FSG should apologise to fans: Liverpool a laughing stock in Van Dijk failure
Just when it looked like their club were finally making an effort to compete at the top end of the transfer market, Liverpool fans have once more been left disappointed.
Actually, scratch that. Disappointment is Alexis Sanchez choosing Arsenal over Liverpool in 2014. The shambolic collapse of the Virgil van Dijk transfer is way beyond disappointing; it's utterly humiliating.
To recap: On Monday it was widely reported in the Merseyside media that the Reds had won the race to sign the Southampton defender, who it was claimed had been persuaded to spurn the advances of Manchester City and Chelsea in favour of a move to Merseyside.
Quite the coup, except there was one small problem. Southampton knew nothing about it and were understandably unhappy at a perceived illegal approach.
We'll never know exactly what went on behind the scenes and who, if anyone, at Liverpool leaked the details of the alleged agreement they struck with Van Dijk, but Southampton clearly felt a line had been crossed and on Tuesday they lodged a complaint with the Premier League.
Liverpool then had to try to smooth things over with the Saints, and following lengthy discussions on Wednesday they issued an official statement apologising to Southampton for any misunderstanding -- and announced they had ended their interest in the player.
It was hard to process, even for Reds supporters who have become used to feeling let down in transfer windows. That statement was such an unprecedented thing to do, you can only assume Liverpool must have been incredibly concerned about possible ramifications if Southampton proceeded with their complaint, especially as the Reds don't exactly have a squeaky clean record in this area under the stewardship of Fenway Sports Group.
In 2012, Tom Werner had to issue an apology to Fulham amid accusations of tapping up Clint Dempsey, and as recently as April the club were fined £100,000 and given a transfer ban on signing academy players from other English clubs having been found guilty of a rule breach involving a 12-year-old from Stoke City.
Not only have Liverpool missed out on Jurgen Klopp's primary target, they have been humiliated and driven a further wedge between themselves and their already untrusting and increasingly cynical fan base, who have been unimpressed with three successive transfer windows in which Klopp recouped more than he spent.
While FSG are in apologetic mood, perhaps they should be saying sorry to the club's fans, too. The transfer window hasn't even officially opened yet, but supporters are already angry and disillusioned with their club, and with good reason.
What makes this debacle sting even more is that many fans had fallen into the trap of getting excited, with Champions League football to look forward to next year and deals for Roma's Mohamed Salah and Saints' Van Dijk seemingly imminent. There was also talk of strong interest in RB Leipzig's talented Naby Keita, but there's been no further progress on Salah, it's gone very quiet on Keita and Van Dijk is off the table. Same old Liverpool? You can't blame fans who might think that way.
It's difficult to see how the club can make up for this utter shambles and it will be interesting to see who, if anybody, is held accountable. It was only last week that new CEO Peter Moore was hailing Liverpool's approach to getting transfers done, singling out "world class" sporting director Michael Edwards for special praise.
World class at what?
That's the problem with modern day Liverpool; they're far too self-congratulatory and quick to heap praise on themselves. It never used to be that way. Back in the days when they actually accomplished things worthy of praise, they tended to act with humility and with respect for other clubs.
It's not entirely inconceivable that a move for Van Dijk could still be resurrected later in the summer, but it would be massively complicated. If another club were to bid for the player, perhaps Liverpool could come back into the reckoning without offending Southampton too much, but even if that were the case, would Van Dijk still want to join them given the way he's been left high and dry?
However this plays out, it's difficult to envisage any swift resolution to it and perhaps Klopp should just move on to other targets. Van Dijk, meanwhile, has left in limbo and posted a rather cryptic message on Twitter on Thursday, with his future very much unresolved.
Liverpool switching their focus to others might be easier said than done, though, as selling clubs will be aware that Liverpool were prepared to spend big on Van Dijk and will adjust their prices accordingly. That's if they aren't put off dealing with the Reds completely after the unseemly way their chase for Van Dijk ended. And how will other players view this? Will it make them think twice about entering discussions with Liverpool?
Make no mistake, Liverpool are a laughing stock right now and if any further proof were needed they are no longer big players in the transfer market then this was it. Even when they finally looked to have got it right, they still got it wrong. Spectacularly, emphatically, embarrassingly wrong.
The real heavyweights get these deals done as a matter of routine. They do not humiliate themselves and leave their supporters feeling embarrassed, angry and left open to ridicule.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.