Transfer talk dominates football these days. It’s impossible to avoid the speculation with the most high-profile moves now often something of a circus.
You only need to look at Liverpool’s interest in first-choice target Jude Bellingham for proof of this. The Borussia Dortmund midfielder looks set to move on this summer, but the saga regarding his future already feels drawn out.
Meanwhile, we now live in a world where supporters can find out more than you could possibly imagine about even the most obscure of players linked with your club with just a few clicks of a button. Only earlier this season, Reds manager Jurgen Klopp would admit how modern scouting means that if a goalkeeper makes a save anywhere on the planet, Liverpool knows about it. And if there is even a sniff of interest, the outside world seemingly knows it too.
READ MORE: Mohamed Salah agent speaks out over Liverpool exit rumours
READ MORE: Mohamed Salah agent comments show Liverpool situation has changed for him and his client
How different things were in the pre-Premier League era, or even the formative years of the then new English top-flight. Back then, there were a lot more unknown quantities, but that doesn’t mean club bosses weren’t putting in extensive work behind the scenes.
Back in December 1992, Stig Inge Bjornebye’s life changed virtually overnight as he completed a £600k move to Liverpool from Rosenborg. One moment he was scoring the winning goal in the Norwegian Cup final, the next he was meeting Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, before being told he was off to Anfield and being sold to his boyhood Reds.
“I can’t really remember when I first learned of the concrete interest but it happened really quickly,” the Norwegian recalled when speaking to the ECHO in an exclusive interview. “A couple of days after that cup final, which was our last game of the season.
“After that particular cup final I was invited up to the lounges to see someone, it was me and another player, and we didn’t really know why. We didn’t know why we were going up to these lounges, but then we were introduced to Sir Alex Ferguson and Tom Saunders, who was the chief scout at Liverpool at the time.
“We just met them, shook hands with them and that was it. There was no conversations or anything. I think they just wanted to see us in person. Then we went back to the dressing room and continued the celebrations.
“I think a day or two later, my agent phoned me and said: “Son, you need to pack your bags because you’re going to Liverpool!” It really happened like that!”
He continued: “Decisions like this, it moves really quickly in football sometimes. I was 22 at the time and didn’t really have time to think. All of a sudden, I was there and found myself at Melwood.
“I supported them since I was a kid, together with my dad. At the same time, at 22 I was already a regular for the Norwegian national team so it wasn’t unrealistic anymore.
“I think I managed to deal with it in a professional way and focussed on what I had to do to perform. But it took time because it’s a massive step from Norway and the Norwegian league.
“All of a sudden you’re at Liverpool who were having a rough time as well. I came into a rough period. So it wasn’t that easy and it took time for me to adjust, that’s for sure.
“But I was there for a long while, and I really, really enjoyed it. It’s such an important time in my life when I look back at it, at my career. It’s obvious, it’s obvious that it was a fantastic experience.”
While the move was very sudden for Bjornebye, it was a different story for Liverpool bosses. Then-manager Graeme Souness would later reveal to the Norwegian when he first caught the Reds’ eye. Now a sporting director himself as Danish side AGF Aarhus, it’s something he can now appreciate that little bit more.
“Graeme Souness told me sometime after that, that that summer, a few months before I actually signed, my club Rosenborg had an exhibition game in Oslo,” he recalled. “Apparently I caught his eye during that game so they followed me for some games without me knowing.
“I didn’t know and then that led to me signing. These things happen in football. I can see that now in my role. Sometimes it goes really quickly.
“To build a structure which is good enough, I think it’s risky to make decisions too quickly. It’s almost certainly the most ideal thing to have a long plan in process, especially when it comes to players.
“You do your scouting thoroughly, you pick up references and you see enough matches live. That was a challenge in my first year due to Corona. It’s wasn’t possible to travel too much to watch players and games.
“But we try to do as much scouting, and as thorough as possible. Signing and selling players is a risky business so the more prepared you are, in every aspect, the more of the risk you reduce.”
Bjornebye would go on to make 184 appearances for Liverpool during eight years with the club. With the Reds boasting an ageing squad and stuck in transition following his arrival, it ultimately took a while for Kopites to see the best of him. A 5-1 defeat to Coventry City on his debut certainly opened his eyes to what he was walking into.
