Over the course of the last few years, I’ve heard quite a few people saying that we no longer know how to spend wisely. Many of these people have been outsiders, i.e. journalists and fans of other clubs but also and more worryingly, some of these people have been Liverpool fans. Of course, everybody is entitled to an opinion. The world would be a very boring place if everybody agreed on everything. But for so many people to say that we are incapable of spending wisely and for some to also add that we ‘‘have been since Rafa took over’’ is crazy, in my opinion at least.
True, much has been made of the £35m signing of Andy Carroll last January. He came here with an injury which is never easy for anybody, let alone a 22 year old who has just moved to the greatest club in the world and has a £35m price tag weighing down on his shoulders. Due to his injury, he had to wait a while before playing and when he finally did get his chances, he either spent the majority of them warming up the bench or being isolated upfront, as the rest of our squad failed to deliver the service he needed. Opposition fans began to chant ‘What a waste of money,’ the press got on his back and naturally, his confidence dipped. But towards the end of last season, he finally managed to regain his fitness, Steven Gerrard returned to the team and at times, that led to a deadly combination. With Gerrard’s superb ability to pick out a pin point pass, Carroll began to bear fruit and scored a few crucial goals, including that famous late winner against Everton in the Carling Cup semi at Wembley. Maybe his efforts so far have not warranted £35m but give the lad time. He is still young and has time to improve. There are a lot of positive attributes in his game, such as his strength, his superb ariel ability and also his lethal left foot. Many players who are good in the air do not have much skill when it comes to having the ball at their feet. Carroll does. Also, many strikers believe that their own penalty area is just not their territory or responsibility and therefore refuse to help out their defence. I have seen Carroll defending our box many times. He may not be the prolific goalscorer we crave so badly but I believe he has great potential. He may never be worth £35m but the market has changed recently, with the introduction of the home grown rule; English players have naturally become far more valuable, hence Carroll’s hefty price tag.
Other big money signings have also been criticized, for example, £20m or so each for Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing and if we go back over the last ten years, a few more that haven’t exactly worked out can probably be found. For example, £4.5m for Christian Poulsen, £4m for Paul Konchesky, £17m for Alberto Aquilani, £19m for Robbie Keane, £6.7m for Jermaine Pennant, £6.3m for Fernando Morientes, £8m for Albert Riera, £10m for El Hadji Diouf, the list is endless.
Every manager makes mistakes and at the time of signing, the manager will always feel he has good reasons and will always believe 100% in the ability of the player he has signed. No manager thinks ‘that player is rubbish but I think I’ll sign him anyway.’ It is unfair to lay the blame at the door of a particular manager because nobody can see the future and know exactly how certain players may adapt at a new club. All a manager can do is find players with potential, spot current talent and hope these players produce at their new club. Whether the manager happens to be Rafa Benitez, Kenny Dalglish, Roy Hodgson or Brendan Rodgers, it makes no difference. They believe in the players they sign and we as fans, must trust, respect and support their decisions.
Quite often though, we find that some of the good choices a manager makes go unappreciated or unnoticed and people often focus on the bad signings rather than the good ones. Let’s take the last ten years. Since 2002, Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez and Kenny Dalglish have unearthed some absolute gems and at reasonable prices too. I have chosen 11 of them and collectively, these players would make a great squad on paper. Others might not agree and if they don’t, they are more than welcome to comment and/or add any suggestions or possible alternatives that I may have forgotten.
GK: Jose Reina.
Signed by Rafa Benitez in July 2005 from Villareal, Reina has been a consistent high performer for us. Taking over from Istanbul hero Jerzy Dudek, he has been our number one keeper ever since and has ensured that the high standard has not dropped. He has never looked like losing his place in the starting 11 and his leadership skills have been second to none. In fact, his leadership skills have been rewarded when captain & vice captain Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have both been injured and Reina has been chosen to deputise as captain. Having racked up 354 appearances so far in all competitions with many more to come, I’m sure nobody would argue when I say that £6m was an absolute bargain.
RB: Steve Finnan
Signed by Gerard Houllier back in the summer of 2003 from Fulham for just £3.5m, Steve Finnan proved to be an amazing asset to our club. His first season may have been disrupted by injuries but Finnan soon bounced back to establish himself as our first choice right back in our Champions League winning season 2004/05. His solid performances continued throughout the rest of his Liverpool career as he became a firm fans favourite at Anfield. He made 217 appearances in all competitions before leaving for Espanyol in September 2008; a brilliant return for the £3.5m paid for him five years earlier.
