s transfer activity so far in the current transfer window?

“I think you have to be very happy with those two signings. They fit the Liverpool profile very much, the business was done early and they’re two young midfielders that you’d expect to get better. You have Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones, who both had good summers with England’s under-21’s and are both getting better also, along with Stefan Bajčetić who’s back from injury. 

“When you look at it structurally, they look as if they’ve got a really strong midfield, but we just need to wait and see if any of their current midfielders depart in the transfer window. Even if Fabinho stays, he’s still 29 years old and I’m sure Liverpool would be happy for him to stay if he decides to not move to Saudi Arabia.”

How many additional signings do you believe Liverpool need to make between now and the start of the Premier League season and in what areas?

“If they keep Fabinho and Henderson, then I believe they only need one more signing really. Whether that’s a right-back so Trent Alexander-Arnold can play in the middle of midfield, or whether they buy another midfielder so Trent can stay as a right-back is what we have to wait and see. Those are the areas that Liverpool will be probably looking at because we’ve seen the previous links with Ryan Gravenberch, Jurrien Timber and Benjamin Pavard, so it’s clear that they’re looking to fill either of those positions and that’s dependent on where Trent is going to play next season.”

Do you believe the departures of a number of midfielders this summer could result in Trent Alexander-Arnold playing in that area on a more permanent basis next season?

“At this moment in time, I believe his best position is right-back. He’s still learning how to play in that midfield role but he was great in that area for Liverpool in the final six or seven games of the last season. He was also good in that position for England during the most recent international break. I just believe it’s currently a learning process and I have no doubt that he can play in central midfield, but I just believe that he needs a bit more experience in playing in that area. 

“Right-back’s his best position at this moment because he’s arguably been the best around in that position for the past five years, but I also believe he can become an exceptional central midfielder too. It’s a different position when you’re playing against really, really good teams and you’re not just dominating possession, so I just believe that the more he plays there, the better his positional play will be and the better midfielder he will become overall.” 

Liverpool have been heavily linked with a move for Torino centre-back Perr Schuurs over the past week, but the rumours linking your former club with a move for Chelsea defender Levi Colwill have refused to die down despite that. Considering the immense potential of Levi, could you seriously see Chelsea selling him this summer? If he was to make the move to Anfield however, would Liverpool be signing a future superstar?

“I don’t believe Chelsea will, or need to, sell Levi. The plan at Chelsea is to keep the younger players for the future and he did really well for Brighton last season and for England’s under-21s this summer. You can understand why there’s interest in him, but it would be very interesting to see if Chelsea would be prepared to let a young, English centre-back go to a fellow Premier League rival, especially when he’s got a long-term contract and a lot of promise. I’d be very surprised if they let him go to Liverpool.”

As an English player that formerly played for Real Madrid, we want to ask you about what Jude Bellingham needs to do to ensure that he’s a success at arguably the world’s biggest club?

“Well he doesn’t have to do much because he’s such a wonderful footballer. The easy things for me to say would be to settle in, integrate, learn the language so he can communicate with his teammates and I have no doubt that he’s learning Spanish already. It’s very different from when I was there, but a lot of the players at the club now can speak English and the manager also speaks English, which is a huge help for Jude. He just needs to adapt to the Spanish lifestyle, but I don’t believe that will be a problem for him at all as he’s already lived abroad when he was at Borussia Dortmund. 

“Going to Madrid, which is an incredibly beautiful city, Jude will be treated like a king. All he needs to do is let his football do the talking because he’s such a young talent. The only thing for Jude is having the best squad around him to be successful. They’ve let Karim Benzema go and in all respect, they’ve not brought anybody in of that ilk to replace him. If Kylian Mbappé was to come in, then Real Madrid would be a super team again. They’ve brought in a few players that you expect will be on the periphery of the squad, as well as Arda Güler who looks as if he’s going to be a really good player in the future, but Madrid still need a number nine to really enhance the team.”

Riyad Mahrez is another Premier League player who could make the move to Saudi Arabia this summer. Mahrez is reportedly open to a move to Al-Ahli, so if he were to depart Manchester City, along with İlkay Gündoğan and potentially Bernardo Silva and Kyle Walker, do you believe that City will find adequate replacements for that trio ahead of the new Premier League season, or do you believe they could be negatively impacted by these key players departing?

“Firstly, I don’t believe they’ll let all four players go. I think Kyle wants to stay at City, but I believe he just wants a longer contract that he’s being offered, which is very much like the Gündoğan situation. I can’t see Manchester City letting three other players go after already losing Gündoğan, without bringing three or four more players in. Riyad may want to leave because he didn’t play in the Champions League final and he was on the periphery last season, with Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva playing more than he did. It’s hard getting into that team and I can see why some players may want to leave.

“Bernardo Silva may want to leave because he wants to play in a warmer climate, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s true. Similar to the situation with Liverpool, if you’re Manchester City, then you’re far too clever to let four players go without having replacements lined up.”

Which club do you predict will be the Premier League’s surprise package next season?

“The way Aston Villa finished the season under Unai Emery, and the way he goes about his business, you can see that they’re steadily building something. They will have Diego Carlos back next season after his terrible injury and they’ve brought in Pau Torres from Villarreal. Unai knows how to play and Aston Villa could certainly get themselves into the top six next season.

“You don’t know how Brighton are going to be next season after already losing Alexis Mac Allister and Moisés Caicedo could be leaving this summer too. However, they unearthed some superstars last season who were brilliant to watch and you certainly hope that they can push on again and play their brand of football, which is so exciting and great to see. 

“I hope Tottenham can improve because they were disappointing last season, but there seems to be a quiet turnaround of players there, but of course they wouldn’t be a surprise package to a certain extent. 

“Coming back to Aston Villa, I believe the Pau Torres signing is an excellent signing and it’s gone right under the radar. To pick up a well experienced centre-back for just over £30 million is excellent business in this day and age.”


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