Liverpool have abandoned their hopes of signing Virgil van Dijk and apologised to Southampton for “any misunderstanding” over their interest.
It is understood the Saints had not received any contact from the Reds regarding their defender, yet the Dutch defender apparently indicated an eagerness to become the latest player to swap St Mary’s for Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp is believed to have made Van Dijk his top target, with the chance to work with the Liverpool boss reported to have played a significant role in the player’s decision - information that stuck in the craw at Southampton.
Saints are understood to have asked the Premier League to investigate an alleged illegal approach, which has been followed by Liverpool announcing the end of their pursuit.
“Liverpool Football Club would like to put on record our regret over recent media speculation regarding Southampton Football Club and player transfers between the two clubs,” the statement on Liverpool’s official website read.
“We apologise to the owner, board of directors and fans of Southampton for any misunderstanding regarding Virgil van Dijk. We respect Southampton’s position and can confirm we have ended any interest in the player.”
Southampton did not wish to comment on a statement that followed high-level talks yesterday.
It is understood those discussions were the first time the clubs had spoken this summer, having not spoken about Van Dijk before then.
The apology is likely to be the end of the matter in terms of a Premier League investigation into the approach for a player who still has five years remaining on his deal at St Mary’s.
The Reds had been expecting to pay in excess of £50m - a world-record fee for a defender - and were understood to be willing to make him the highest-paid player at the club.
Van Dijk is said to have preferred Liverpool ahead of interest from fellow interested parties Chelsea and Manchester City.
Last month Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger said the club would no longer be bullied in the transfer market, saying they were in a position to turn down a £60m bid for Van Dijk.
“We do not need to sell any player for the first time since I’ve been here,” Krueger said.
“I can make that statement and - unless football decides it’s in the best interests - we don’t need to do that.”
Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert all left Southampton for Anfield in 2014, with Nathaniel Clyne following suit the following year and Sadio Mane in 2016.
Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin have been other high-profile departures in recent years, while managers Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman have also left for pastures new.
Van Dijk is among the current Southampton stars attracting interest, having become one of the most sought-after defenders in the league since moving to the south coast from Celtic less than two years ago.
A fans’ and players’ player of the year in his first season at St Mary’s, ankle ligament damage restricted him to 21 Premier League appearances in 2016/17.
Liverpool are already serving a two-year suspension from signing youth players registered with Premier League or EFL clubs in the preceding 18 months.
They have admitted to making an illegal approach last year to a 12-year-old attached to Stoke’s academy. The second year of the ban is suspended for three years.
Meanwhile, Liverpool are in talks with Sporting Lisbon regarding a deal for winger Gelson Martins as the club continue their quest to bring in a pacy attacker. The Reds have been in negotiations with Roma about Mohamed Salah, but fear being priced out of a move for the Egypt international, and Martins is seen as a potential option.
It has been claimed in Portugal Martins has a buy-out clause of €60m, but that Sporting’s failure to qualify for the Champions League means they would take €50m.
The 22-year-old made 44 appearances last season, scoring seven goals and providing 14 assists, and produced a particularly impressive individual performance against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the Champions League in September.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is known to want to add more pace to his side for next term. It is understood the club have also been monitoring Keita Balde at Lazio and Bayern Munich’s Douglas Costa in addition to Salah and Martins.
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