CB: Martin Skrtel
Signed by Rafa Benitez in January 2008 from Zenit St Petersburg for £6.5m, Martin Skrtel has been ever present in the heart of our defence. The Slovakian is very strong, has great ariel ability and is a real thorn in the back of most strikers. Whenever we have a corner or a free kick, Skrtel makes his presence felt in the opposition penalty area and has managed to chip in with a few goals. Last season, Skrtel’s performances were so consistently high, that he managed to keep club legend Jamie Carragher out of the team, provoking interest from other top clubs. He has racked up 164 appearances so far in all competitions, scoring 7 goals. I’d say great value for money at £6.5m.
LB: Daniel Agger
Not primarily a left back, Daniel Agger prefers to play centre back but he is more than able to deputise at left back when required. Signed by Rafa Benitez in January 2006 from Brondby for £5.8m, Agger has too, firmly established himself as a key member of our squad. Although he has often been plagued by injuries, when fit, he has proved to be indispensible to the team. He has superb tackling and marking abilities. He can read the game better than most and although he can be quite fiery at times, his strong presence is always felt by strikers. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, Agger’s game is filled with pure passion and he plays for the shirt. Also, he has a fierce left foot and has scored a couple of long distance screamers during his time at Anfield. Making 170 appearances to date and scoring 8 goals, Daniel Agger was definitely a bargain at £5.8m and long may his time at our club continue.
RM: Dirk Kuyt
Signed by Rafa Benitez back in the summer of 2006 from Feyenoord, the £9m fee may have looked hefty for the Dutchman. However, we soon saw why he was so highly regarded at Feyenoord. Signed as a striker, his versatility was shown and crucial to us during his time at Anfield. He was honoured to play for Liverpool and would play wherever the manager asked. He would never complain. He gave 100% no matter what position he played and he adopted the nickname Dirk ‘Duracell’ Kuyt as a compliment to his superb level of stamina. Kuyt would chase down every ball; nothing to him was a lost cause. Quite often used as a right winger, Kuyt wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and would often find himself in all the right areas to get on the end of any rebounds that came his way. He made 286 appearances in all competitions and scored 71 goals, some of which were crucial. Liverpool fans will always remember his hat trick against fierce rivals Manchester United in March 2011 and this game alone will have convinced fans that he was worth every penny of the £9m we paid for him back in 2006. A true Anfield legend, Kuyt departed for Fenerbahce in good spirits in June 2012 and will be sorely missed by Liverpool fans.
CM: Xabi Alonso
Alonso was signed by Rafa Benitez in the summer of 2004 from Real Sociedad. Although the £10.7m fee may look hefty on paper, nobody could have predicted the phenomenal impact the Spaniard would have at Anfield. Known for his superb long passing and technical abilities, Alonso became highly regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world. He could read the game and sit in front of the defence whilst launching some breathtaking long balls forward to the also brilliant Steven Gerrard, who was free to roam forward as he pleased due to Alonso’s competence behind him. He combined with Gerrard to form a devastating partnership which was feared by so many and in 2005, Alonso was at the heart of the team that came from 3-0 behind at half time in Istanbul to win the highly prestigious Champions League. Alonso also scored a few spectacular goals during his time at Anfield, most notably, a strike from his own half in September 2006 during the 2-0 win against Newcastle. Alonso departed Merseyside for Real Madrid in the summer of 2009 for a massive £30m; nearly treble what Liverpool paid for him. He made 210 appearances for the club in all competitions, scoring 19 goals and we all pray that one day he will return.
CM: Luis Garcia
Signed by Rafa Benitez during the summer of 2004 for £6m, Luis Garcia proved to be a very worthwhile purchase. Primarily a left winger, Garcia arrived from Barcelona and was an instant hit. His great creative abilities and pace were held in the highest regard by Liverpool fans. He became key to the majority of our attacking play during his first season, most notably scoring the winner against both Juventus and Chelsea in the Champions League during our road to victory in Istanbul. Although Garcia didn’t quite have the same impact the following year, Liverpool fans still voted him 43rd in the ‘100 Players Who Shook the Kop’ poll. Garcia made 121 appearances in all competitions, scoring 30 goals before leaving for Atletico Madrid for £4m in July 2007. I’m sure most fans will agree that his two winners during our Champions League winning campaign were worth £6m alone.
LM: Maxi Rodriguez
Signed on a free by Rafa Benitez from Atletico Madrid in January 2010, nobody really knew what to expect from Maxi Rodriguez and nobody could really argue with a free transfer. Many fans didn’t particularly have high expectations for Maxi but he soon repaid Benitez’s faith by providing two assists in his first two games. Highly regarded for his pace and runs down the wing, the fans made a song to honour this ‘Maxi, Maxi Rodriguez runs down the wing for me..’ During the 2nd half of the 2010/11 season Maxi flourished under new manager Kenny Dalglish, scoring two hat tricks in the space of a couple of weeks against Birmingham and Fulham. However, opportunities were hard to come by last season and he opted to leave Merseyside in June 2012. Upon his exit he wrote a letter to the fans, explaining how he loved his time at Anfield and he described the pride he felt when the fans sang their song to him. Generally loved by most, Maxi made 73 appearances and scored 17 goals; not a bad return for a free transfer.
