Jörg Schmadt has only been in the role of Liverpool sporting director for five weeks, but he is already feeling the heat better than his two predecessors.
Michael Edwards and Julian Ward’s public presence was virtually non-existent during their tenures at Anfield, with the pair going about their business quietly behind the scenes. Often, they were lauded for the club’s transfer dealings and contract negotiations.
That was never going to be the case for Schmadtke though. An outsider coming in, and one who had been repeatedly outspoken during his 22-year career as a sporting director in Germany, he was always going to face greater scrutiny at Anfield. Ultimately, it won’t have helped that Liverpool, having missed out on Champions League qualification last season, were in need of a major midfield overhaul and their most important, if not busiest, transfer window for seven years.
The former goalkeeper might not have spoken to the English media since replacing Ward at the start of July, though he did reflect on his appointment in his homeland, but he is already more of a public presence than his predecessors courtesy of the reputation that goes before him.
While supporters could be forgiven for not battering an eyelid if they walked past Edwards or Ward, the same cannot be said for Schmadtke. And wearing his trademark baseball cap, the 59-year-old was unmissable as he took his seat in the directors’ box at Deepdale ahead of Liverpool’s final pre-season friendly against SV Darmstadt.
A glance at his career, and you would not have been surprised if he had actually turned up as the sporting director of the German outfit. They are, after all, a newly-promoted side about to compete in the Bundesliga for the first time since 2016/17, coincidentally the same season Liverpool last competed outside of the Champions League.
But having made his name in charge of numerous German Davids looking to punch above their weight, Schmadtke is working with a Goliath now. Giant expectations are part and parcel of life at Anfield.
Just a couple of hours before kick-off at Deepdale, it emerged that Schmadtke and the Reds had seen yet another bid rejected by Southampton for Romeo Lavia. Their latest offering totalled £46m, an improvement on previous £38m and £42m bids but still not good enough, still falling short of the Saints’ £50m asking price.
When time is of the essence before the start of the new season, this pursuit has already turned into an unwanted, drawn-out saga. It’s new territory for Liverpool, on the eve of the new season, and one Schmadtke will be tasked with navigating them out of.
Consequently, with six days to go until the start of the new campaign, Klopp’s squad remains without a senior holding midfielder. Against Darmstadt, Alexis Mac Allister became the latest player to line up as Liverpool’s number six this summer, following in the footsteps of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Curtis Jones and academy starlet James McConnell.
Solid enough defensively, Mac Allister worked hard in a more defensive role as he pressed hard to win possession against his Bundesliga counterparts.
Yet his best work was further forward. Oozing class on the ball once again, he cut the Darmstadt defence open numerous times and was unfortunate not to net a goal of his own in this 3-1 victory.
Another eye-catching display from the £35m man, no doubt, but one which demonstrates why he is better-suited to a number eight role in this Liverpool side rather than number six.
Think of him like a Gini Wijnaldum. While he can play there in an emergency, and the Reds’ current situation is certainly that, you’d rather see him further forward.
While technically the first signing of the Schmadtke era, predecessor Ward was actually predominantly responsible for the Argentine’s arrival, working an extra week at Anfield, alongside his German replacement, to help get the midfielder through the door.
As a result, Dominik Szobozlai, a £60m signing from RB Leipzig after his transfer release clause was activated against the clock, remains the new man’s only solo recruit to date. Clearly that needs to change before September 1 and the sooner the better.
Liverpool need a new holding midfielder. That is obvious for all to see. Still leaky defensively as they slowly continue to adapt to this new 3-2-2-3 formation, with it far too easy to get in behind them, they need a new centre-back too.
Yet, after the latest rejected Lavia bid, it would be a surprise to see even one such player signed before Sunday’s trip to Chelsea. Never mind both.
The slow nature of the Reds’ pursuit of Lavia is infuriating. If Liverpool really want the Belgian, they need him in before facing Chelsea rather than letting this drag on any longer. But if they really don’t value him at £50m, an alternative target must be sought.
September 1 isn’t good enough though. Their long-awaited, much-needed midfield revamp is no secret. Yet, as things stand, Klopp’s men are not ready for Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge with a glaring hole in the middle of their team.
Of course, this issue could be resolved quickly, but with Lavia’s impasse continuing, Šmatek has a tough job ahead of him in the coming days. The pressure is on the Germans to somehow find a solution for the Reds in the new territory of Anfield, and Kopite is watching closely.