Loaned back to Rosenborg in 1994, with one eye on the World Cup, the full-back had only made 23 appearances for the club across those first two years. Meanwhile, the manager who signed him, Souness, had been sacked after one bad result too many as Liverpool ended up stuck in mid-table. As a result, it would have been easy to write him off as a flop at the time.
But Bjornebye’s Liverpool career was far from over with both player and new manager Roy Evans both seeing the bigger picture.
“There was obviously pressure around Graeme as a manager. The results weren’t good,” Bjornebye said. “My debut, a 5-1 loss to Coventry. I mean that should never happen.
“In a way I think I came through that match pretty okay. I didn’t have any references of the level so it was difficult for me to understand what was going on. I was just trying to find my feet and trying to learn as much as I could. I’d speak to the other players, and there were a lot of great players who helped me a lot.
“But after that first year, the 1994 World Cup was coming up and the Norwegian manager was concerned because I wasn’t playing every game. I was a little bit in and out of the team. I was playing a fair share, to be honest, but he wanted players who played on a regular basis, every week.
“So it came up, a discussion exactly around the time when Graeme Souness left. Roy Evans, who I had a fantastic working relationship with, I had a chat with him and we agreed I was going back to Rosenborg on a short-term loan, leading up to the World Cup, to prepare for the World Cup in the best possible way because everything wasn’t hunky-dory at Liverpool.
“I think he just wanted me to go back to a safe environment and prepare for the World Cup. And he said to me very clearly, ‘After the World Cup, you’re back here.’
“He obviously had a plan and he proved that as well because he pretty much played me every game. I think it was a good plan. Sometimes you need a step back to take two forward to have the progress. For me it was a good thing and it built my career stronger. No complaints about that!
“With the first couple of seasons, I wasn’t necessarily looked upon as a success. But I always tend to come back and prove critics wrong.”
While Bjornebye would indeed prove his critics wrong and go on to play the best football of his career following his return to Anfield, the arrival of Gerard Houllier in 1998 would ultimately spell the beginning of the end of his Liverpool career. He would feature 31 times under the Frenchman in 1998/99, before being sent on loan to Danish side Brondby, and then reuniting with Souness at Blackburn Rovers in 2000.
But despite being one of the early casualties of the Houllier era as a result, there were never any hard feelings or fallings out with his former manager.
“I had a good relationship with him,” he said. “I think he made some important changes to the club because he wanted to lift the club in terms of professionalism and he made some changes to signal that.
“He had demands in terms of professionalism. So he made these changes and he made a great deal of changes in the squad with players. Sometimes he probably brought in too many players at the same time to begin with.
“To begin with, I felt it was a bit of a mess. But he had a plan with it and he had his success. For me, obviously the playing time became less.
“Maybe I was too attached and loyal. Maybe I should have looked at something different at that time because to stay at Liverpool as long as I did is not necessarily normal.
“But looking back, I have no regrets. No regrets. I’m glad I stayed. I was loyal and I wanted to stay and fight my way into the team. But the playing time became less. Then in the end, it was the best to move.
“I’m not driven by that kind of motivation to avenge something. I think I’m more driven with inner motivation and to prove something to myself. So no hard feelings to anyone at Liverpool and certainly not Gerard Houllier either.
“I met him many times after I left and it was always nice conversations. It’s sad he’s not with us anymore. He did some important things for the club as well.
“Going to Blackburn and getting signed by Souness, who knew me, it was good. But with all due respect for Blackburn, it was a different feeling. It is a small club compared to Liverpool. Liverpool is massive. That was something I needed to adjust to, without taking my foot off the pedal.”
*Read part two of Stig Inge Bjornebye's exclusive interview with the ECHO on Monday as he reveals all about the highs and lows of his Liverpool career, including winning the League Cup, those infamous cream suits at the 1996 FA Cup final, and why he thinks Roy Evans' side never won the Premier League.
Luis Diaz is about to unlock a lethal new partnership in Liverpool attack
Anfield left Francesco Totti stunned with emotional Liverpool return
Stefan Bajcetic dealt further blow after Liverpool midfielder suffers season-ending injury
Anfield booing transformed career of Liverpool star before exit reduced Jurgen Klopp to tears
Paul Merson shuts down Rio Ferdinand and makes Jude Bellingham point Liverpool fans will love