Marco Lopes offers his thoughts on this summer’s transfer activity at Liverpool FC and calls for patience and caution.
12 months ago, if the recent report in the Liverpool Echo is to be believed, then-Sunderland boss Steve Bruce expected to receive £4m from the sale of midfielder Jordan Henderson.
Instead, Liverpool offered £14m, and proceeded to raise that to £16m.
In the same transfer window, Liverpool spent £20m on Stewart Downing, and £7m for Charlie Adam. 6 months earlier, a rather poorly timed exit by Fernando Torres left Liverpool with mere hours to purchase a new number 9. They responded quickly – too quickly – with a move of £35m for Andy Carroll.
Believe the article or not, but it’s clear that those numbers left a bitter taste in the mouths of Liverpool fans come the end of the 2011-12 season. The team’s potential, galvanised by runs to both domestic cup finals were totally undermined by the side’s stale performance in the League. We were meant to believe the excuses, especially that of conspiring woodwork.
There was very little criticism directed at owners FSG, though. Many were grateful that they’d allowed so much money to be spent – yet behind the scenes, I would imagine the Americans were wondering where the return for those investments were.
Fast forward 12 months, and the anti-climax of deadline day in the summer transfer window. And a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal. Pandemonium! Hate mail and negative sentiment directed at Ian Ayre, FSG, and even (in my opinion, pathetically) Brendan Rodgers, and all of a sudden, Liverpool have had a shocking transfer window and we’re doomed to fail.
Some of us have short memories, don’t we?
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s poor planning that an obvious #9 is missing from the squad. But I think we need perspective. We need to look at the other transfers. The players who came in, the players who left. The money we did receive. The context of Liverpool living for 3 years outside the Champions League with its estimated £20 million annual pot. Liverpool’s inability to bring in revenue to the extent of clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United. And quite critically – the infamous transfers of the previous regime, which clearly affected not only FSG’s willingness to spend, but created the impression in some clubs that you can milk Liverpool for transfer money.
Ultimately, the blame rests with FSG. But not entirely in the manner one may think. Before Rodgers was appointed, there were rumours aplenty that FSG were considering a structure inclusive of a Director of Football, or Sporting Director. It was a template they appeared to feel would work – and it certainly posed sense in assisting with issues of scouting, transfer negotiations, and being an important conduit for interaction between manager and owners.
This template disappeared once Brendan was appointed. I have a couple of ideas of the reasons why. One thought comes from Brendan’s possible request to have greater control over matters – something which possibly caused FSG to forgo their preferred model and give Brendan that responsibility. The other idea is that FSG decided to split the roles and give Brendan the responsibility of identifying preferred targets, while Ian Ayre would take the lead in securing them.
Whatever the real reasons, I have every confidence in Rodgers’ ability to spot talent that is realistically obtainable. If Liverpool aren’t able to recruit it, either they don’t have enough money, or the wrong person is trying to negotiate these deals. And it is in that respect that I think FSG have just had another mistake which they will be learning much from. I still think FSG are interested in getting this right. They’re making dumb mistakes – but, as an example, just the bravery they showed in dismissing Dalglish and hiring Rodgers tells me there is more to them than many think. Some Liverpool fans would prefer a rich Arab / Russian oil billionaire as our owners – fine, but consider that Chelsea and Man City had to spend £673 and £572 million respectively since 2003 to fast-track their teams into League winners. That kind of spending will never make sense, no matter how many trophies you win. And I’m one of those dumb fans that doesn’t want Liverpool to buy success anyway – it’s more satisfying to build it.
It sounds like, particularly as it relates to Dempsey, there was more to the debacle. The erroneous stunt where Dempsey was announced as a Liverpool player on the NESN website some weeks back did nothing to foster a positive atmosphere for a transfer of the American from Fulham to Anfield. If the stories are true that Fulham accepted lower priced offers from Villa and Spurs and expected a higher fee from Liverpool, I hardly blame them for doing that. Besides, Liverpool’s last summer transfer window didn’t set a particularly good precedent for a club intending on paying bargain prices. If we think we should be happy about paying premium prices for players like Dempsey, we’re in big trouble. Don’t chastise Liverpool and FSG for being fussy about Dempsey’s fee. I’d rather ask why it appeared Dempsey was our only option.
