Chris Wood on Dejan Lovren

Not since 1991 when Liverpool swooped to prise both Mark Wright and Dean Saunders away from Derby County has the club targeted a single club for high-profile and repetitive transfer business, which is what happened to Southampton in the summer of 2014. But there some of the similarity ends. Derby had been relegated from the top division in bottom place in 1991 and it was inevitable that their big players would be looking for new clubs. Southampton had consolidated their place in the Premier League by ending the 2013/14 season in a very creditable eighth place. But within weeks they had seen their talismanic scorer and their captain depart for Liverpool; and now they have watched a key central defender make the same journey to leave new manager Ronald Koeman with the task of massively rebuilding his squad almost as soon as he had arrived.

In the wake of Jamie Carragher’s retirement as a player Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers knew that a priority was to look at the team’s central defensive positions in the summer of 2013. It was a problem he only partly solved. Although Martin Skrtel only missed two of the thirty-eight Premier League matches, Daniel Agger was absent in eighteen. These two stalwarts will celebrate their thirtieth birthdays within a few days of each other in December 2014. Kolo Touré played in the same number of league matches as Agger but at the age of thirty-two when he arrived was hardly a long-term solution; Mamadou Sakho was adequate without being exceptional but still played in less than 50% of the league games; and all Tiago Ilori proved was that he was nowhere near ready for the physical side of English football as he was bundled off to Spain on loan halfway through the season. So a year on the centre of the team’s defence was still a pressing matter to attend to for the Liverpool manager.

It is probably true that most central defenders will reach their peak in their late-twenties or early-thirties. That is only a generalisation of course but it is hard to find reliable central defenders with experience who are younger and available at a sensible price. Having parted with 15 million pounds for the 23-year-old Sakho, it can’t have been a surprise to Liverpool’s Transfer Committee that Southampton wanted more than that for Dejan Lovren, who was 24 years old at the time Liverpool first made their interest known. Southampton rejected Liverpool’s opening advances and were probably reluctant to let a third player go to the same club at any price. But most clubs know that keeping an unhappy player will only lead to further problems later. So eventually the two clubs’ negotiations reached a stage where both were happy and the Croatian became a Liverpool player towards the end of July 2014.

Dejan Lovren was born in the city of Zenica in Yugoslavia which, following the break-up of that country, became part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. His allegiance to Croatia comes from his parents. As civil war raged in Yugoslavia the Lovren family relocated to Munich so Dejan’s formal education began in Germany. The family headed back to Croatia after seven years in Germany and the youngster soon became a youth player in the town of Karlovac before moving on to Dinamo Zagreb in 2004 around the time of his 15th birthday. Within a couple of years he was making his senior league debut for Dinamo. The club from Croatia’s capital city then sent him on loan to NK Inter Zaprešić for two years and he did well there, making fifty league appearances, before returning to Zagreb. He was 19 years old when the next season began and he helped Dinamo to become the Croatian champions in 2008/09. He was also a member of the team that beat Hadjuk Split in the Croatian cup final that season.

Lovren made his senior debut for his country shortly after his 20th birthday and the following January moved to Olympique Lyonnais in France, signing a deal that was meant to last until the end of the 2013/14 season. The French top division, like its English counterpart, consists of thirty-eight league matches. But for one reason or another the defender only played in 56% of Lyon’s league fixtures during his three full seasons in France. Lyon finished 3rd, 4th and 3rd again but did win the Coupe de France in 2012, although Lovren had to be substituted at an early stage of their final victory over US Quevilly at the Stade de France in Paris. Despite having extended his Lyon contract by a further two years in 2012 Lovren signed a four-year deal with Southampton in June 2013.

Of the three ex-Saints who will now be plying their trade on Merseyside Dejan Lovren is the most surprising because the Croatian defender has decided to move on only one year after signing a four-year contract with the south coast club. Despite it being a year during which his club made good progress, there was no real indication that the player was unhappy until his teammates Lambert and Lallana had left St Mary’s for pastures new. Although Lovren was out of action for a few matches after being injured during Southampton’s 2-2 draw at Sunderland in January, he still played in 31 of the 38 Premier League matches, scoring twice; that fixture at the Stadium of Light and the only goal of the game at Anfield in September, a header that ended Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the season and lifted the Saints into 6th place in the table behind early pace-setters Chelsea and Liverpool themselves.

Jamie Carragher is delighted by Lovren's capture and said on Twitter that he and his Sky Sports' colleague, Gary Neville, both had Lovren in their Premier League team of 2013 and he thought Lovren was "excellent for Southampton." Mark Wright, former Southampton stalwart and formerly Britain's costliest defender when Liverpool purchased him from Derby, mentioned in the beginning of this article, commented on talkSPORT: "Dejan Lovren looks a decent enough player and if there is one position Liverpool needed to address [it's centre-back]. They concede too many goals from set-pieces last season and they conceded a lot of silly goals, if they hadn’t the title might have been theirs and probably should have been theirs. And they’re addressing that by getting this lad in. “Is he the answer? Time will tell but one thing I do know is that Brendan Rodgers is very thorough. The most important thing is shutting the backdoor and they’ve gone for this lad, but for one good season £20million seems a heck of a lot of money.”

Copyright - - written by Chris Wood ([email protected])

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