If you believe unsubstantiated rumors, Jürgen Klopp wants to poach goalkeeper Timo Horn as one of his first transfers since moving to the Premier League earlier this season.
As the opening of the winter transfer window nears, the speculation around such a move continues to grow, seemingly fuelled by nothing more than a proliferation of football bloggers rewriting what they’ve read elsewhere, introducing their unfounded reports of Klopp’s covetousness toward the effzeh‘s most-valuable player with “It’s believed that . . .” or “Some think that . . .” or some other vague way to avoid saying, “I just read somewhere else on the internet that . . .”
Earlier this year, rumors of Anthony Ujah moving to Werder Bremen starting getting some traction in social media, seemingly with no better foundation than those continuing to prop up the current Horn-to-Liverpool chatter. The morning after I’d vehemently downplayed the Ujah talk as nonesense, I found myself trying to make sense of the now-infamous image of our most-successful striker of the last two seasons smiling beneath a sign that read “100% Werder.”
Having been so burned, I am somewhat hesitant to completely dismiss the Horn talk with the same vigor I did the Ujah rumors.
That said, I hereby proclaim that Timo Horn will not be leaving his current post as the number one in Köln in January.
How can I know that?
Well, to be honest, I can’t, so don’t rely on this to help you keep sleeping at night beneath your Hennes-covered bedclothes.
However, unlike my dismissal of the talk of Ujah moving to Werder, my thoughts on a Horn mid-winter departure are based a little more firmly in plain fact, rather than my perception of the player’s connection to the club, city, and fan base.
A Kölsche Jung . . . with perspective
When I spoke with Ujah moments after the 1. FC Köln secured the inaugural Florida Cup last winter, I simply knew he would stay with the club as long as they’d have him. Nobody seemed to enjoy that friendly-tournament title nearly as much as did Ujah, which fell in line with how he spoke with a wide grin of the feeling he got after scoring a goal in front of the Müngersdorfer faithful. He simply seemed to enjoy being a Kölsche Jung too much to ever even consider leaving.
Horn, too, is a Kölsche Jung, though by birth rather than by popular declaration of public adoption. The 22-year-old was born in Köln, came up through the youth ranks, and has ascended to a highly visible place of esteem as one of the top keepers in a nation known for great goalkeeping. Few currently in service of the ruut-un-wiess would be as well positioned to understand (or benefit from) the legacy available to a hometown boy who becomes a star and leads the 1. FC Köln to the upper reaches of the Bundesliga table and into sustained participation in European leagues.
Only the most-stubborn among us, though, would think that promise and the fabled “loyalty” fans expect players to exhibit would be enough to keep Horn from eventually seeking to prove himself on a larger competitive stage than what his time in Köln has offered to date. Horn would appear to have a long and promising career before him, but he won’t want to wait too long before trying his gloves in one of the UEFA competitions, if not also in service at one of the game’s biggest clubs, should one like Liverpool come calling.
For the time being, though, Horn says he is content to see whether he can be achieve some of those career goals with his hometown club. The Ujah experience might cause some to cynically regard such statements as nothing more than window dressing, but Horn does seem to genuinely enjoy his current place in the game and with his club.
And maybe also goofing around with Dominic Maroh.
Is Klopp Actually Interested?
If Klopp called and told Timo, “You’re my guy!” sometime in the next few weeks, it’s not too unreasonable to think Horn might rethink the timeline for his eventual departure from his hometown.
But is Klopp really looking for a new keeper, much less for Timo Horn, specifically?
When the topic of an eventual successor to Roman Weidenfeller spiked in urgency as the long-time Borussia Dortmund stopper began to slump in form, Horn seemed to immediately be on everyone’s BVB shortlist for replacements. Had Roman Bürki not become available due to the relegation of SC Freiburg, it’s certainly possible Dortmund might have inquired about a purchase of Horn, but it otherwise never developed beyond the rumor stage.
It’s safe to assume that Klopp remembers Horn well from his encounters with the Köln keeper while still coaching at Dortmund last season. The BVB got just one goal and one point from the promoted side in two attempts during the Liverpool boss’ final season with the Schwarzgelben. Horn wasn’t necessarily called into heavy-duty action to get those particular points, but Klopp likely saw enough film throughout the season to know Horn is a young talent to watch.
All that aside, Klopp has steadfastly stood behind current Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet, who has posted 15 clean sheets in 2015, more than any other Premier League keeper. Mignolet’s sixth match of the current season without conceding came the day after Christmas, when he and Liverpool became the first to keep league darlings Leicester City off the scoreboard, ending the Foxes’ ten-match unbeaten run.
So, if Klopp continues to insist that Mignolet is his guy, while also insisting fans should expect a fairly quiet January, as far as transfer-window action is concerned, does it make sense to believe that Liverpool will splash out the sort of cash it would take to bring in the sort of high-profile transfer Horn currently represents?
What might make more sense, if anything, would be for Klopp to be seeking a stronger back-up to Mignolet. Current second-choice keeper Adam Bogdan was beat three times by Watford in his first league start of the season the weekend before Christmas. Unless you believe the reports of Mignolet suffering a minor hamstring injury were a complete ruse and that Klopp was actually auditioning Bogdan for the full-time gig as LFC’s number one, there’s little evidence that the goalkeeping position is a top priority for a January overhaul.
