For months, Werner looked almost destined to become a Liverpool player, continuing the Reds’ strong relationship with the Red Bull group after plucking Naby Keita from Leipzig in 2018 and Takumi Minamino from Salzburg much more recently.
Werner was a longstanding target for Liverpool
Back in January, David Ornstein wrote for The Athletic it is ‘probable that neither Sancho nor Mbappe will end up at Anfield for the foreseeable future’, describing Liverpool as having ‘little interest’ in spending the kind of money it would take to land such players.
An element of that is being unable to guarantee automatic starts for anyone new.
At a fraction of the price and seemingly willing to fight for a place alongside Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, Werner looked to be just about in reach for Liverpool. If there was going to be any marquee signing this summer, he ticked the necessary boxes that others didn’t.
But despite a capped price thanks to a £50m release clause, the fee is what ultimately proved to be the sticking point for Liverpool. As the saga reached the crunch stage it became clear that Liverpool were unwilling to pay it in full and wanted to negotiate a lower fee with Leipzig.
In late May that Liverpool had fired a warning to the Bundesliga side to lower the asking price or they would start looking at alternative targets – Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele was among them at less than half the £100m he was bought for in 2017.
Liverpool wanted to pay only £40m for Werner, hoping that threat of a £36m release clause coming into effect in 2021 would put enough pressure on Leipzig to make them yield. They didn’t and, as was had also warned earlier that month, Chelsea were ready pounce with Liverpool faltering.
Crucially, Chelsea were willing to meet the release clause, while they are thought to have offered a lucrative deal to Werner and a substantial commission for his agent. A BBC report explains that agent Karlheinz Forster is pocketing a personal fee of £12m for his role, while Werner will be paid £175,000 per week at Stamford Bridge, almost double his Leipzig salary.
Chelsea, more so than Liverpool, can offer Werner more immediate starting chances, while at the same time still (likely) competing in the Champions League next season.
Liverpool refused to pay Werner’s full release clause
From Liverpool’s perspective, Sky Sports reports that the coronavirus crisis is to blame for the reigning European champions not landing Werner.
With even the wealthiest clubs expecting a financial downturn, Sky notes that the Reds were forecasting a projected revenue drop of £100m for the season because of the pandemic. It was therefore considered ‘irresponsible’ by the Anfield hierarchy to spend £50m on a player in the current climate, a stance that is said to have been backed by Jurgen Klopp.
Indeed, signing a player this summer that would have been the fourth most expensive transfer in the club’s history would not have been a good luck for Liverpool. The club, which has positioned itself for years as a club of the people, scored a PR own goal in April when they opted to furlough some non-paying staff and making use of a government scheme intended to support small businesses.
Amid furious public backlash, including from fans and pro-Liverpool journalists, the club reversed its decision only a few days later. But claiming an inability to pay non-playing staff and within a couple of months spending millions on a marquee transfer would have been impossible to justify.