Lidt fra The Athletic om Werner :
Other contributors: James Pearce, Simon Johnson, Raphael Honigstein.
Less than three weeks ago, Timo Werner’s mind was in Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp had won him over, making clear his admiration and convincing him over the course of two meetings and several WhatsApp chats that Anfield would be the best fit for the striker. It seemed an inevitable move.
Chelsea’s success in convincing one of Europe’s most prolific goalscorers to instead pick west London owes much to the speed with which they moved when opportunity presented itself, as well as to owner Roman Abramovich’s willingness to spend what others would not.
Thursday’s rapid developments were no ploy to flush out an eleventh-hour bid from the Premier League leaders. Chelsea will finalise a €60 million (£54 million) deal to sign Werner from RB Leipzig next week, having agreed to match the release clause in his contract and add him to a dynamic young squad already set to be bolstered by the arrival of Hakim Ziyech from Ajax this summer.
Chelsea’s big push was the culmination of 10 dramatic days that completely upended Werner’s vision for his future. But how did this happen?
For much of this season, Plan A for Werner had been Liverpool, while Plan B had been one more season with RB Leipzig. But as the June 15 deadline for the release clause in his contract began to loom, Werner grew anxious. By the time the Bundesliga season ended he wanted to be able to browse potential properties in Merseyside and go on holiday with his future settled. Above all he did not want a repeat of last summer, when he said his goodbyes to RB Leipzig ahead of a move to Bayern Munich, only for the deal to collapse.
Werner set Liverpool a separate deadline to make a final decision on whether they were prepared to meet his release clause. Klopp consulted with Fenway Sports Group, then called the striker to explain why the move would not happen. Sources have told The Athletic that the Liverpool manager insisted the reasoning was purely financial, rather than any negative reflection on the player or his proposed role in Klopp’s squad. Werner accepted the explanation and the two men remain on good terms.
FSG do not take money out of Liverpool, but they do expect the club to live within its means. During the COVID-19 shutdown, the message coming from the highest levels at Anfield has been that there will be no major signings in the coming transfer window. The wage bill stands at £310 million and when the club reversed its decision to furlough staff in April, chief executive Peter Moore warned of “unprecedented operating losses” as a result of the pandemic.
When contacted by The Athletic, Liverpool insisted the decision to pass on Werner was not a financial one. It would, however, have been a vast outlay for a player who would have started his Anfield career as a substitute. Klopp can currently field arguably the most devastating front three in world football, and Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah are all in their prime years.
His plan had been to ease Werner into the team around January 2021, when Africa Cup of Nations commitments were scheduled to occupy both Mane and Salah for up to six weeks. But with that competition increasingly likely to be pushed back to 2022 as football’s schedule adapts to the effects of COVID-19, the need for such expensive and high-calibre squad cover next season is lessened.
Liverpool’s withdrawal opened the door for other suitors. Werner’s representatives re-opened talks with Manchester United and Chelsea; both clubs had made their interest known earlier in the season, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had met the striker in Berlin in February, shortly before a meeting with Klopp. United, however, made it clear they would only be willing to meet the release clause if they found a buyer for Paul Pogba.
Chelsea presented no such stipulations. Marina Granovskaia indicated they would meet the release clause in full, and Frank Lampard called Werner to explain how he would fit into the club’s broader plans for the future. Over the course of two lengthy phone conversations, the striker warmed to the appeal of working under another admiring coach and joining a promising young squad.
COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented any Chelsea officials from flying to Germany to conduct the negotiations in person. Granovskaia handled discussions remotely while enlisting the services of Luxembourg-based lawyer Dr Michael Becker – who once represented Michael Ballack and often works with the club on transfer business in Germany. Werner cannot travel either due to hygiene rules set by the DFL, but there were no practical impediments to the deal.
RB Leipzig initially supported Werner’s plan to either join Liverpool this summer or stay in Germany for another year, though were mindful of the fact that Werner’s release clause dropped to €40 million next summer and €25 million in 2022. However, Financial Fair Play became a bigger consideration in recent weeks and The Athletic understands the club recently explained that to Werner who, though disappointed, understood he would have to leave for the good of the club; since promotion to the Bundesliga in 2016 Leipzig’s net spend according to Transfermarkt is €137.2 million, bigger even than Bayern Munich (€117.5 million).
Losing his top scorer stings for RB Leipzig’s highly-regarded young coach Julian Nagelsmann, who played an instrumental role in convincing Werner to sign a new contract after Bayern dropped their interest in the summer of 2019. But there was always a recognition that the presence of a release clause in his new deal made this scenario likely, and the club’s stance towards a sale hardened their striker’s resolve to seek out alternative Premier League destinations when Liverpool withdrew.
Werner formally agreed to join Chelsea on Thursday afternoon, with news of his decision leaking out shortly afterwards. Sources have told The Athletic that Antonio Rudiger, who played alongside the striker at youth and senior level at Stuttgart and remains his teammate in the Germany squad, was particularly excited by the prospect of welcoming his friend to Stamford Bridge.
All parties expect to complete the deal next week, as only relatively minor details remain to be resolved. One is the precise payment plan; there is a suggestion that two-thirds of the transfer fee will be transferred in this window, with the rest to follow in January. Another is length of contract; Chelsea are understood to want at least a five-year deal. Werner’s salary will increase year-on-year as the contract progresses, and is expected to reach in the region of £9 million per year (a little more than £170,000 per week) plus bonuses.
It is a big victory for Lampard, who publicly stressed the need to add more goals to his squad in January. He didn’t get his wish then, but next season he will be able to call upon a scorer coveted by Europe’s elite; for context, sources told The Athletic that Liverpool’s recruitment staff, widely regarded as among the very best in world football, rated Werner more highly than either Jadon Sancho or Kai Havertz due to his combination of lightning speed and positional versatility.
Lampard also liked Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, primarily because of his proven track record as a prolific goalscorer in the Premier League. So too did technical and performance advisor Petr Cech, who formed a very positive impression of the Gabon international’s personality and professionalism in the 18 months they spent as team-mates at the Emirates Stadium. Interest was shown in January but it was late in the window, Barcelona were also in the picture and Arsenal were unwilling to sell.
Aubameyang, however, is 31 in June. Werner, seven years his junior, is a cleaner fit for the squad that Lampard is building around a hugely talented batch of Chelsea academy graduates. He is also very similar in skill set to Dries Mertens, another prolific veteran who continued to draw admiring glances from Stamford Bridge until he committed to a new three-year contract with Napoli in May.
Werner’s arrival presents a challenge to Tammy Abraham, who remains the only one of Lampard’s home-grown core yet to commit to a long-term extension. Despite being very capable of carrying a goal threat from the left flank, 27 of the Germany international’s 35 starts and 24 of his 29 goals for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga and Champions League this season have come as a central striker.
But if Chelsea truly aspire to be elite contenders again, Lampard knows he must be able to call upon attacking firepower to match the very best. The acquisitions of Ziyech and Werner have emphatically addressed his squad’s most pressing need weeks before the transfer window officially opens.
“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”