SURVEYING the wreckage of the final week of the summer transfer window and of Liverpool FC’s failure to re-stock its attack it is hard to not to reach the harshest of conclusions. An entire season has been compromised, and a rookie manager left with a task of Herculean proportions.
Let us make no mistake, Liverpool’s ownership,FSG, have sent out a devastating message to LFC supporters and to the wider football community alike – Liverpool Football Club are (once again) significantly under-resourced and beginning a process of financial retreat. Liverpool fans know the script from here-on in. We’ve lived through this nightmare once before and the memory is still very raw.
Too strong ? Of course, the above conclusion may be entirely wrong. The real information is only shared very selectively, so supposition based on the bluntest of facts is all we are left with. If this best guess is wrong, the time is nigh and now for some serious communicating to be done. By that it is implied that a meaningless rambling ‘open letter’ that addresses no real concerns at all will not suffice. What we witnessed last week was simply outrageous. It wasn’t acceptable. Even incompetence alone can’t excuse it.
The temptation to become over emotional, lose objectivity, and to reach too sweeping a set of conclusions based on limited information is the lot of the fan. It is what we do. We deal with what is before us. What is before us the morning after the night before the summer 2012 football transfer window closed is not a thing of beauty, though. It’s brutal, ugly, and still as shocking as the days pass.
Supporters awoke expecting to turn over to regard bedside TVs and gaze lovingly into the eyes of a couple of shiny new Liverpool Football club attacking recruits bedecked in box fresh crimson replica shirts, a Cheshire cat of a manager the gleeful meat in the new-signing press call sandwich. No such luck.
Instead, we woke to the bastard of all transfer window hangovers. Wiping sleep from our eyes, what we turned to face was too revolting a countenance to bear. Our beloved new forwards were in bed with other clubs, and there was a massive pile of metaphorical Jim White shaped vomit on pillows. We’d been spiked.
Much has gone on unseen to the supporters over-curious eyes at the football club these past few weeks. Negotiations with agents and other teams, Europe and worldwide have had LFC officials’ mobile phones pressed to flesh to an unhealthy degree. One can imagine heated trans-Atlantic video conferences, and club manager and chief executive living within each other’s pockets. All good stuff in theory. Part of the dance.
We cannot know what hurdles these men (and undoubtedly very few women, but that’s another story) will have faced, or the nuances of their tasks that outsiders won’t even imagine.
We know some things though. A selection of inescapables . With one week left of the transfer window, Liverpool had released 3 footballers who had all contributed appearances and goals to the first team last season, and replaced them with 3 new ones, plus one whose price level suggested he might be called upon fairly sparingly.
No big problems there, save for the fact that the 3 let loose were all fore-mostly contributors to the team’s attack element. The 3 main new recruits were not. Well, two of them weren’t. The 3 departees were also experienced and decorated professionals. All men who could be counted on to provide a guaranteed minimum performance level. Their solitary attacking replacement was an Italian freshman, Fabio Borini, a one-to-watch 21 year old striker, but one with just 24 appearances and 9 goals to his name at football’s top level.
The manager was not slow to spot that he was simply light on bodies up front, coming into that closing transfer window week. He knew he needed more firepower, the media knew it, the support clearly were aware of the imperative, and so trust was duly bestowed in Ian Ayre and his American employers. They were charged with a clear task – just go out and buy us fucking some goals.
Further, and perhaps crucially, plans were still afoot to go further backwards, in terms of the teams attacking pool, before supposedly going forwards. Brendan Rodgers had felt since the day of his appointment at Anfield that club record signing, aerial Andy Carroll, was simply not the right fit for his grounded vision. A controversial conclusion, undoubtedly, but one which most respected was the new manager’s prerogative.
So, as the transfer window denouement approached, speculation correctly mounted as to the numbers game that would be played out with the requirement for attacking replenishment reaching serious proportions. Rodgers spoke of feeling confident that he’d be welcoming at least 2 new forwards, with the implication that 3 would not surprise either.
The manager and leaks from the club hinted at financial strictures as the final phase of squad adjustment was entered. This is normal. The supporters expect this. This is a football club universal truth everywhere but for a couple of insane outposts in Manchester and West London. The manager had clearly been provided with some money earlier in the summer. A none too shabby sum, it must be conceded. Equally though Rodgers could claim more than solid housekeeping having shed over £20m worth of annual wage obligations by releasing Bellamy, Aquilani, Kuyt, Maxi and Aurelio.
What actually transpired in the transfer windows closing week beggars belief. There was a broad acceptance that new purchases would need to be matched by sales. Supporters had in the main accepted the FSG maxim that the club must live within its means. It had spent generously in the prior month bringing in Borini, Allen, Assaidi and Sahin for around £30m. It was expected that the summer’s business would be concluded with the addition of two strong attack players, most likely the accomplished Clint Dempsey at an appealing £6-8m and a potentially stellar young British flyer such as Theo Walcott or Daniel Sturridge. The latter pair would be bracketed in the £12-15m fee range.
The anticipated late £20m-ish splurge would clearly be funded by offloading Carroll for £15-17m and a fringe player or two to bridge any shortfall. There loomed a complicating factor in that bidders for Carroll had hitherto appeared to have more of an appetite for an initial loan deal with the promise of a full payment a year later. Would Liverpool FSG owners provide the short term cash to replace Carroll in such a circumstance? We waited to find out and held our breaths.
