Following a topsy-turvy season, Liverpool ultimately found success through an impressive third-place finish. Although they were unable to pick up any silverware following their Premier League title win in 2019/20, their compounding injury issues – most notably the injury to Virgil van Dijk – make achieving a Champions-League-earning position a tremendous feat. To solidify their future defence, Liverpool have secured the signature of Ibrahima Konate. However, January-reinforcement Ozan Kabak is set to return to Schalke before an imminent transfer elsewhere, as Liverpool did not elect to activate the buy clause on his loan.
Why Letting Ozan Kabak Go Could Come to Haunt Liverpool
Ozan Kabak Will Not Have Liverpool Loan Made Permanent
With all the focus on Konate’s recent arrival, the future of Kabak has also been sealed. The Turk will return to Schalke as Jurgen Klopp and Co. do not want to activate his reported £18 million buy clause.
As Schalke have been relegated to the Bundesliga 2, they will need to move on from Kabak. RB Leipzig are interested in securing the 21-year-old Turkish international’s signature to replace Konate. Leicester City are also interested in bringing in Kabak as a defensive partner for compatriot Caglar Soyuncu.
Early Days at Liverpool Are Not a Fair Indicator of His Talents
Following a wave of injuries, the Reds completed a deadline-day loan for Kabak to ease the pressure on the defence. His reputation at Liverpool was quickly set in a negative light following his first two Premier League matches: a 3-1 defeat to Leicester where he made a pivotal mistake which led to a goal followed by a Merseyside Derby defeat.
However, what must be recalled is the squad as a whole was playing poorly and spiraling in a bad trajectory. Young Kabak was thrown into a turbulent situation, so his shaky first impression was unfair on him. And even after his early struggles, he started to find his footing. In his 11 other appearances for Liverpool, they conceded an average of just 0.64 goals per match, keeping six clean sheets in the process. He had become an ever-present in the starting 11 before suffering a muscle injury at the end of April. So, despite uncertain early days at Anfield, Kabak started to show why he is so highly rated.
It has become clear that he has not convinced the Liverpool hierarchy enough (based on Kabak’s non-extension), and questionably so. As he started to find his footing in the Premier League and in Klopp’s side, signing him permanently would have bolstered their defensive ranks for next season with a talented youngster who now has Premier League experience under his belt in a desired system.
Ozan Kabak Earned the Liverpool Loan for Many Reasons
Even if Kabak did not totally convince the Liverpool hierarchy during his time in England, what cannot be forgotten is why Liverpool loaned him in in the first place. Yes, they had a fair share of injury problems playing into the decision. Nonetheless, Kabak was targeted due to the high expectations he developed.
The expectations, which were starting to be met before his minor injury, were justified. Kabak made his senior debut as a Galatasaray player in the 2017/18 season. For the first half of the 2018/19 campaign, Kabak took the Turkish Super League by storm, becoming a consistent fixture in the Turkish giant’s starting eleven. In the January of 2019, Stuttgart secured his signature for a fee in the region of £10 million. He played every minute of each of the 18 matches he was available for, except for a final day clash (to rest for the relegation play-offs) against, coincidentally, Schalke.
Even after relegation, Stuttgart were able to receive £14 million from Schalke for his services. His transfer value increasing by £4 million in a matter of months despite being relegated shows how Kabak was a shining light in an otherwise poor campaign for Stuttgart.
The aerially talented centre-back then continued to rise to the top. Shrewd with the ball at his feet, he continued to garner interest due to his well-roundedness. His 2019/20 campaign with Schalke continued to rake in more interest, while the start of the 2020/21 campaign was simply poor for everyone at Borussia Dortmund’s rivals. Still, Kabak was a bright spot, much like he was with Stuttgart in the 2018/19 campaign.
Simply stated, Liverpool targeted him and entrusted him with immediate minutes for many reasons. They also permanently signed 25-year-old center-back Ben Davies in the January transfer window deadline day, yet Kabak got the nod over him every time.
Cut-Rate Deal Was a Low-Risk Gamble Worth Making
Between Kabak’s well-roundedness at such a young age, already having loads of experience, adapting to Liverpool’s style of play, still maintaining a positive trajectory, and more, activating the loan’s buy option would have been wise. Most noteworthy (or alarmingly), however, is the fee Liverpool would have had to pay.
Sky Sports report it would have cost Liverpool around £18 million to sign Kabak permanently. Such a fee is well below what a player of Kabak’s talent should be going for, especially considering two years ago, he cost £14 million. With much more experience and improvement under his belt, even in a COVID-impacted transfer market, £18 million is a tremendously low price for someone with his talent and bright future.
Signing Konate for £30 million was a wise transfer, but he has had an alarming share of injury problems the past couple of seasons. Kabak has been consistently playing at a top-level for three nearly-uninterrupted seasons and knows what life in the Premier League is like. Even if signing Kabak and Konate were mutually exclusive to Liverpool, letting such a young prospect depart despite his undervaluation may come to haunt them. Kabak already is the full package and is continuing to improve, and the price-tag was more than a simple bargain.