It could be time for Liverpool fans to rejoice after Paul Merson suggested that even the lack of Champions League football next season for the Reds isn’t necessarily enough to stop a world-class talent from joining them.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have disappointed for the vast majority of the 2022/23 campaign, and though entry to the premier European competition for next season isn’t beyond them, the task won’t be easy given their form.
Despite that, and the likelihood of a Europa League berth in 2023/24, Merson believes that isn’t enough to put Jude Bellingham from swapping Borussia Dortmund for Liverpool.
The Reds midfield is going to look different next season in any event, The Athletic (subscription required) noting that Arthur Melo will be sent back to Juventus and both Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be allowed to leave.
That opens up the possibility of adding Bellingham to the ranks, Merson suggesting Anfield rather than the Santiago Bernabeu could be the 19-year-old’s next destination.
“I get where Rio Ferdinand is coming from when he says Jude Bellingham will be picking Real Madrid over Liverpool on the basis of their Champions League knockout clash,” he wrote in his Daily Star column.
“But I’ve read stories about Bellingham and his family and all they were ever interested in was ensuring he plays football when they picked Borussia Dortmund over Man United.
“One year out of the Champions League at 19 isn’t going to define his career if Liverpool miss out on fourth. He’s not an egotistical player and my feeling is he likes the challenge.
“It’s alright playing in the Champions League but what’s the point if you don’t win it anyway? He’s an example for every kid out there, it’s not about money, it’s about performing. I still think he might swallow a year out of the Champions League if Liverpool don’t qualify. He has a very long career ahead of him.”
As Merson suggests, it does appear that Bellingham plays for the love of the game rather than how much he can earn in remuneration.
Of course, he’ll be handsomely paid wherever he goes, though an expectation of a regular place at the heart of a midfield, being the fulcrum for years to come, surely tops however many millions he could make even as a bit-part player.