It’s been a while since Liverpool had a tricky winger to ghost past opposition full-backs, writes Natalie Cork. Brendan Rodgers could use a couple if he is to persist with 4-2-3-1 though.
It’s no secret that since the glory days of Liverpool’s past, all managers that have graced the club have failed to deliver players in the wide areas. Apart from let’s say, the odd exception, the vast majority of wingers have failed to live up to legendary wingers such as John Barnes, Steve Heighway and Steve McManaman.
As we’re fast approaching the festive period of the football season, it’s time to take a look at Liverpool’s winger ghost’s of past, present and future.
Stewart Downing, Jermaine Pennant, Mark Gonzalez, Sebastian Leto, Boudewijn Zenden – all wingers that have come to Liverpool as exciting prospects but have all failed to succeed where very few have in the past.
Out of all (recent) past wingers, Rafa Benitez’s signing of Ryan Babel was the most frustrating. Signed from Ajax in the summer of 2007 for a fee in the region of £11 million, Babel had the potential to be special. He had the pace, the trickery and the power, but the one thing he was missing was the most important – a footballing brain.
Under the guidance of three managers at Liverpool, the Dutchman failed to excel and was progressively used as a substitute impact player rather than a first team regular.
Babel has now become somewhat of a Liverpool cult hero on Twitter (I don’t know why either) and regularly speaks about his non-eventful Liverpool career. Let’s be honest here though, apart from his winning goal against Man United, arguably the best thing Babel done during his four year spell at the club was post a picture of Howard Webb wearing a United shirt.
Though not always played on the wing, Luis Garcia’s signature in 2004 of just £6m was arguably the finest since the beginning of the noughties. It was entering from the wing that the sangria drinking Spaniard became an instant Liverpool hero – sending Liverpool to Istanbul for the crowning of their fifth European Cup.
Garcia notched up 121 appearances in his Liverpool career, scoring 30 goals in the process, 10 of which came in the Champions League. As regularly sung by Liverpool fans, the 5’7 was football heaven and although he lacked the pace most wingers possess, his technique and finishing ability more than made up for this.
Ousamma Assaidi, still officially a Liverpool player, Victor Moses, Joe Cole are more ghosts of recent past. While Harry Kewell was once the fabled ‘final piece of the jigsaw’ under Gerard Houllier. Antonio Nunez, Nabil El Zhar, Albert Riera, the list goes on!
Now the Reds have a new crop of players at the club and Brendan Rodgers will be hoping that his recently built team will soon solve Liverpool’s winger woes. Right now though, it has to be said that seems exceedingly doubtful.
£20m signing Lazar Markovic has struggled to adapt to English football since his summer move from Benfica. Whether the root of this problem is due to his injury stricken start, with anticipation it will only be a matter of time before the Serbian begins to shine.
Although Rodgers has been testing Raheem Sterling on the wing in recent months, it is evident that the 19-year-old’s best position is central behind the strikers (or in Liverpool’s case at the minute – striker).
The uncertainty of Adam Lallana’s best position in the team is a mutual feeling that is arguably shared with Liverpool fans and the Reds boss. The number 20 has been played in numerous positions, including out on the wing.
Nevertheless, on a huge positive Lallana’s versatility gives Rodgers less of a headache as to what side he ought to play on. Whether his preferred role will eventually be out wide, the all-round midfielder can penetrate from either wing with both feet.
Liverpool fans can at least have modest confidence in the young stars that may well excel out wide in seasons to come. With anticipation, youngsters such as Jesús Joaquín Fernández Sáenz de la Torre (Suso to you and I) and Jordon Ibe will show the Anfield faithful precisely what they have to offer.
Before his ill-fated injury, Suso’s man of the match winning display from the bench against Middlesbrough put a welcomed smile on the fans faces. His trickery, desire and quick thinking helped transform a stuttering Liverpool in a standard midweek Carling Cup match.
Selling Suso at the tender age of 20 would be foolish. After already showing glimpses of what he can do this season, it is surely only a matter of game time before the Spaniard can perform at the top level regularly.
As for Ibe, his impressive performances on loan at Derby are hope that he is certainly one for the future.
At just 18-years-old, the London born midfielder has it within himself to replicate the high flying rise of Sterling. Who knows, in years to come it may well be these two young stars running down the wing bullying defences in front.
Whether it is luck, great scouting, or great managerial expertises, let’s hope Rodgers breaks the duck and is successful in finding the next Barnes or Heighway.
After all, when enduring a despondent season, optimism is essential.