With Liverpool’s stellar Premier League form this season, a sixth Champions League crown at the end of the last campaign and the small matter of a deadly virus changing life as we know it, you would be forgiven for forgetting that Nathaniel Clyne is still a Liverpool player.
No disrespect intended to the England international — the Reds’ No.2 has been a useful player for the club since he joined from unofficial feeder club Southampton in a deal worth £12.5m in July 2015.
He immediately slotted in as a first-team regular, with the club hoping his ability and experience would be able to help transform a defence that had been leaking goals for years. Yeah, remember those days?
His time at the top has been of great benefit to both Brendan Rodgers and Jürgen Klopp, and Clyne has now made more than 100 appearances for Liverpool.
But, through no fault of his own really, he has fallen into obscurity — the momentous rise of Trent Alexander-Arnold from academy prospect to one of the best young talents on the planet has relegated Clyne to a rarely-used backup option at Anfield.
In truth, rarely-used is a bit of an overstatement. Clyne hasn’t made an appearance for Liverpool in almost 18 months — the last time he pulled on the shirt for a senior match was for a seven-minute cameo against Arsenal in December 2018, when the Reds were already 5-1 ahead.
A loan move to AFC Bournemouth for the rest of that season soon followed, and it was widely expected that the London-born full-back would leave last summer with the club looking to cash in on a man who can still offer plenty to other teams.
Alas, fate intervened, and a ligament injury sustained in pre-season swiftly put an end to any chances of Clyne being moved on in that transfer window.
While the chance to earn a transfer fee has gone, Liverpool will still be pleased to see him leave upon the expiry of his contract this summer. Again, this is through no ill will — the simple fact is Clyne’s time on Merseyside has come to its natural end.
So where next for the 29-year-old? Clyne is experienced enough — and, vitally, still young enough — to be an attractive target for Premier League clubs. Sheffield United, who may have a European campaign to look forward to next season, have been linked with the defender.
That said, the most recent rumour to surface speaks of Clyne possibly joining Liverpool legend and current Rangers manager Steven Gerrard at Ibrox. This would likely be an appealing prospect for the full-back, as the Glasgow-based side can still offer European football and an opportunity to win trophies domestically.
It’s unlikely that a player of his experience and talent will be without many suitors this summer, so perhaps the more pertinent question is that of who should take his place as backup to Alexander-Arnold.
It could be a tricky situation for Klopp — Neco Williams is a promising young talent and, after his domestic cup displays in the first team this season, the manager may be tempted to give him more opportunities in the senior side.
But the German may decide the 19-year-old is not yet ready to step up and play regularly in a scenario where Alexander-Arnold picks up an injury, so what alternatives does he have?
James Milner is famed for his ability to do a job pretty much anywhere on a pitch — there is no doubting the veteran would be a capable stand-in for the odd game here and there.
However, at 34 he is far from a long-term solution, and his lack of pace can sometimes lead to limited attacking influence when operating from wide areas.
The manager’s preference to date has been to push Joe Gomez to right-back whenever necessary, but this too is not a long-term fix. The former-Charlton man has struck a fine partnership with Virgil van Dijk in the heart of defence — this is his place, not out wide.
The alternative option is to dip into the transfer market in order to replace Clyne directly. This seems a simple task in theory, but finding a capable alternative who will serve only as a backup to Alexander-Arnold may prove a difficult task.
The player has to be of sufficient quality, but willing to accept a bit-part role. From the club’s perspective, it makes little sense to spend a premium on a defender who will not often play, so the transfer fee and player’s wages would need to be low. Put all that together, and it’s a tricky puzzle to solve.
Klopp loves a versatile player, and he can be thankful to have so many in his squad. Ki-Jana Hoever prefers the right-back role despite playing much of his time in a Liverpool shirt so far in the middle of defence, while the aforementioned Gomez and Milner can also cover the position.
In addition, Jordan Henderson has filled in on the right flank sparingly in the past, while Fabinho made his name as a right-sided defender before being converted into the no-nonsense battling midfielder we have all come to know and love him for.
Barring any charitable farewell appearance afforded to him, Nathaniel Clyne has surely played his final game in a Liverpool shirt. When it comes to replacing him, Klopp may be best served by doing nothing at all.