FOR more than 20 years, the scenario has been the same. As soon as Liverpool encounter problems, they look to the transfer market for a solution only to end up creating new ones. If the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, an army of psychiatrists should head to Anfield in January for football’s biannual outbreak of lunacy.
Having spent £120 million on players in the summer but turned the second best team in the country into the kind of uninspiring mid-table fodder that they were sweeping aside with contemptuous ease last season, Liverpool have conspired to put themselves in a position in which new signings are seen as the panacea to all their ills. Demands for further spending are inevitable given what is at stake but they also fly in the face of prevailing logic. The last thing Liverpool should do in six weeks’ time is get involved in the January sales.
At some point, someone at the club has to call a halt to one of the most ill-advised sprees since pools winner Viv Nicholson famously vowed to “Spend, spend, spend” and order an audit of the signings that Liverpool have made since Brendan Rodgers became manager in 2012. The review should begin with an appraisal of every recruit and their impact on the team but it should not stop there. Before Liverpool shell out another penny, their entire transfer strategy and its implementation by committee needs to be assessed because the risks of allowing the situation to continue are far too great.
The best that can be said of the nine signings that Liverpool made last summer is that it is still to early to judge them, even if the early signs are not positive. It is damning that only Alberto Moreno could be regarded as a qualified success. The argument that the others will improve in time is all well and good but Liverpool cannot claim that they were not expecting an encouraging impact from at least some of them. Nor can they hide behind the claim that it is a period of transition given that other clubs, Southampton being the most obvious example, are flourishing despite profound change.
By common consensus, out of the 23 signings that Liverpool have made over the past two-and-a-half years, only Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho have been a resounding success. Given that Sturridge is now a long- term absentee as a result of the latest injury to blight his career and Coutinho is, like most at Liverpool, becoming an increasingly fitful and less effective presence without Luis Suárez, even their success stories are not without blemish. It is an appalling record.
Clearly, something is not working. Depending on personal choice, responsibility for Liverpool’s failings in the transfer market lies at the feet of Rodgers, the club’s scouts or the committee. But if there are any fingers to be pointed, they should first be aimed in the direction of the club’s owner, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), which not only determined Liverpool’s transfer strategy but also put in place the young, up-and-coming manager, committee and scouting system that they wanted.
If FSG is given credit for signing the cheques, as should be the case, then it should also be questioned if the structure it implemented fails to provide value for money.
The complex, almost clandestine, way that Liverpool go about their transfer business makes it almost impossible to attribute each signing to the manager or the committee, even if the set-up isn’t as great a departure from the traditional model as some would have us believe. The reality is that, as Rodgers himself freely admits, with the possible exception of Oussama Assaidi, not a single player has been signed against his wishes. He might have had to have his arm twisted on a few, Sturridge, Mario Balotelli and Mamadou Sakho being the most obvious examples, but, one way or another, they have all arrived with his blessing.
Many questions remain unanswered. What exactly does Rodgers have the final say on? How much choice does Liverpool’s strict wages policy afford him and his scouting team when they are competing for talent with some of the highest payers in world football? If, as Rodgers has claimed, the “calculated gamble” on Balotelli was forced by a lack of options, what does that say about Liverpool’s strategy? Why, when Suárez signed a contract that guaranteed his departure if a club met his release clause, did their list of attacking options have a Plan A in Alexis Sánchez with the only Plan B being Loïc Remy, a player with well-documented medical issues, and little else? You could go on and on.
All of these issues would not be such a mounting concern if so many of the first-choice signings that Liverpool have made had not been so counterintuitive. After Rodgers said that, whereas other teams play with ten men and a goalkeeper his philosophy was “to play with eleven”, Liverpool signed Simon Mignolet who has shown no signs of being a sweeper-keeper since his arrival. After he said last summer that he “would rather have one or two world-class players than seven or eight who might not be able to help us”, Liverpool did the opposite.
After paying £17million for Sakho — described by Ian Ayre at the time as a “marquee signing” — Liverpool spent £20million on another left-sided centre back, Dejan Lovren, just 12 months later. Neither the departure of Suárez nor longstanding concerns about Sturridge’s durability prompted moves for players of their ilk, instead two of the most mobile forwards around have been replaced by two of the most immobile with Balotelli and Rickie Lambert being asked to fill a considerable void.
None of this adds up. In the fullness of time, we might come back to look at Liverpool’s transfer strategy as an object lesson in proving people wrong, as a case study in spotting, nurturing and fulfilling talent for the long-term betterment of a team that critics had claimed were destined to fail. Alternatively, the status quo could continue and the failings that by now appear all too obvious will continue to undermine their chances of success.