The grudging minimum position appeared to be that Brendan Rodger would end the summer draft phase with at least one new solid forward in the shape of Clint Dempsey, with the strong possibility of another either purchased outright with the potential Carroll fee, or acquired in a matching loan deal. Scenario three saw perhaps just Dempsey acquired with Carroll permitted to extend his Liverpool career as a back-up option. Despite the manager’s reservations, it is not impossible that Carroll could have been rehabilitated.
The events that were to actually unfold during the last week of August stretched credulity. Just a bit. Carroll was released with just 2 days left on the transfer clock. On loan. Fine. Sort of. Let’s brush aside that supporters had become acclimatised by attrition to accepting the release of a £35m asset for a reportedly paltry £1m loan fee. That bit, heads had been got round, largely, because there was/is faith in the credo of the new manager, Rodgers.
As Andy Carroll gritted his teeth and closed his eyes as the flash bulbs whizzed and popped and recorded his first donning of a West Ham shirt on Thursday night, Rodgers was assuring an inquisitive post Hearts match press pack that he had near cast iron guarantees that replacements (plural) were in place and ready for their big reveals on the Friday. The un-said, the implicit, was that no manager, no organisation such as Liverpool football club, would be so crassly incompetent, just 24 hours before the end of a transfer window, to leave itself so scarce of attacking resources, without having finalised its contingency plan.
Nothing could be left to chance. It didn’t need to be. Just 18 months earlier, Damien Comolli and Kenny Dalglish ensured that Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez were Liverpool players before they would similarly release Fernando Torres to Chelsea. The deals were back-to-backed. As transactions of this kind must be, when there is no margin for error, no time left for new manoeuvre.
Fast forward 24 hours. No. Do, because to pause and relive the events of black Friday would enrage and flabbergast the most patient of Liverpool supporters. The lack of a fee for Carroll the day before meant that scenario two was to be played out – get Dempsey in for £6-8m and another good lad on loan.
Jim White day on Sky started brightly with excited talk of Sturridge coming in on interest free HP credit, or possibly even some fashionable Brazilian supernova. News of Clint Dempsey’s morning snook cocking at Aston Villa’s attempts to lure, increased confidence that his signing was now a formality. Our expectations had been sufficiently lowered to accept that these were good compensations for losing a £35m player for the price a small semi in re-gentrified East London.
The club’s in-house channel had scheduled a ‘deadline day special’ to be the first to have the exclusive footage of our new signing in his under crackers, and then shaking hands with a usually mildly pickled looking Ian Ayre. Melwood expected. Sky were there. The youth of West Derby were collected. Behind Vinnie O’Connor. Giving it the wanker hand signs and all that jazz. A festival atmosphere and all associated clichés were in full effect.
By our Sky set top boxes, and HD ready TVs we waited. And waited. Jim White seemed overly distracted by the sheer scale of events taking place at Spurs Lodge and Stoke Shack, that he appeared to be wilfully ignoring our insatiable appetites for LFC related updates.
The hours passed and Daniel Sturridge, rather being spotted leaving a Liverpool city centre hotel or alighting a copter at JLA ‘International’, was in fact warming the salubrious bench at the Stade Velodrome watching his Chelsea boys take a pasting from Atletico Madrid in the European Super Charity shield match . In Monaco. In bloody France. He was clearly neither coming nor going.
And then there was one. Clinton Dempsey. Waiting patiently in London for a call that never came. Villa begged him to join them. Sunderland offered him the freedom of Wearside. Still Clint held firm. Firm in his conviction that Liverpool football club, as they had promised him all summer long, would arrive at the 11th hour and liberate him from his Craven Cottage inferno.
Clint paced his room. TV on in the corner, wife and child keeping their distance. Giving him space. The phone rings, and Clint dives across the couch , sending a table lamp flying, landing in a heap on the shagpile. Receiver in hand he breathlessly answers. It’s not Ian Ayre or Brendan Rodgers though. It’s not his current employers Martin Jol or Al fayed even. It’s just some guy selling him potential compo for mis-sold PPI insurance. This scene is played out several more exasperating times, and until the grim reality lands on Clinton that his card is truly marked. He ain’t going to Liverpool. They’ve ballsed it up. Flirted with him. Gave him a summer to remember. Promised him the earth. Touched him in places. Got him moist.
Meanwhile, back at Melwood, Ian Ayre was spotted leaving the building. Brendan followed suit. LFCTV cut transfer deadline day transmission, and changed their schedules. Vinnie, the Sky crew, and the West Derby massive, drifted off into the night. It was like someone had died.
What died that night for too many Liverpool supporters, it’s hard not to conclude, was faith. That wide eyed, child like, tomorrow can always be a better day, gormless faith, that is required to relentlessly follow football teams. The faith that perished though, was not a loss of faith in managers or players, or the badge, the entity. It was a loss of faith in the leadership. That may be in Mr Ayre or Mr Henry or Mr Werner. We can’t focus on who, because we don’t know enough. We don’t really care precisely ‘who?’. We know, though, it’s at least one of yoose, but it might as well be all.
That. That thing last week chaps. That wasn’t good. Time to start the explaining, because without chapter and verse, Mr Ayre, Boston, we do have a problem.