Jurgen Klopp is gambling on reawakening the ‘next Xavi’ in late Liverpool transfer
In 2018, Arthur Melo arrived at Barcelona from Grêmio, the latest in a seemingly ever-expanding line of ‘next Xavis’.
Two year later, as little more than a financial makeweight, he was sent to Juventus. Now, he’s a potential Hail Mary for Klopp’s injury-ravaged Liverpool midfield on a season-long loan. Can he recapture any of his previous potential?
We’ve addressed it before, but it bears repeating: barely four years ago, Arthur was the future for Barcelona. As an up-and-coming star with Grêmio in his native Brazil, Arthur drew genuine comparisons to none other than Blaugrana legend (and current Barça manager) Xavi Hernandez. In the summer of 2018, it had been three years since Xavi had vacated his spot in the three years earlier, and fellow midfield legend Andrés Iniesta has just wound down his time at Camp Nou. What better player to help Lionel Messi usher in a new era at the club following PSG’s shock poaching of Neymar the summer before. It made perfect sense for Barcelona to make the €31 million move to bring the then-22-year-old midfield maestro to Catalunya.
Initially, things looked to be going precisely to plan. Arthur settled in spectacularly at Barça, exhibiting the temperament and tactical acumen for which the club had been dreaming. So smooth was his transition into the squad that none other than Messi himself mentioned young Arthur’s name alongside Xavi’s: “Arthur has surprised me… He is very similar to Xavi, as he likes to have the ball, play short, not lose it and is very solid… Arthur has the style we have here.”
And Xavi even chimed in, on Catalunya Radio in 2018, saying: “I see myself when I see Arthur on television… He is a very quick thinker.”
After a stunning performance against Tottenham in the Champions League that October, he stood on the cusp of global superstardom. Unfortunately, the hype was incredibly short-lived. By the following season, due to injuries and a reported lack of commitment to training and conditioning (owed, reportedly, to an affinity for the Barcelona nightlife and, allegedly, for partying with Neymar, who was no longer in the side, mere days before matches), Arthur was barely an afterthought in the Barcelona squad. The summer after that, having even drawn publicly criticizm from Luis Suárez for not passing the ball forward often enough, he was gone, sent to Juventus in the ‘financial engineering swap deal’ that landed Miralem Pjanić join Barcelona.
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It was believed that Arthur would benefit not only from the change in scenery, but from joining an established side like Juve. Additionally, it was assumed that coach Massimiliano Allegri would make the most of Arthur’s previous experience as a defensive midfielder. While there were justifiable reasons to believe such things, it’s difficult to overstate the extent to which they did not come to pass. By this summer, after two seasons in Turin, Arthur had made just 63 appearances in all competition for Juventus, just 31 of them in the 2021/22 season, and just 16 of them starts.
On the one hand, we can point to FIFTEEN injuries in four years in Europe and suggest that perhaps Arthur has been a bit unlucky. On the other hand, that he (presumably healthy) was left out of Juve’s pre-season tour of the United States, has not yet featured for the side this season and, more glaringly, has only been named to the Brazil national team (for whom he was a regular in 2018/19) twice since the end of 2019.
At this point, Arthur is well and truly on the fringes at Juventus. By all accounts, neither his style nor his attitude are what Allegri is seeking. According to recent report, the Italian giants were open to his departure, with interest coming from Wolves, Sporting Lisbon and Valencia.
Enter Jürgen Klopp.
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It’s no great secret that Liverpool, especially in the midfield, have been absolutely ravaged by injury. Needless to say, in the wake of injuries to Thiago, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jordan Henderson (whose hamstring injury Klopp has described as ‘serious’), something needs to be done if Liverpool are to keep their campaign on track. Even so, it’s tough to make the case that an oft-injured player who’s not consistently played high-level football in quite a while, and whose commitment has been questioned is Liverpool’s magic elixir.
Now, there are some who claim that Arthur’s style is similar to that of Thiago. Perhaps, at Arthur’s brief stint at the peak of his powers, this was theoretically true. However, a quick comparison of Arthur’s 1,000+ minutes in Serie A in 2021/22 to Thiago’s showing from last season suggests, quite emphatically, that this is not the case now.
Maybe Klopp and the folks at FSG have surveyed the transfer market, found it genuinely bereft of midfield reinforcements, and concluded that a low-risk loan for an out-of-favour starlet is the most prudent course of action. Or, perhaps, having considered not the broader market but Arthur himself, Klopp is convinced that he, his staff and this Liverpool side can rediscover the instinct and ability that once warranted comparisons to an all-time great.
The first of those scenarios is deeply overwhelming. If the second isn’t at least partially true, then it’s likely that Arthur’s latest trip to Anfield will be much more pleasant than his last: the second leg of the Champions League semifinal in May 2019, which ended Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona.
“I’m really, really happy to be here wearing this great shirt with this famous badge that represents so much in world football, it’s a dream,” Arthur told Liverpool’s official website.
“We talked a lot, and our ideas and visions were a good fit so I’m sure it was the right choice. I’m really happy and highly motivated to continue living my dream on the pitch and giving my all in a Liverpool shirt.”