In the same way a magician may induce you to look at their right hand in order to disguise what they do with their left, Liverpool have used the power of distraction to quietly dispatch Fulham in a tense encounter and begin their stealthy ascent up the Premier League table. As the game approached it wasn’t business as usual for Liverpool fans; the build-up to the game didn’t revolve around the potential line-up or the challenge posed by the visiting side. Instead, all thoughts were elsewhere as focuses shifted to January’s final week and the inevitable flurry of rumours that ensues as the transfer deadline draws nearer.
Remaining at the top of this list – and of Liverpool’s priorities – is Ajax’s Luis Suarez, who still finds himself caught in the middle of a transfer saga that has turned into an agonisingly slow waiting game. Ajax’s valuation seems to grow higher by the day, whilst Liverpool seem distinctly unwilling – or unable – to meet it. The lasting hope from the fans is that the two clubs will be able to find a compromise in the middle ground, but with rumours of Ajax’s ultimatum and Liverpool’s potential bluff to withdraw from the deal altogether, there seems to be no real end in sight.
The only positive to be found is that, with January drawing to a close, we’ll be forced to find out sooner rather than later. The negative side to this is that a hasty conclusion may not result in the good news we’re hoping for. One thing is for certain, though: Suarez is a top quality player and seems a perfect fit for Liverpool, and except in rare cases where bargains appear out of nowhere, you get what you pay for. In this sense, NESV would be wise to push forward with the deal, even if they have to shell out a little more than they want to. They shouldn’t give in to excessive demands, but if they announce their arrival with the signing of an expensive and classy player, it will all but solve what seems to be their biggest concern at the moment: gaining the admiration and support of the fans.
Suarez, of course, isn’t the only player on Liverpool’s radar at present. Should the deal collapse, backups that have been mentioned include Sevilla’s Alvaro Negredo, who, whilst perhaps not at the level of the Uruguayan, would certainly add quality and depth to the squad. He’s a player who shone at his previous club, Almeria, but hasn’t yet lived up to his potential at Sevilla. I’d certainly welcome him to the club, though he is best suited to being a lone striker, and question marks would be raised as to how to fit him into the current system – at least when Torres is fit and firing.
The other deal taking up space in the headlines is the reds’ pursuit of Blackpool captain Charlie Adam, who is left in an awkward position if the deal doesn’t materialise after handing in a transfer request. Adam is a good player who would certainly add something to the squad, but you have to feel that with the variety of players at Liverpool’s disposal in the centre of midfield, the money could be better spent elsewhere – especially considering Blackpool’s absurd double-figure valuation.
There seems no need in spending more than necessary on his acquisition; putting it towards the Suarez deal, for example, seems much more astute. A criticism in years past has been that the reds have seen fit to divide their budget up and bring in a number of mediocre players instead of one marquee signing. It is a method that invites less risk, but it also lowers the potential reward.
Perhaps it’s time the club put all its eggs into one basket.
As a final note regarding transfers, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the departure of Ryan Babel, who seemed synonymous with the word potential during his time at the club. Despite a few memorable moments he never lived up to that potential, and whilst I feel Dalglish’s more positive pass and move mentality may have finally brought the best out of him, I can certainly understand why he has been moved on. The price being quoted is reasonable – and if it can get added to Dalglish’s transfer kitty then all the better – and I can understand, too, why he would desire a fresh start elsewhere. All that’s left to say is to wish him the best of luck.
So, in case I had misled you into forgetting about Liverpool’s latest encounter, thoughts at last come to this evening’s game against Fulham, which marks Dalglish’s first victory at Anfield in his second spell at the club. Barring the first quarter of an hour – where a vintage Liverpool put the visitors under intense pressure – it wasn’t an outstanding performance, and the reds were lucky to escape with the win thanks to a humorous own goal. All that mattered, though, were the three points, and with them in the bag the performance will be overlooked as Liverpool climb into the top half of the table.
At the weekend, I briefly mentioned lineswoman Sian Massey’s involvement in Liverpool’s opening goal against Wolves. This was, of course, just prior to the events that transpired in the aftermath of the game, where the whole matter was blown quite rapidly out of proportion. I don’t intend to touch any further on that incident – except to say that our collective football viewing experience may be somewhat more pleasurable in the absence of a certain pundit – but this evening’s game against Fulham seems to require looking back to the weekend. Tonight, the assistant referee’s decision to rule out Torres’ perfectly valid opening goal only highlights the quality of Massey’s performance last time out. She was pulled from a League 2 match this week due to the controversy surrounding the issue, but I suspect it won’t be long before she’s back in the Premier League. Based on the performances of her colleagues, she can’t come back soon enough.
Liverpool now have the weekend off as they prepare to welcome Stoke to Anfield in a week’s time, and despite the expected tenacity of the visitors, another three points are a must to build up momentum heading into the clash with Chelsea. By the time the match rolls round, though, the transfer window will have slammed shut and the result of the transfer sagas will be revealed.
There will be no more red herrings for the fans to follow: all eyes will be back on the pitch, where they belong.
In many ways, the entire season has been a master class of misdirection – or, at least, it will be remembered as such should Dalglish’s revival continue to the end of the campaign. The year as a whole has been overshadowed by the distractions of a takeover, managerial crisis and form so fragile it shatters at the flutter of a butterfly’s wings. Yet, as the dust begins to settle, the club finds itself within touching distance of the European spots. What’s more, they have a healthy portion of the fixture list remaining to solidify their claim, and with their recent upturn in form, anything is possible. At the very least, Dalglish seems to have restored more than an ounce of respectability to a season that threatened to spiral drastically out of control.
The return of The King has captivated not only Liverpool fans but the entire world of football, and as he ascended to his throne, he alone occupied the spotlight. And whilst everyone directed their attention towards him, his team have sailed under the radar to begin collecting points, playing better football in the process.
Dalglish may not be remembered as a magician, but he has proven one thing: he is a master at making everyone look in one direction, as he disguises what happens in another.