Neil Humphreys: Lionel Messi may force Liverpool to spend
Rivals' big plans leave Klopp with little choice
Lionel Messi threatens to transform life at Liverpool. The Second Coming of a superstar at Manchester City really does warrant the biblical hyperbole.
For English Premier League clubs like the Reds, time will be subsequently measured as either Before Messi or After Messi.
Before Messi joined City, for instance, Liverpool strolled towards an inconsequential Community Shield workout against Arsenal.
After Messi joined City, Liverpool saw the Community Shield as an immediate, necessary opportunity to reappraise their squad depth.
The thought of the Argentine reuniting with Pep Guardiola isn't so much a pebble in a puddle, but a meteor in the ocean. A tsunami beckons for everyone.
Juergen Klopp's insistence that money isn't everything will sound hollow if Messi joins City.
In the modern game, Messi is everything. The mere mention of his name raises the bar for everyone else.
Before Messi, Kostas Tsimikas was a handy addition to a trophy-hoarding Liverpool squad. After Messi, the new left-back isn't enough to stop City's resurgence.
Tsimikas got a taste of life at Liverpool last weekend, when James Milner was caught on camera swearing at the new signing.
One of the only advantages of empty stadiums is the priceless sound of Milner screaming, "Ah, Kosta, f****** hell" during a friendly against Stuttgart.
The blunt welcome was also a timely reminder that Tsimikas stands out for maybe the wrong reasons. He's Liverpool's only signing of note.
Before Messi, an £11.75 million (S$21.2m) addition to a title-winning side represents decent business. After Messi, Tsimikas will barely register.
The goalposts are moving, whether Klopp likes it or not.
The pragmatic German has said that clubs must "think five times before making a transfer" in the uncertain climate, but his rivals are wilfully ignoring the memo.
As the Messi speculation builds around the Etihad, Ben Chilwell is adjusting to life around Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea paid £50 million for the left-back, who joins fellow newcomers Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner.
Before Messi, such spending seemed excessive, just another example of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich failing to read the room. After Messi, the Blues' signings will feel like the bare minimum of requirements.
Of course, Messi isn't a Manchester City player yet. His contract with Barcelona includes more small print than an optician's eye test.
But if Messi successfully extricates himself from his Catalan straitjacket, Liverpool will toil to maintain a laissez-faire approach in the transfer market.
In that context, the Community Shield suddenly takes on a greater urgency.
The Reds are no longer playing for an irrelevant silver plate, but for their futures in an unfamiliar post-Messi climate.
Previously, Georginio Wijnaldum was arguably the only Liverpool player to feel under pressure to deliver in the Community Shield.
Thiago Alcantara seems to be the one name that won't go away. The Bayern Munich midfielder has been linked with the Reds for weeks and understandably so.
A Klopp favourite, Alcantara goes about his business for Bayern in a quiet, understated way. He operates in a hole that needs filling alongside Jordan Henderson (when he recovers from injury).
Milner offers a dependable stopgap, but Wijnaldum hasn't quite maintained the consistency demanded by Klopp's relentless pressing.
Even without the looming spectre of Messi, the Reds' stringent recruitment strategy, though admirable, may look dated among the myopic big spenders.
In an ideal world, EPL clubs would exercise restraint and consider the ugly optics of splashing the cash as Covid-19 continues to decimate economies.
But others aren't following Liverpool's pragmatic path.
Chelsea are not done yet and City will sign Messi if the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presents itself. Where does such spending leave Liverpool?
The bloody head of Virgil van Dijk provided the suitably graphic imagery.
A clumsy elbow opened up the centre-back's forehead, just above his eye, in the recent friendly with RB Salzburg. He may be patched up for the Community Shield.
If he isn't, the Reds are left with Joe Gomez and Nat Phillips, who has made just one senior appearance for the Reds.
Joel Matip is injured. Dejan Lovren was sold, which only underlines Klopp's astonishing achievements last season.
He had a first XI to win a title, but not the squad depth to build a dynasty.
And even then, Liverpool's silverware was collected in the old world, the one before Messi. He'll be on the minds of many at Wembley.
The Community Shield is not about beating the Gunners, but proving that the Reds are capable of challenging the GOAT waiting in the wings.