When Ryan Gravenberch arrived at Liverpool’s training complex with girlfriend Cindy Peroti early on transfer deadline day, a couple of familiar faces were waiting to greet them.
Fellow Netherlands internationals Virgil van Dijk and Cody Gakpo came bounding down the stairs to embrace the club’s fourth signing of a hectic summer window.
“Finally, a good Dutch player!” joked left-back Andy Robertson as Gravenberch was introduced to other members of Jurgen Klopp’s squad.
There was a bearhug from Klopp, who welcomed him into his office and said: “Let’s start with the worst — the weather isn’t as good as Munich, but the rest is top. It’s a massive club. We will help you with all we can.”
A warm welcome… 😅 pic.twitter.com/KF0XfWLsJ0
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) September 1, 2023
During the in-house media duties that followed, Gravenberch spoke about his eagerness to make “a fresh start” after a season of frustration at Bayern Munich, where he started just three Bundesliga matches. “Finally, I’m here,” he beamed.
Patience proved to be a virtue for Liverpool and the player. Their long pursuit of the 21-year-old had reached a successful conclusion with the completion of a £34million ($42.7m) move as he penned a five-year contract.
His arrival marked the end of an extensive midfield rebuild following deals for Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai and Wataru Endo.
If the signing of 30-year-old Endo from Stuttgart represented a major shift away from Liverpool’s usual transfer policy, then normal business was resumed by securing the services of Gravenberch.
Young but with a decent amount of elite-level experience under his belt from his first club Ajax, he also has the potential to reach much greater heights. Throw in his versatility, and the fact he has a point to prove after his time in Bavaria, and it is no surprise the deal appealed.
But how was it done?
“The player is ours, amigo,” declared former Liverpool left-back Jose Enrique when talking about Liverpool’s interest in Gravenberch on a YouTube livestream in March. “It’s the same agent as me, Team Raiola. We had a meeting not long ago in London, this is our player.”
If only it had been that straightforward. Yes, there was positive dialogue last season between Liverpool and his agent Rafaela Pimenta, which continued when Jose Fortes Rodriguez took over as his representative earlier this year.
Liverpool’s chief scout Barry Hunter flew to Holland in April to meet Gravenberch’s father, Ryan Senior, who guides his career, and returned home buoyed by what he had been told.
Tired of being overlooked and stuck on the fringes of the Bayern squad, Gravenberch would jump at the opportunity to join Liverpool if a deal could be done.
However, there was a problem: despite his lack of game time under Julian Nagelsmann and his successor Thomas Tuchel, Bayern were adamant he wasn’t for sale.
That stance didn’t change until the final 72 hours of the window when the Bundesliga champions belatedly decided to cash in rather than keep an unhappy player.
Manchester United had also been interested, but by then their attention had shifted to signing Sofyan Amrabat on loan from Fiorentina. Gravenberch’s heart was set on Anfield anyway and Liverpool moved swiftly to get their man.
“The main problem for him is that we don’t really play with a No 8 in our 4-2-3-1 system,” explained Tuchel about why things hadn’t worked out for him at Bayern.
Ryan Gravenberch: What would Liverpool’s new target bring to their midfield?
“He’s a box-to-box midfielder, an attacking player. Ryan is a very nice, hard-working, committed player. He wasn’t happy with his situation. He sees the chance in Liverpool to fight for a place at No 8 in a 4-3-3. He’s wanted to go for a while.”
Liverpool were no longer in the market for another specialist holding midfielder after signing Endo last month. Klopp also has Mac Allister, Thiago and Stefan Bajcetic as contenders for the No 6 role and feels well-stocked.
However, what Klopp did want was someone who was “multi-functional” and he viewed Gravenberch as the ideal recruit. He can play deep if required but is viewed as most effective operating further forward.
“What Thomas Tuchel said, the position he is best at, they don’t really have in their system. We have that — that’s good,” said Klopp. “He is super-talented. A good eye for a pass. He can be a real box-to-box threat. It fits into our squad.”
Liverpool had scouted Gravenberch extensively since his days in the youth ranks at Ajax when his energy and determination stood out. He became the youngest player in the club’s history to grace the Eredivisie when Erik ten Hag gave him his debut at 16 years and 130 days in 2018, surpassing Clarence Seedorf’s record.
He was in the same age group as Ki-Jana Hoever, who had a spell at Anfield before being sold to Wolverhampton Wanderers in a £13.5million deal three years ago.