So FSG’s will learn from this – the hard way. Last season they trusted too much in their charges, but now they have made the mistake themselves. Whether it is to free up more funds in the January transfer window, to improve the scouting process, or better yet, hire a proper Sporting Director / Director of Football to deal with these issues, they will have to respond well. I blame FSG only because they’re responsible for setting up a structure of resources and people to bring in the right players. Clearly the structure has some gaps. But it is certainly not cause to lose all faith, they’re learning a valuable lesson. I read a fantastic tweet that summed it up – it’s not about blind faith in FSG, and they are still learning. But they are not idiots, nor are they Hicks and Gillett. Besides, in context, our transfer window wasn’t all that poor.
Our 2011-12 summer transfer window – in context
While many want to judge the transfer window’s success purely on the failure to capture a #9, I think we need to be a bit wiser than that.
Let’s get the negatives out the way. In my opinion, Liverpool’s transfer window lowlights were in a few areas:
We didn’t need Reina’s clanger against Hearts at Anfield the other night to remind us of the concerns that remain about our keeper. It’s an expensive position to recruit when you’re looking for quality (upwards of at least £8m, probably). The fact remains, he lacks competition, and I’m not so keen on Jones as a deputy. Nonetheless, Rodgers will need to keep an eye on his keeper, and if further clangers follow, expect this to be a priority position come the new year.
Right wing / right wide forward
It’s clear that Rodgers likes to play a 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 variant, where the width is intended to arrive from the fullbacks and the movement of the front “wings” tends to be inside towards the box. It’s the kind of system that gets the best out of Suarez’s exceptional movement and positioning. Our problem is that we have ONE Suarez. Now finding another one is difficult, and it’s not to say that Sterling or Assaidi aren’t capable of doing the job – they may well do so. But I worry that that Liverpool’s greatest attacking threat comes predominantly from the left, and in time, that may become predictable. I hope that Liverpool address this in January, but it’s more likely to be addressed next season.
And so we approach the controversial issue. I think having Carroll loaned out is still a win-win scenario. The lad can build his confidence at a team where the playing style suits his strengths far better. His wages are covered. And Liverpool don’t spend time trying to force him into the team just for the sake of his transfer fee, and instead focus on testing things which are actually worth trying. For example, I would rather try Gerrard as a “false 9”, or promote Morgan to the first team, than try and fit Andy into the system. Ironically, we spent much of 2010-11 trying to accommodate Andy – even though we weren’t playing the Rodgers style.
With Carroll, we need to be prepared – he’ll do better at West Ham, and immediately, the accusations will come from media and opposing fans alike that he has been loaned out erroneously. Let’s not kid ourselves. We won’t play Allardyce football – and that brand of football will suit Andy perfectly. It will hopefully suit Liverpool’s pockets too, in time. I’m not saying this because I don’t like Andy – I do – but I think he’s a square peg in a round hole while in a Liverpool shirt.
The issue here is not Carroll’s departure – we needed someone in REGARDLESS of Andy’s presence or not. One can only hope the results aren’t too badly affected by the lack of a #9 – but if they are – FSG will at least see the fruit, or lack thereof, of their mistake, and hopefully address it swiftly.
The highlights of the summer transfer window
I still think it was a good transfer window – no, it wasn’t the best we could have had, and it is not exactly hard to improve on the transfers 12 months ago, but our objective was to improve the squad – and that was achieved in most respects.
Over the last few years, Liverpool have accumulated some players who are not of the standard we need, are far too costly to keep, or don’t fit into Rodgers’ style of play. This transfer window addressed most of all three.
I expected the departure of Aquilani. Getting rid of the old campaigners Aurelio, Bellamy, Maxi and Kuyt dealt with the wage issue. Spearing leaving on loan was a good move, but I think he needs to be shipped out eventually. Even though he contributed many assists last season, Adam just didn’t illustrate the quality we needed overall. As for Carroll – his loan is a great idea. He’ll do well at West Ham. It will increase his confidence, contribution, and most importantly – value.
Joe Cole and Downing still remain. It will be hard to ship them out at reasonable prices, but Rodgers seems to have an idea of how to get some better performances out of Downing at least.
