Liverpool fans who did not make it to the end of transfer deadline day could have been forgiven for rubbing their eyes in confusion this morning. A deal with Fulham for Fabio Carvalho appeared to have been reached, but ultimately there was insufficient time to complete the move. Nonetheless, Neco Williams was able to finalise a loan switch the other way, Jürgen Klopp a man light on Trent Alexander-Arnold backup for the remainder of the season.
This business was met with consternation in some quarters. After all, it’s one thing allowing Williams to go out on loan in order to sweeten the deal for one of the country’s brightest prospects, but with no Carvalho to show for it, there are question marks as to why Liverpool let the Welshman leave.
There are numerous potential answers. For one, Liverpool are unlikely to be finished with Carvalho, and good relations with Fulham will certainly not hurt when trying to strike a transfer fee in summer without having to go to a tribunal. Equally, taking a long-term view, a good relationship with the London club seems like a good idea, given the obvious talent factory at Craven Cottage. The ruthless acquisition of Harvey Elliott Apparently left a sour taste, and Williams can perhaps help build some bridges.
Equally, there is the human aspect of the transfer. Klopp is the biggest advocate for his players, and he knows that Williams has a potential World Cup with Wales around the corner, depending on the outcome of the playoffs. The 20-year-old’s national manager has repeatedly pointed out to the Liverpool man in heavy-handed terms that he needs to be playing regularly in order to be assured of a spot. With Alexander-Arnold unshakeable in the first team, the Fulham loan switch is an act of kindness to the player.
Perhaps most significantly of all, though, the fact that Klopp has allowed Williams to leave says a lot about his opinion of Conor Bradley. After all, in terms of out-and-out right-backs at Liverpool, he is the next man up.
While Klopp can rely on James Milner Where necessary for the duration of Williams’ loan, the Fulham switch was surely made with half an eye on a permanent transfer departure. The Alexander-Arnold situation will not be any different come the summer. By this time, Milner will surely be on his way out, leaving Bradley as the undisputed second choice.
A little over two years younger than Williams, the Northern Irishman also has the honor of being a full international already. While he is undoubtedly further back in his development than his more senior colleague, he has more experience than might be expected of a teenager.
By comparison, when Williams first featured for Liverpool, he had yet to be capped for Wales. Also 18 at the time, he was even more raw than Bradley is now, and yet Klopp was happy to at least sporadically call upon him in order to give Alexander-Arnold a rest.
After all, with Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool are in the unusual position where they have one position on the pitch locked down for the best part of a decade. Barring a heart-wrenching transfer away from his boyhood club, he is set to become the next hometown hero at Anfield, writing his name into the side’s storied history. Klopp has limited options when it comes to backup; promising Academy prospects are the most realistic solution.
In Bradley, Klopp knows that he has just such a prospect, one who may even boast greater potential than Williams. He has certainly not let the Liverpool manager down in his appearances to date, getting a well-earned assist in the FA Cup against Shrewsbury and impressing in his Carabao Cup outings. The first half against Leicester City was a struggle, but no worse than the torrid time Milner suffered at right-back against Man City.
Bradley’s attacking instincts place him in the Alexander-Arnold mould, but he is perhaps slightly more attuned to his defensive responsibilities than Williams. Still extremely raw, he has nonetheless done enough to prove to Klopp that he can be relied upon where necessary. In the absence of a Kostas Tsimikas equivalent, a god-send of a full-back prepared to play second fiddle indefinitely, he is as good a solution as Liverpool could hope for.
Emulating Trent Alexander-Arnold is the goal of any up-and-coming Liverpool right-back, but the trouble is that they now also have the challenge of displacing him. This is a near-impossible challenge, but Klopp knows that Bradley has sky-high potential. In the meantime, he is already considered good enough to serve as emergency backup — and the decision to sanction a loan transfer for Williams proves it.