Michael Edwards leaving Liverpool: Are the Reds losing the greatest ever Premier League sporting director?

(Image credit: Getty)

Alisson. Virgil van Dijk. Fabinho. Andy Robertson. Diogo Jota. Mohamed Salah. As Michael Edwards serves out his notice at Liverpool, his legacy is apparent on the pitch.

Indeed, in players such as Harvey Elliott and Ibrahima Konate, it may be for a decade to come. While lists are compiled of the greatest players and managers, Edwards may rank as the finest sporting director in Premier League history. 

NEWS Michael Edwards to leave Liverpool sporting director role at end of season

He helped build the 2019 Champions League-winning side and Liverpool’s first Premier League champions. He famously helped convince Jurgen Klopp of the merits of Salah; the manager was thankfully open to persuasion.

But Edwards also flourished on a budget. His net spend at Liverpool stands at under £130 million. 

If he was the best buyer in the business, he was also the best seller. That may be traced to one man: Philippe Coutinho, the second most expensive footballer in history when sold to Barcelona for £140 million and the player who single-handedly paid for Van Dijk and Alisson. Perhaps Coutinho’s actual value was half of that; perhaps it was less still. One of the worst buys in footballing history was one of the greatest sales.

But focusing on him alone is a simplification. In one respect, Coutinho is the exception, an outstanding individual who was in Liverpool’s first XI. Edwards often specialised in selling unwanted players for inflated fees. He excelled in getting premium prices for squad players, for prospects who did not realise their potential elsewhere or for footballers who Liverpool did not miss. Many a rival, looking at the supposed equity on the fringes of their team and imagining they could use it to fund stellar signings, must have looked on enviously as Liverpool actually did it. Edwards was the laptop geek who played Football Manager in real life.

It is worth noting that he was a fine trader even as several players left Anfield without bringing in a fee: Gini Wijnaldum this summer, but also Emre Can, Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge and Nathaniel Clyne. But if Salah and co are the definitive Edwards deals in some respects, in others, they were the £20 million gang.


(Image credit: Getty)

Liverpool were able to bring in around or more than £20 million each for Mamadou Sakho, Danny Ings, Dominic Solanke and Rhian Brewster. Ings proved prolific for Southampton but Solanke has scored three Premier League goals since leaving Anfield and Brewster none. Liverpool brought in eight-figure fees for Danny Ward and Marko Grujic. They sold Brad Smith (albeit before Edwards’ 2016 promotion) and Kevin Stewart for millions and they duly vanished into obscurity.

But for the COVID crunch on football finances, Edwardsonomics might have been still more profitable. Grujic, Harry Wilson and Xherdan Shaqiri would probably have commanded bigger fees. As it is, Liverpool can look at the players they have bought and trace the funds: Coutinho paid for Van Dijk and Alisson, Sakho; Lucas Leiva and Stewart for Salah and loan fees for Sturridge and Divock Origi in effect bought Robertson. Most of the money for Jota came from Ings, Ryan Kent and Ovie Ejaria. The Konate cash came courtesy of Wilson, Grujic, Shaqiri and Taiwo Awoniyi.

Liverpool needed that balance-sheet brilliance. Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita are proof that even the best have signings who do not prosper as planned, but they have had a very high strike rate in the transfer market. They have also needed to; they had less margin for error than their peers. Lacking the resources of Chelsea and the Manchester clubs, they needed to get more buys right and to sell sufficiently well because their net spend usually had to be lower than their rivals’. 

Edwards will leave Anfield with the reputation as the talent spotter supreme. He should also go as the man who flourished at finding ways to make a club money without weakening their team.

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Richard Jolly

Richard Jolly also writes for the National, the Guardian, the Observer, the Straits Times, the Independent, Sporting Life, Football 365 and the Blizzard. He has written for the FourFourTwo website since 2018 and for the magazine in the 1990s and the 2020s, but not in between. He has covered 1500+ games and remembers a disturbing number of the 0-0 draws.