The core remains
A big fear with this transfer window was not that Liverpool wouldn’t improve the squad, but rather than we’d end up short of one of our talismans. Agger, Skrtel and Suarez were at significant risk of being sold. The rumours flew aplenty about Suarez early on, especially with the notions that FSG were none too happy with the racial abuse allegations from last season, but a new contract put that issue to bed. (I still fully expect a Spanish giant to change that in a couple of years though.) Skrtel and Agger were both courted by Man City, but we kept them – and that is really encouraging. Now regardless of the discomfort around Agger in particular, the fact remains, Liverpool did not sell – and that is a good sign. How many Liverpool fans would have been happy with signing Dempsey and losing Agger, I wonder?
Great players arrived – for present and future
It’s hard to remember a transfer window for Liverpool where we signed someone like Joe Allen. Someone that young, with that much immediate raw talent, that he can come in from his first game and look like a future star. Comparisons to Xavi seem almost insane – but the Welshman can play, and his read of the game is a perfect fit to Rodgers’ style. I remember seeing so much disappointment from Liverpool fans about his signature, because he wasn’t a big spectacular name – yet he’s already illustrated at his tender age that he’s teaching his teammates something about how to play football. The best part is that he is only 22. He’s already looking better than any midfielder we’ve had for the last 3 years – including Gerrard.
The other signings are appear to be good value – the only concern is possibly Borini, who doesn’t resemble a 15-20 goal-a-season forward. However, he’s just 21 – that could well change. He’s already shown flashes of good movement and energy (especially against Man City).
I am impressed Liverpool’s capture of Sahin. I don’t think there was any chance of buying him – but we have one year to make the guy fall in love with the place, so that IF the chance arises, we should be in a good position to make him sign permanently. And even if we don’t, to get a player of his quality in a time when he quite rightly could choose more money and Champions League football should give you an idea of how well Liverpool have done.
As for Assaidi and Yesil, they are two obvious talents – bought at prices to rival that of the most outstanding negotiators. Time will tell if these two emerge as the kind of players we need, but they look like very talented prospects. If the latter in particular scores some goals – I’ll bet the reservations about Dempsey will disappear.
One of the other criticisms labelled at FSG is that they didn’t replace all the players we lost. Yet Bellamy and Kuyt didn’t play every week, and Maxi even less so. Aurelio played once (I think)! We signed players to play to Rodgers’ new system. We didn’t need to replace every single player like for like. It’s a thin line of forwards, I agree, but take into account that Rodgers wants to see more goals from the midfield as well. We’ll have to wait and see how the results evolve.
The fountain of youth
The introduction of some academy graduates into our first team is very encouraging. Sterling is as exciting, if not more, than Joe Allen. Morgan looks a solid player as well. And I for one really hope Suso and Ngoo get a chance to play.
The introduction of these lads, combined with the existing youthful crop of Shelvey, Robinson, Flanagan, Kelly and Coates looks interesting. Sterling, Shelvey and Coates joined Allen and Borini in a side that ran the English champions off their feet at Anfield. Yaya Toure, arguably the best midfielder in England currently, professed that it was the hardest game he’s played since he joined Man City. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that experience came from a team who were largely a bunch of kids.
The importance of patience
The situation isn’t ideal, but it’s hardly time to panic. And if some of us were expecting outlandish money like the fee the Mancs resorted to for RVP, we had all the wrong expectations. No, we don’t have an oil billionaire at the head of our club – be careful for what you wish for, I would say. We need to be realistic, and patient. FSG wouldn’t have introduced so many changes in the summer if they weren’t at least remotely interested in the future of the club. Even if the cynical ones out there believe it’s purely about shortening the wage bill so that the club is sold, it could be far more disruptive to Liverpool to change ownership again in a short space of time, so I for one hope that is not the case.
Liverpool are also paying for last summer. Not only in money, but in reputation and negotiation leverage. A precedent was set and it needs time to be forgotten. Or is someone going to try and convince me that Adam, Downing, Henderson and Carroll are in the same class as Allen?
The key, as always, is patience. The fixture list hasn’t been kind to us in the opening matches, and Liverpool will have faced 3 of the top 5 from last season by the end of September – so if we have a poor start, the league table position will need a pinch of salt to digest. Rodgers’ revolution will take time. I’m willing to give Rodgers the benefit of the doubt because even though he’s likely disappointed about deadline day – he’s one of the few who won’t sit and give up on Liverpool.
Neither should we.
As for FSG, they continue to learn. And hopefully, they learn quickly.