Liverpool can repeat Naby Keïta’s transfer trick to beat £49.5m Arsenal, Roberto Firmino’s heir
Liverpool know a thing or two about dealing with RB Leipzig in the transfer market. Ibrahima Konaté was the latest man to walk through the door last summer, continuing a trend started with Naby Keïta. The Red Bull club team have also produced Takumi Minamino, while Sadio Mané has stopped over in Salzburg on the way to Anfield. It’s Arsenal who are reportedly sniffing out the latest hot property in Leipzig, but FSG can use their experience to beat their Premier League rivals to Roberto Firmino’s perfect successor.
Christopher Nkunku has been a revelation over the past year. Shifted onto the pitch since his days at PSG, he remains a versatile option for RB Leipzig, but has mainly settled into an attacking midfield role. However, he has also accumulated a lot of experience as a kind of false nine – similar to Firmino’s role. Whatever his starting base, he has certainly shown his end product, scoring 10 goals and assisting nine in just 21 Bundesliga appearances so far this season. It’s no wonder the Germans are convinced he’s staying.
Arsenal have been credited with one interest – a transfer that would make a lot of sense, given their goalscoring shortage and the potential imminent departures of Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah. But according to Sky Germany, RB Leipzig manager Oliver Mintzlaff insists the Frenchman, valued at £49.5m by Transfermarkt, will stay at the club for at least one more season.
Liverpool have heard this phrase before. They ran into an intractable position from Leipzig as they tried to complete the deal with Keïta. The compromise they reached in this case could work again, giving FSG a key advantage over Arsenal.
In 2017, when Keïta was the man every big club wanted, Liverpool slipped through the back door by agreeing a transfer 12 months in advance. In this case, a release clause did not come into effect until the following summer, but FSG negotiated a bonus in order to trigger it earlier. Barcelona had shown strong interest but they were knocked out of the running.
Although there is no release clause in play in this scenario, arranging a transfer in the future could once again suit both parties. This gives Leipzig ample time to sort out a suitable replacement, while allowing Mintzlaff to keep his word on retaining a star asset for at least another season. Meanwhile, Liverpool are in no particular rush, with Diogo Jota and Luis Díaz having already come through the door as part of the rebuild. It would be worth waiting a year to make the jump to Arsenal.
Of course, Keïta’s transfer wasn’t a huge success for Liverpool, a reminder that even the best adjustments on paper don’t always work. But the stats certainly support Nkunku’s case as Firmino’s ideal successor.
An avid presser, he ranks in the 86th percentile of strikers in Europe’s top five leagues (FBref). Tackles, interceptions and blocks are all in the 90th percentile or higher. The progressive passing and carrying stats are equally impressive and also reminiscent of Firmino. In fact, the Liverpool man is ranked as the most statistically similar striker to Nkunku in Europe.
A more prolific version of Firmino would suit Liverpool perfectly. Even in the summer of 2023, he would still be only 25 years old. Although it seems like a long wait, there’s a good chance it will be worth it – if only to get one on Arsenal, it might be time to review Keïta’s transfer. game book.