Liverpool's summer-long saga with RB Leipzig at the start of the season resulted in a very surprising outcome, at least for those who only follow English football.
The Reds finally managed to agree a deal for their top target, Naby Keïta. However, the deal was for the summer of 2018, when Keïta's release clause becomes active, with Liverpool paying an extra premium on top to secure the 22-year-old Guinean ahead of any potential competition.
Reds oust competition with smart move
Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan were all linked with Keïta, so if Liverpool could not land the midfielder for this season (Leipzig were adamant that there would be no immediate sale) then next season would have to do, such is Jürgen Klopp's faith in Keïta to transform his Liverpool team.
The fee could reportedly rise to £66m depending on Leipzig's progress in the Bundesliga this season, but Klopp's record with big-money signings at Anfield has been pretty good so far, and looks set to continue with Keïta.
In Germany, deals done in advance, such as with Keïta and Liverpool, are accepted and surprise no one in the Bundesliga. One famous example would be Mario Gӧtze's controversial move to Bayern Munich, when they and Borussia Dortmund peaked in their rivalry as they strived for major honours in both German and European football. Even this week, Bayern have announced the signing of Hoffenheim's Sandro Wagner from January onwards.
Completing future transfers has its merits. The deal is sorted for the buying and selling clubs, and for the players themselves, without any rush and stress to get everything done before any deadlines. Moreover, everyone involved has time to accept the reality of the deal and the situation it represents for their club.
Transfers in advance can be cheaper, with last-minute signings often inflated as selling clubs cannot often secure a replacement at such short notice. Finally, securing a player for the future removes any long-term competition for that player's signature, to Liverpool's benefit with regards to Keïta.
The downsides to deals done in advance primarily concern the lack of an immediate arrival. Liverpool fans were delighted with the capture of Keïta, but they would dearly love to see him pull on a Liverpool shirt tonight against Arsenal, rather than wait until next summer. Klopp would undoubtedly prefer this too, but Leipzig would not sell for this season.
Another negative surrounds the minds of these players who know they will soon be leaving for another club, but have to keep playing for their current outfit. All these players are professionals of course, so in theory this situation should not be a problem, and these players should be able to perform at their maximum, as they would if they were committed to their current club for the long-term.
For many, knowing their future is secure, regardless of if it is at their current club or a future club, allows them to relax and play normally, with freedom, instead of insecurity, doubt and anxiety.
Yet some lose their motivation to perform, knowing they will soon move onto pastures new, causing a problem for the selling clubs and potentially putting them off conducting these future deals.
The only comparable version of these deals that exist to a certain degree in the Premier League is pre-contract agreements, but in these transfers the selling club is not involved, thereby distinguishing them from the likes of Gӧtze and Keïta.
More of this?
Consequently, should Liverpool attempt to conduct more transfers in advance? In most scenarios signing players immediately is preferable, however January could present an ideal opportunity to get a sizeable amount of summer shopping done. Therefore, Klopp would have more time to work with his new signings and provide them with as much of a pre-season as possible, given the disruption of the World Cup in the summer of 2018.
Moreover, signing players now for the summer may be cheaper if they subsequently excel for their international team at the World Cup, thereby attracting more suitors and raising their price.
Thomas Lemar may be one example where Liverpool would be better off sealing the deal in January for the following summer. Lemar has struggled to live up to the standards he produced last season for French side Monaco, but the defending Ligue 1 champions lost several star assets over the summer, and the 22-year-old cannot carry Monaco on his own.
Lemar could replace Philippe Coutinho, who himself could have his own transfer sorted in advance. Barcelona are desperate to sign the Brazilian but, given he would be cup-tied in the Champions League, a summer move makes more sense. Yet sorting the deal in January would remove all the uncertainty and allow Coutinho to concentrate on finishing his Liverpool career in the best possible fashion.
For Lemar, Liverpool would not have to worry about any World Cup exploits inflating his fee, and neither would the Reds have to scramble desperately for a Coutinho replacement.
Are future deals the future? Probably not, but expect to see a few more of them crop up in the English game, removing the surprise for English fans and putting them on the same level as their German counterparts.