Liverpool have a growing interest in signing Southampton defender Armel Bella-Kotchap with the player reportedly earmarked as the eventual successor to Virgil van Dijk.
The Reds have a history of raiding St Mary’s over recent years with several deals taking place. Indeed, as well as Van Dijk, Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Peter Crouch and Nathaniel Clyne have all made moves to Liverpool in recent years. Now it seems another raid may be on the cards with reports indicating their desire to land Bella-Kotchup.
The 20-year-old only moved to St Mary’s in a summer switch from Bochum, Saints paying a modest £8.6m fee. That deal, though, already looks shrewd business for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side with Bella-Kotchap playing every minute so far for Saints.
Such has been his fine form that the player has recently been called into the Germany squad. He now looks a good bet to make Hansi Flick’s World Cup squad, where he will compete with the likes of Nicklas Sule, Antonio Rudiger and Jonathan Tah.
However, his rapid rise has also brought him to the attention of several other big hitters. To that end, the Reds will likely face competition from Bayern Munich and Real Madrid for his signature.
Per those reports in the Spanish press, Jurgen Klopp and Co believe Bella-Kotchap is an ideal successor to Van Dijk.
Liverpool splashed out a then-world record £75m fee to prise Van Dijk from Southampton in January 2018. That fee, though, has proven money well spent with the Netherlands defender playing a hugely-influential role in their recent period of success.
Indeed, Van Dijk has won all there is to be won in the game since moving to Anfield.
However, there have been signs of late that the player’s age is catching up with him slightly.
Armel Bella-Kotchap seen as Van Dijk replacement
Van Dijk himself has come in for some criticism of late amid a series of indifferent form for Liverpool this season. And the 31-year-old has himself given an honest assessment over what must improve.
All the same, at 31 years of age, there is no telling how many seasons Van Dijk has left at the very top. Ultimately, and like any top class footballer, he will need replacing and age will catch up with him.
To that end, Bella-Kotchap is seemingly their No 1 target to one day succeed him.
However, Liverpool’s immediate priorities lie in strengthening their midfield options. To that end, that will be their main focus in 2023, with a sky-high new fee put on the head of top target Jude Bellingham.
Furthermore, transfer expert Dean Jones does not think a move for Bella-Kotchap will happen any time soon.
Speaking to GiveMeSport, he suggests any move for the defender will likely only happen in summer 2024.
“He’s certainly on a steep climb right now, called up for Germany and also linked to Liverpool,” Jones said.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise they would be monitoring him at this stage because the way he has adapted to the Premier League has been so impressive. He’s only 20 and I think he will end up at a top club within two years.”
Southampton a stepping stone for defender
With Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern already tracking him, it seems Bella-Kotchap will not be a Saints player for long.
The move to St Mary’s was clearly a shrewd move, though, for all parties. The defender will use the switch to broaden his exposure and harness his game against some of the best attackers in world football.
But there is only so much he can develop his game to at St Mary’s. While Saints are an excellently-run club, they are never quite able to take that next step and push into the top half.
To that end, keeping their top young stars is ultimately seen as a near-impossible task.
Liverpool have raided Saints frequently over the years and it would come as no surprise to see a future raid again.
With a contract to summer 2026, time is on Southampton’s side. But come summer 2024, when the defender will have two years left, the pressure to sell will be great.
By then, Armel Bella-Kotchap will be 22, and much greener in terms of experience. Inclusion in the Die Mannschaft squad in Qatar will only raise his profile and ambitions even further.