I’VE BEEN MEANING to write this for a while. But I’ve been busy. Now we have a catalyst. In a sentence:
Liverpool FC need to keep their head and their hierarchy in the market this summer.
Going round the houses and in approximately one thousand words:
I think Iago Aspas has been unlucky. One of my favourite moments of a season full of favourite moments was him going bananas behind Rodgers after Coutinho was harshly treated by the referee at Fulham. It showed his focus on what we were about. It showed he was still involved, not mentally absent, not in a sulk, but a Liverpool player. And a Liverpool player wants to win.
I think the focus on his hysterically funny corners against Chelsea have meant people have forgotten that he came closest to unlocking the door second half with his first touch, a lovely cushioned pass that put Sterling in.
We’ve also forgotten Aspas played his part early in the season 1-0s and that the manager had a habit of lashing him on to chase causes that were about to be lost. The most minor quibble in a season of managerial brilliance is that it would have been nice to see Iago when things were going well, keeping his hand in, just in case he was needed.
But in a season of managerial brilliance, one of the most brilliant things is that the manager has established a hierarchy in the squad it appears everyone has got behind. Aspas knows he isn’t in Sturridge and Suarez’s class. He accepted it and cheered the side on at Fulham. The most brilliant thing is that Sturridge accepts, even if he rightly doesn’t actually like it, that Suarez is Liverpool’s number one. It is quietly remarkable. You don’t become a brilliant centre forward without rating yourself highly and wanting to be the man the team is built around. He’s got a dance. Sturridge takes this despite being the second highest scorer in the country and probably only definitively behind Suarez and Aguero in terms of pure quality. Probably. Look at the goals at Stoke away, Villa away, West Brom home, Everton home. Look at those goals and tell me that between Suarez/Aguero and Daniel Sturridge it isn’t closer than we let on. Goals to games, Sturridge is the business. And that dance he’s got, well we love it.
In the areas where Liverpool are the business – goals, attacking set pieces, goals, strikers, goals, beating people in centre mid, goals, Jordan Hendersoning, goals, developing youngsters and goals – it’s important that this summer and in particular the Champions League largesse doesn’t rock the boat. Spending a wedge on a third centre fireworks, putting him on a wedge, and having him expecting, demanding games rocks the boat. Because, and this is important, what if he is really good? What if, in the same way Sturridge is definitely top five in the country, the lad we get is definitely top ten. And what if he’s someone like Wilfred Bony and plays a distinctly different way? What happens to the hierarchy? What happens to the stability?
Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Barcelona.
Supporters can talk lazily of wanting competition but these are multi-millionaire young men who don’t need to be anywhere, who are fantastic at what they do. Who can convince themselves they have nothing to prove and that they don’t need anyone. Brendan Rodgers has convinced them they are even more fantastic at what they do than they think but that have everything to prove and they need Liverpool FC and each other.
This is a Liverpool side which already has three world beaters. Not its world stoppers, but its world beaters. Liverpool – somehow – have done that bit. That’s the hardest bit and that’s why everyone is right to be utterly terrified of us. Rodgers has inherited and improved one – Suarez. He’s signed and improved another – Sturridge. And he’s developed a third beyond our wildest dreams – Sterling. It needs to supplement those it has with another one who ideally specializes between the lines, maybe one more who also plays there or who can come from full back and ensure those five in any combination can be supported from the bench, from the squad. Half by half. Game by game. Month by month.
Seven men to carry the piano. Three to play it. But the piano needs carrying and needs playing to concerto level sixty times next season.
Predictably, this brings us to Rickie Lambert. A centre forward, not a centre fireworks. Putting the fee aside for a second because everything in football is a lie – though remember we supposedly paid seven million for Aspas and it was supposedly a bargain – Lambert’s demonstrated he can play with pace and movement around him in his league. He has scored and created goals for two seasons at this level. Southampton aren’t a long ball team, there’s been little alehouse and lots surgical about what they’ve done well under Pochettino and Lambert’s played both up and off. He isn’t similar to Suarez or Sturridge and nor is he as good. This is building a squad, having an alternative but keeping a level, an understanding, a hierarchy.
Maxi Lopez. Barcelona.
Lambert doesn’t look as good to me as Bony. He doesn’t look as quick and versatile as Remy. He isn’t someone who would expect to eclipse Sturridge like an Alexis Sanchez. But he won’t be under any illusions. He comes in knowing that he has two magnificent footballers ahead of him. I hope he doesn’t like this in the same way Sturridge doesn’t like Suarez behind ahead of him. I hope Lambert spends every minute of the rest of his professional career trying to show he should play ahead of them. But I’d expect he is aware of the reality he walks in to. But to know the opportunity he has when called on.
Aspas has been unlucky. He’s also not been good enough. (Liverpool got eighty four points). Lambert might prove likewise as well. (Liverpool will still get or better eighty four points).
He doesn’t simply need to be better than Aspas. It’s more complicated than just that. But if he can happily don his overalls, help carry the piano and every now and again put a (yellow) tuxedo on and bang out a tune across sixty gigs next season then Liverpool will be in a much better place.
This is a transfer wherein everyone – Lambert, Suarez, Sturridge, Aspas, Rodgers, Liverpool FC and all those who sail within her – know where they stand. Eighty four points. Over one hundred league goals.
Except Fabio Borini. But I’ve gone over one thousand words plus ten per cent.
Pics: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda