A standout performance in the Champions League has brought to light Liverpool’s missed opportunity in their pursuit of a defensive midfielder. When assessing available options before the last summer transfer window, Liverpool’s decision-makers reportedly believed there was a shortage of pre-peak, elite-level defensive midfielders in the market.
This stance might explain why Liverpool opted for 30-year-old Wataru Endō as a cost-effective stop-gap solution in the holding midfield role for a relatively modest fee of $21 million (£16 million/€19 million).
Although West Ham’s Declan Rice was available, Liverpool seemed to have accepted that he would join Arsenal for a hefty sum ($130 million/£105 million/€122 million). Additionally, Moisés Caicedo was open to leaving Brighton, but Liverpool lost out as he preferred a move to Chelsea.
Liverpool did make a move for Southampton’s Roméo Lavia, but if the club genuinely believed he was an ‘elite-level’ player, they would likely have met Southampton’s asking price (three offers were reportedly rejected).
There were other potential options in the market, such as Ibrahim Sangaré, Tyler Adams, Florentino Luís, and Cheick Doucouré, but Liverpool’s lack of interest suggested they didn’t view these players as top-tier choices. Fulham’s João Palhinha, though impressive in the Premier League, was deemed too old at 28 to fit Liverpool’s ‘pre-peak’ criteria.
However, there was one player who seemingly met all of Liverpool’s requirements and came at a reasonable price of $64 million (£52 million/€60 million) – Sporting’s Manuel Ugarte. At just 22 years old, Ugarte had enjoyed a stellar season in Portugal, earning a spot in the Primeira Liga’s team of the season. Surprisingly, Liverpool allowed him to join PSG without making a competitive bid, and he has already made a strong impression in Paris.
Speaking about Ugarte before his PSG Champions League debut against Borussia Dortmund, manager Luis Enrique praised him as a significant addition to PSG’s squad, highlighting his strength, character, and ability to bring balance to the team. Ugarte’s performances have justified this praise, as he has excelled in winning balls and showcasing outstanding passing accuracy.
Notably, in a recent match, Ugarte recorded a remarkable 96.8% passing accuracy, completing 61 out of 63 passes, including 12 out of 12 long balls. To put this into perspective, Thiago, a similar player at Liverpool, achieved a 100% pass completion rate on long passes only once during his time with Liverpool (in the first leg of the 2021/22 Champions League final against Villarreal). This underscores Ugarte’s impressive qualities and the potential missed opportunity for Liverpool in not securing his services.