RF: Robbie Fowler
Ok, the legendary Robbie Fowler may not have been as prolific on his return to Anfield as he was during his first stint, but who really cares. Signed on a free by Rafa Benitez from Manchester City in January 2006, Fowler, aged 30, nearly 31 was reaching the end of his career. Or at least we thought he was. (Who knew he would continue aged 37 and counting!) Having blitzed Premiership defences with Liverpool for eight years previously during 1993-2001, scoring 120 goals in 236 games before moving to Leeds United, Robbie Fowler had a reputation as one of the all time Liverpool greats when he resigned in 2006. Being from Liverpool himself, Fowler himself had a special emotional attachment to the club. He described himself as feeling ‘like a kid waking up on Christmas morning’ when he returned. So, already a Kop legend, Mr Fowler could do no wrong. As it happens, he continued to score goals, much to the delight of Liverpool fans worldwide. He left Merseyside for Cardiff City in the summer of 2007, but not before he hit 12 goals in 39 appearances. However, Robbie Fowler did not need to score to justify his free transfer to Liverpool; it was a pleasure for our fans to welcome Fowler home, even if it was a brief stay.
CF: Fernando Torres
Maybe this one could be a little bit controversial, considering the nature of his exit to Chelsea. Fernando Torres was signed by Rafa Benitez during the summer of 2007 from Atletico Madrid for £20.5m. Then, a 23 year old wonder kid, Fernando Torres arrived at Anfield with huge expectations on his shoulders considering the large fee and his excellent record at Atletico; 82 goals in 214 appearances. Kopites worldwide hoped that Torres could be the missing piece to our jigsaw and continue his breathless goal scoring form at Anfield. He did not disappoint. He scored 24 league goals in his first season. His superb technique, pace and deadly finishing skills made him an instant Kop legend. At times, Torres appeared to be truly unstoppable and was one of the few players to be compared to Robbie Fowler by the fans. Soon though, Torres began to get increasingly frustrated by the lack of silverware and he eventually handed in a transfer request on deadline day in January 2011 and forced through a massive £50m move to Chelsea, much to the disgust of Liverpool fans. As Torres had previously been regarded as a Kop legend, Liverpool fans felt betrayed and therefore did not wish Torres well at Chelsea. Despite the nature of his move, Torres made 142 appearances in all competitions and scored a hugely impressive 81 goals during his time at Anfield. His fee was large, granted, but I think he did more than enough to justify it with his goal return, despite his tasteless exit.
LF: Craig Bellamy
The final piece to my bargain jigsaw is Craig Bellamy. The fiery Welshman, like Fowler, had already had a year long stint at Liverpool back in 2006 under Rafa Benitez, where he scored 7 goals in 27 appearances before leaving for West Ham United. In the summer of 2011, Kenny Dalglish re-signed him on a free transfer from Manchester City. Known for his bulldog-like worth ethic and attitude, Bellamy’s return was popular amongst fans. Like Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy will chase down every ball and always give 100%, a trait which never fails to capture the Kop’s heart. His fiery temper often lands him in trouble but it never deters him. Bellamy’s versatility has also been hugely useful to Liverpool as he can play as a striker or a winger. Since rejoining, he has hit 9 goals in 33 games in all competitions; a very healthy return for a free transfer.
So, that concludes my 11 bargains. If anyone has any better suggestions feel free to comment. This team though, collectively cost £68m. Obviously, nearly a third of that was spent on Torres but considering his lethal form and the change in the market, I think £20.5m was a real bargain; his £50m exit fee proved that. £68m may seem a lot for other smaller clubs but for us and considering the success these players have enjoyed, I don’t think it’s bad. 1809 appearances and 255 goals collectively is not a bad return.
To conclude, I’ll put that £68m in a different light. We have received £67.5m from Chelsea in the last two years. £50m for Torres, who has played 67 games and scored 12 goals. £12m for Raul Meireles, who has played 45 games and scored 6 goals. Finally £5.5m for Yossi Benayoun, who has played just 12 games and scored just 1 goal.
Some say we don’t know how to spend wisely. I know I’d rather have our £68m worth of talent than Chelsea’s £67.5.m…
P.S. Robbie came home, Craig came home, now let’s hope it Xabi’s turn!