We experienced three stages of emotions after news broke that Liverpool officially signed forward Cody Gakpo from PSV. There was an initial shock, since Gakpo was widely assumed to be joining his compatriot Erik ten Hag at Manchester United, and Liverpool needing more pressing upgrades with a midfield blamed for the club’s downturn in form. The shock turned to confusion as Liverpool already had Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez in Gakpo’s most-played left wing position. Was the transfer a panicked, big-name signing to satiate a restless fanbase? Then, after the numbers cleared, we landed on how the transfer fee was “just” $45 million for a 23-year-old with 55 goals and 50 assists in 159 matches. A bargain is a bargain no matter an aging midfield.

The initial concerns highlighted a perceived existential stasis within the club. A lack of midfield reinforcements from last summer’s transfer window had the club scrambling to sign Arthur on loan. On the field, Liverpool went from dreams of reengaging Arsenal and Manchester City for the league title to fighting for a Champions League position in sixth place at the time of the World Cup break. Not to mention the behind the scenes instability with previous sporting director Michael Edwards leaving last summer and his hand-picked replacement Julian Ward announcing that he would step down after this season. Club director and trusted Jurgen Klopp confidant Mike Gordon left his role in November. The backroom movement crescendoed with the oft-rumored news of current owners FSG looking for a full or partial sale of the club.

Klopp, who thankfully renewed his contract last season until 2026, found himself taking on greater responsibility of the transfer market just by definition of being the last one standing. In a way, Gakpo represents Klopp’s first transfer on his own, without his previous guardrails. There’s no Liverpool figure you’d trust more than Klopp, but we’ve also seen successful managers get hampered by being their own mediocre sporting director. Even moreso for a club that prided itself in bringing a Moneyball-style of elevating uncovered gems to a Champions League level.

Gakpo’s signing went against value-based principles following his World Cup performance in which he scored three goals in five matches. One of soccer’s great axioms is to never sign players after international tournaments; there is a reason why PSV held on to Gakpo until after the biggest stage as surely some team would get caught up in the emotions. Gakpo did his part in showcasing the variety of his attacking skills. There was a late header against Senegal,a left footed blast against Ecuador, then this right footed finish against Qatar. USMNT will remember his link-up play during Netherlands' opener in the round of 16.

But the performances did display his positional variety. As Klopp noted in a press conference unveiling Gakpo, Louis van Gaal’s side had “not a striker-friendly approach” with their counter attacking, 3-4-1-2 formation, leaving Gakpo to defend off the ball. Playing in a striker partnership with Memphis Depay showcased his ability to play in the middle of the field as opposed to hugging the touchline. Klopp pointed out Gakpo’s versatility in filling all four attacking positions in a traditional 4-2-3-1, an essential component of succeeding in Liverpool’s attacking three.

Gakpo has the essential signature move for any modern right-footed winger playing on the left in receiving the ball on the touchline, cutting inside, and creating. But Liverpool also spent $135 million on left wing attackers last year with Diaz and Nunez. It may be Gakpo who bends and moves to the middle; Klopp hinted at a positional change in saying that his signing would have no impact on Firmino’s future with the club.

The broad strokes of Liverpool's archetypal front three are ingrained in us by now: the system features two wingers responsible for direct movements into the box as the central striker drops between the lines and acts as a playmaker. Thus Gakpo’s success will be measured not only in goals but in his ability to unlock Nunez and Diaz. There are the usual concerns with attackers coming from the Eredivisie adapting to the physicality of the Premier League, but Gakpo does fill a unique role with his preference to receive the ball to his feet as opposed to in space. Klopp assistant Pep Lijnders described how Gakpo was Liverpool’s “missing link” months earlier.

The Sadio Mane-Mo Salah-Firmino trio seems obvious now, but its success was developed over years. Mane was 24 years old when Klopp moved for him at Southampton. Firmino was a 24-year-old winger when he first came to Liverpool. Salah was the elder at 25 years old, having been loaned to Fiorentina and Roma after failing at Chelsea. Gakpo’s fit doesn’t have to make sense now; there just has to be enough to mold.

Klopp would go on to praise Ward for his work on Gakpo’s transfer, especially in keeping hints of a move secret before any official announcement. Should we have been surprised? Standardizing a talent identifying and recruitment process means that the Liverpool machine will run regardless of who is in charge, for better or worse And suspicions around Gakpo’s transition to the Premier League are a throwback to the unpolished gems that defined the initial Edwards-Gordon-Klopp era of matching a sporting philosophy with business.

“If he would have already been scoring 40 goals in Spain or whatever, he would be unaffordable.

“These kind of things are all about timing, getting these boys at the right moment that they didn’t already score 55 goals per season,” said Klopp on why Liverpool had to move for Gakpo when they did, regardless of concerns at other positions.

There is a unity between Klopp’s philosophy of pressure and his ability to shape raw material, to turn the potential of a 23-year-old attacker into something tangible and match-winning at a Premier League and Champions League level. When Klopp renewed his contract to see out this current phase of squad turnover, he said that the freshness of the challenge to renew the current squad energized him. Every side has distinct eras over the years in going from potential to actualized to aging, then restarting the process over again. There’s no clear moment within that cycle to leave as each iteration has its own puzzle to solve. For now, we can split the difference by justifying Gakpo’s signing as a bargain at the very least. But we may look back and see it as a pivotal moment in stabilizing the next evolution of Klopp’s Liverpool.