In a press conference before the 1:0 over Leicester, Klopp told media that he doesn’t generally like using the winter transfer period and will otherwise focus on his current squad and his first winter without a break from competition.
“I’m not the biggest friend of the January window, but if we have to react, I will react. Maybe if a player leaves us, I don’t know. It’s not a situation I want, though,” said Klopp heading into his first working Christmas holiday. “We have a lot of games during the transfer window. We aren’t planning on getting more players and more players and more players. But if we have to react we will.”
Mignolet is currently under contract into 2018. Moving him in January seems highly unlikely. Just because English teams have an embarrassment of riches from their television contracts doesn’t make it any wiser to spend money madly without good reason.
But what about all the ‘reports’?
Again, to put much faith in most of the online chatter about these transfers, you have to dismiss almost everything Klopp has said about the matter.
Granted, there are many good reasons for coaches and team personnel to downplay personnel talk, and there are also plenty of examples of things happening shortly after being denied by the principals. When you want to at least begin paying attention is when the discussion goes beyond blogger talk and into professional news resources.
Though most of the “reports” to date have been little more than recycled blog posts, a recent piece on L’Equipe has increased the smoke around this story.
The French sports publication has claimed that Olympique Marseille has dangled keeper Steve Mandanda in front of Liverpool, hoping to get a fee from a January transfer. The same report adds that the German coach prefers his fellow countrymen Horn and current FC Barcelona Champions League-specialist Marc-Andre ter Stegen to the 30-year-old French national.
Okay, so he prefers Horn and ter Stegen to Mandanda, but that isn’t the same as being in pursuit of any of those keepers, nor of any of the other players (AC Milan’s Diego Lopez, for one) rumored to be under consideration to replace a keeper his coach insists he’s not looking to replace.
And if there is sincere interest in Horn from Anfield, nobody in Köln has heard from them.
“I haven’t heard anything as of yet,” says club Vice President Toni Schumacher. “They of course have the number of our manager, but hopefully he doesn’t hear his mobile ring while snorkeling under water.”
Why would Schumacher hope that Jörg Schmadtke not catch the call from Liverpool? Because if the storied club did come calling and Horn decided he was ready to go, the FC would have “hardly a chance” of impeding the move.
Horn’s current deal into 2019 reportedly features an escape clause at a very reasonable cost (in English-football budgets) of €9 million. The clause allegedly does not go into effect until the summer, meaning that the FC could still sell their number one for an offer “too good to refuse,” an idea Schumacher says is “not actively in mind” for the club.
In a worst-case scenario, Horn could insist he be sold, forcing the club’s hand to take a deal, knowing they’d lose him for certain in the summer for the aforementioned nine-million. Fortunately, Horn seems genuine in his desire to continue in Köln for the time being, at least enough to where he’s not seeking an escape just yet. Liverpool is no better positioned to get into European spot this season than is Köln, and one could argue there is an easier path for his current club than Klopp’s right now based on the relative strength of the clubs currently ahead of either.
Tuesday reports have Mandanda’s representation travelling to Liverpool to negotiate a deal to deliver the Congo-born Frenchman to Anfield. If those don’t work out or turn out to be false and Klopps decides he does want to replace Mignolet and only with one of the two aforementioned German keepers, Schumacher has a tip for him.
“Then he should go get ter Stegen,” laughs the legendary goalkeeper.
So, where does that leave us?
By the time I’m done typing this, it’s possible that Mandanda is already packing his things for a move from France to England, which would at least kill the Horn-to-Liverpool talk. With January still a few days away, though, there is plenty of time for other suitors to make themselves known.
Aston Villa, reportedly interested in an upgrade to US keeper Brad Guzan, has been mentioned in several reports as being interested in Mandanda. As is the case with the Liverpool rumors, though, nothing substantial has been cited in any of them. If Villa manager Remi Garde has admitted to a journalist that he is in pursuit of Mandanda, they’ve not bothered to include the quote in any of the many reports I’ve read on the matter, preferring to say simply that “Garde wants . . .” and leave it at that.
Would it be possible for a club like Aston Villa, desperate to escape a relegation threat and flush with television revenue, to go all-in on signing a rising young star goalkeeper to help save them and assure fans they’re serious about staying up? Maybe, but that’s at least twice as unlikely as the Liverpool thing right this minute.
In any case, there are at least two more-likely scenarios for the Liverpool goalkeeping situation than the acquisition of Timo Horn: either Klopp sticks with Mignolet, as he’s said, or they go with the inexpensive half-season audition of Mandanda to see if he’s a candidate for a long-term upgrade.
Were I betting on it, though, I’d put my money on Klopp remaining true to his word and waiting until summer to address his goalkeeping situation, if even deemed necessary by then.
Even if nobody inquires about Horn, it might be a good time for Schmadtke, between snorkeling sessions, to hammer out a new deal for Horn that increases the keeper’s salary and his chances of sticking around at least another season, while bumping the figure on the escape clause well into the seven-digit range.
As I said before, we learned with Ujah that things aren’t always as they appear when it comes to transfer rumors, so be prepared for anything at any time.
But considering the high percentage of transfer rumors in English football media that turn out to be sheer speculation, don’t be even a little surprised if Horn travels to Hamburg the first weekend in February to take on the HSV in continued service to the effzeh.
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