During the Anfield Wrap transfer committee special there was one thing both groups agreed on (actually there were a few, but let’s pretend otherwise).
Iago Aspas had to go.
In the case of the committee I, as a blag Dave Fallows, sat on, it wasn’t necessarily because we didn’t like the player (Ben Johnson would make him captain), but because it seemed unlikely he would be used by the manager in any meaningful way.
Cash in, take a loss, reinvest the remaining money on some other lad, preferably one who’ll get a game.
But maybe we were wrong – given Aspas started the first three league games of the season and has been used in each of the last three, perhaps there is still a chance he will form part of Brendan Rodgers’s plans post-January.
We know Rodgers, although often seen as an unchanged-team zealot, loves a leftfield selection decision. The constant emphasis on “the group” (derided by some of the same people who loved Rafa Benitez saying “squad” in a funny way) is about ensuring players can go long spells without games but never truly be frozen out/out in the cold/feeling even slightly chilly.
There is a chance – just a chance – Aspas has been lightly raced in part due to the injury he suffered in October, and in part to give Liverpool a chance to refresh things as the games pile up in the early part of this year.
Roberto Martinez saw Gerard Deulofeu in similar terms, resisting calls from some to throw the young Spaniard straight in to the team. Martinez openly discussed Deulofeu as a major factor in his plans for the second half of the season, and has been unlucky to see him injured just as he was beginning to make his manager’s case on the pitch.
So anyway, as Aspas is looking marginally more likely to stick around, and even actually play a few games, I’ve tried my best to think about him a bit.
The problem is, it’s hard to know where to start. Nothing about Aspas makes sense within the context of the Premier League. He is, by some distance, the most ‘foreign’ – in its secondary meaning, denoting strangeness and unfamiliarity – player I can recall in a red shirt.
Even when, say, Gerard Houllier signed genuine weirdoes, you could usually see something – pace, for example, or massive Dutchness – to build your dreams and visions around. I can picture even now the 43 goals Erik Meijer would have bundled in in 1999/2000 had he only been given the chance.
But nothing about Aspas’s physique, running style or general demeanour tells my resolutely untrained eye what to expect. There’s nothing to suggest he’ll end the careers of full-backs with his pace, like Mark Gonzalez didn’t, or mesmerise Anfield with dazzling footwork, like Paul Anderson didn’t.
His previous career is also something of a puzzle, with a comparatively late flowering of his talent suggesting a player who’s worked on, and thought about, his game. Similarly, YouTube footage shows lots of technical competence and the odd flash of magic, but no consistent pattern, no standard means by which Iago Aspas makes goals happen.
As a signing, it’s not really what you expect from a committee, the very idea of which conjures up indentikit James Milners covering every blade of glass as fast as the word Lilleshall can circle round and round in your head.
It’s incredibly hard to pin down exactly what it is that Aspas is supposed to offer, but performances like the one he put in against Real Madrid last season suggest it might be worth having a go.
In terms of Liverpool displays, he’s appeared more comfortable and sure of his position when employed in a central role, either as a striker or behind one. Against Hull, in his first prolonged period on the pitch for months, he at times looked uncertain where exactly he should be playing. This can perhaps partly be explained by a lack of games, but it also reflects the difficulty of playing as a vaguely drifting inside-right when your positional reference points in the centre are Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.
With Suarez operating as a complete forward in perpetual motion, and Coutinho finding a variety of positions from which to drag a shot tamely wide, Aspas (and to a lesser extent Raheem Sterling) looked left out for long periods. Yet late in what had been a frustrating first half, his assist-in-all-but-name for Jordan Henderson on the edge of the box was a demonstration both of Aspas’s ability and his potential to influence a game without having had huge amounts of prior possession.
This latter quality could explain his influential role in keeping Celta Vigo afloat in the Primera Liga, as well as Rodgers’s decision to throw him on in Liverpool’s toughest two away games so far this season.
Aspas may not play against Oldham. He may never play for Liverpool again. But if that’s the case there might come a time when we reflect that it wasn’t him that was missing something, but us.