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Fabinho and Robertson strategy copied with Konaté, and Liverpool need not worry

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Everything about the Ibrahima Konaté transfer has come with slightly less fanfare than might be expected. A release clause deal for one of Europe’s brightest centre-back prospects, aged just 22 and plucked from the Bundesliga runners-up — in normal circumstances, the Liverpool fan-base would have been abuzz. There was some excitement, but it was muted: the team had just limped through the season with Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams ending as the first-choice pairing, the likes of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson also having taken stints at the back over the course of the campaign. The sentiment was one of ‘it’s about time’ as much as anything else.

To add to this effect, the deal for Konaté was wrapped up at the end of May. What followed was more than three months of transfer inactivity, which promptly shifted the narrative around Liverpool. The Frenchman was mentioned as an afterthought, a slight disclaimer when questioning the lack of signings. He was sidelined to some extent before a ball was kicked.

Now, with many a ball having been kicked in the 2021/22 season, he is being sidelined more literally. Konaté has made just two appearances, one in the league and one in the EFL Cup. Each saw him play the full 90 minutes, and both ended in 3-0 victories, so he’s clearly not done too much wrong. However, for the eight other games so far, he has had to settle for a seat on the bench. As the wins keep coming without him, any residual hype is draining away.

Thankfully, there is no need for concern, and if Konaté is worried he need only turn to Fabinho and Andy Robertson. Both players know what it is like to spend more time on the sidelines than on the pitch in the fledgling stages of an Anfield career, and yet both have now developed into integral cogs in Jürgen Klopp’s machine: it’s a cliché, but patience is definitely a virtue at Liverpool.

With Robertson, there was perhaps not a huge deal of expectation that he would be thrust into the limelight quickly. A cut-price deal from relegated Hull City, fans were mostly expecting an astute rotation option as much as anything else. Even so, only two appearances from the first 14 games seemed to be cause for a little bit of worry, not least because the Scot only even made the matchday squad on four occasions.

That’s when Alberto Moreno got injured. Robertson was thrust into the limelight, and the rest, as they say, is history. The Spaniard was a very useful player, and gets a bad rap thanks to the sheer brilliance that his replacement has since exhibited, but there was no way he was getting back into the side after his ankle issue. Konaté will not be wishing injury on any of his team-mates, but he knows that a problem for Virgil van Dijk or Joël Matip places him right in the mix. One incident away from a starting berth at Liverpool is not a bad position for anyone to be in.

The Fabinho situation was arguably even more equivalent to Konaté’s, in the sense that the Brazilian was brought in as a player who had already established himself at a top side in Europe. Despite this pedigree, the defensive midfielder did not play a single minute in any of the first eight Premier League matches, having to content himself with a sole outing in the EFL Cup and fleeting substitute appearances in Europe. As with Konaté, the initial excitement was beginning to ebb away, but after sitting out the first fifth of the season, Fabinho swiftly became integral to Liverpool’s efforts in the league and Champions League.

Konaté’s integration, when it comes, will probably be more gradual. After all, he has Van Dijk and Matip ahead of him, with Joe Gomez to compete with too. Barring an injury, he will be eased rather than thrown in. However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that his time will come, and that it will be all the better for having waited. Klopp’s system takes time to learn, and the chance to do that away from the brutal scrutiny of the world’s most popular league is a blessing rather than a disappointment.

Gomez has been Klopp’s centre-back in waiting for the best part of six years. There have been starts along the way, including whole stretches of being first choice, but he remains fundamentally Liverpool’s defender of the future. He now has a partner in Konaté: the delay might be longer than with Fabinho or Andy Robertson, but there is reason to hope the pairing will be worth the wait.



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