It was Hoever who gave Gravenberch the Liverpool shirt he was pictured wearing while sitting on an exercise bike holding his mobile phone in 2020. That image was recreated at Kirkby for his unveiling last week.
At 6ft 3in (190cm), he’s physically imposing, but his speed is also regarded as one of his major attributes. He’s a high-intensity runner with the pace and the strength to go past opponents and create space for team-mates.
Senior recruitment figures at Liverpool believe there are similarities with fellow Dutchman Georginio Wijnaldum, who was such a vital cog in Klopp’s trophy winning machine before his exit to Paris Saint-Germain in 2021.
Gravenberch clocked up more than 100 appearances for Ajax by the age of 20, with his best performances coming on the left of a midfield three.
He didn’t particularly stand out against Klopp’s side in the Champions League group stage in 2020, but his display in the 2-2 draw away to Atalanta really caught the eye as their appreciation of him grew.
The youngest of three brothers, he joined Ajax’s academy at the age of eight. Dennis de Haan was one of his first youth coaches.
“You never know which talent is going to make it or not,” he told Amsterdam-based newspaper Het Parool. “There are so many pitfalls: do you have the character and personality to make it to the top? What is your technical, tactical and physical development like? In what environment did you grow up? That’s fine with Ryan. I still see that smile in him — that is his strength.”
He progressed so quickly that, at times, he could come across as complacent. De Haan tells a story about giving a team talk in the dressing room before a youth game and after running through the tactical plan, he asked if anyone had any questions. “What time does the canteen open because I want to eat a grilled cheese sandwich later?” asked Gravenberch.
However, he blossomed in the senior ranks under the guidance of Ten Hag, who left Ajax for Manchester United last year shortly before Gravenberch himself moved to Munich. “He has a lot of capabilities, especially in an attacking sense, but he understands hard work,” said Ten Hag.
Across the 2021-22 campaign, his final season in Amsterdam, Gravenberch’s 3.9 attempted take-ons per 90 minutes placed him in the top five per cent among all midfielders in the Dutch top flight. He also recorded 11 ‘pre-assist’ passes, the most in the division, with 16 per cent of his passes defined as progressive (ie, a completed pass advancing the ball 10-plus metres or into the opponent’s penalty area).
Gravenberch featured highly on Liverpool’s list of midfield targets in the summer of 2022, but they were edged out by Bayern, who paid Ajax around £20million.
His parents, Ryan and Aretha, who both played amateur football, moved with him to Munich. His oldest brother, Danzell, who also started out at Ajax, plays in the Dutch second tier for Telstar.
Gravenberth’s struggles in Bavaria did little to dent Liverpool’s admiration. It merely alerted them to the fact that he might come back onto the market.
All the upheaval behind the scenes at Bayern made it a difficult time for a young player trying to make his mark in a new league. Now, not only has Gravenberch joined a team who have a style and a system that suit his qualities, but he has a manager who truly appreciates him.
Klopp was a big factor in his decision to join Liverpool because he knows the German’s track record for developing talent and wants to go to the next level. He also spoke extensively with Van Dijk and Gakpo about life at the club before his arrival.
Gravenberch’s decision to turn down a call-up from Netherlands Under-21s during the international break hasn’t gone down well in his homeland.
Under-21s boss Michael Reiziger said he had made “the wrong choice” making himself unavailable for games against Moldova and North Macedonia. Senior team manager Ronald Koeman said the Dutch federation’s technical director Nigel de Jong had contacted Gravenberch to register their disapproval.
However, a player who already has 11 senior caps under his belt, believes the time would be better spent getting settled on Merseyside and training before a potential Premier League debut away to Wolves on September 16.
He knows he has a challenge forcing his way into Klopp’s revamped midfield following Liverpool’s impressive start to the campaign but he intends to embrace it.
This is a player who didn’t take a holiday after this summer’s European Under-21s Championship because he wanted to ensure he was in the best possible shape for the new season. He’s tired of watching from afar. What happened to him at Bayern was the first real setback he had faced and he intends to use it as fuel to prove he should still be regarded as one of Europe’s most exciting young midfield talents.
As You’ll Never Walk Alone echoed around Anfield before Sunday’s game against Aston Villa, Gravenberch looked around his new surroundings and nodded approvingly.
They had to play the waiting game all summer but eventually, both player and club got what they wanted.
(Top photos: Getty Images)
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