While the latter remains a genuine concern, Liverpool should examine what is going wrong and endeavour to put it right before even considering throwing good money after bad.
First appeared on The Times website. Pics David Rawcliffe.
Vote for The Anfield Wrap as Best Independent Website in the FSF awards – click here.
Unfortunately, this article makes for uncomfortable reading precisely because all the issues it raises and takes to task are so depressingly true.
Great job, Barrett. Someone had to pour cold water of the hot heads who, after the manager and his committee effectively wasted quarter of a billion of pounds, want them to throw yet more money instead of actually the manager attempting to do his job and get the best out of the players he has bought.
The problem is we’re always trying to go for quantity over quality.
Fernando Torres was the last ‘big name’ player we signed, in that he was well established for Spain and in La Liga. He turned out alright, didn’t he. Compare his success the the dozens of “maybe” players we have signed for the last two decades. Buy from the top shelf and, more often than not, you’ll get your money’s worth.
Agree completely, the transfer committee is not working. Arguably since Rodgers arrived only coutinho and sturridge have been good sigings. 20 on markovic was so reckless, all summer I just kept looking at the new players goal records and they don’t have any goals to thier names how could they replace Luis 30 goals? Sahko Rodger obviously didn’t want. Waste of time buying him if we don’t play him. Lovrens a liability and Mario is a lost cause. We need to buy better not stop buying though, if we don’t get a striker with 20 goals in him we won’t get near top 4.
I get the uneasy feeling that we are going to end up, at best, growing these players who will get cherry-picked by “big” clubs (i.e. those actually in the CL in a few years time) when they’ve reached maturity.
This was an absolutely massive year for us to solidify our place in the CL, rather than play on “4 fronts.” If we had some consistency, we could attract top talent – especially if we had brought in some big names to make Merseyside a more alluring destination. Man U are spending to attract big names, but the failure to do so while the smell of success still lingers would have made it much harder to do so in a few years time.
How will we attract the same level of talent if we fail to return to Europe next season?
Walter, that’s a really good point about growing players to be cherry picked. Spot on!!
If any of these “potentially top class” players ever do become top class then the big 2 in Spain particularly will just swoop in and we won’t have any sort of ability to stop them because we’ll still be out of the CL!!
spot on – see my own recent piece for “Late Tackle” magazine for a similar take. To be fair, getting it right in the market is arguably the toughest managerial skill (it was a major part of the genius of Bob Paisley who could turn even poor buys into worthwhile contributors to the team) but the combination of continuous failure to get alleged top targets to even sign plus the succession of the anonymous and the mediocre is starting to make FSG’s spending look at the same level of responsibility as Leeds United’s at the turn of the millennium.
In defence of Brendan, who of us argued that we didn’t need to enlarge the squad given this season’s extra challenges? Were there many fans deriding the choices being made? Don’t remember being deafened by those criticising the choices!
No doubt all of the players need to contribute more. However, it’s the team set up and tactics that worry me. What happened to the high press and dominating the ball? Time to get back to a more energetic type of football.
Oh, and if we believe that Brendan shouldn’t be shopping in any transfer window then that surely means that we have lost confidence in him and it’s time he is shown the door. I’m not there yet.
Yes we did need to enlarge the squad but it wasn’t as paper thin as we were lead to believe.
Rodgers CHOSE to only use 13/14 players regularly last year, no one forced him to. We had Aspas, Alberto, Assaidi, Suso, Borini etc etc who could have all been used but the manager CHOSE not to. Many of the players he CHOSE not to use were players HE brought in.
Did we NEED to buy Manquillo when we had 4 other right backs at the club around a similar age?
Did we NEED to buy Markovic when we had the likes of Suso and Texeira etc at the club around a similar age?
Did we NEED to buy 32 yr old Lambert for £4.5mil when Eto, formerly one of the best strikers in the world, was available for free and would suit our style better?
Could the money and wages from those 3 players, and possibly others, been used to go towards a better striker?
Whether Joe Public criticised those choices at the time is really neither here nor there. The club employs a scouting network to look to see if players are better than what we already have. The club sets out a transfer strategy to target certain players. It is them that make the decisions and have all the info and nearly every window they fuck it up! Doesn’t matter if fans disagree with their choices at the time because we have no say on who is bought and who is not.
Did we NEED to buy 32 yr old Lambert for £4.5mil when Eto, formerly one of the best strikers in the world, was available for free and would suit our style better?
When you put it in those stark terms…ouch!
Look what he did yesterday Dave, came off the bench and set up the winner!
If we needed a winner or equaliser who’d you rather see coming off the bench. Eto scored 12 last year without playing regularly, Lambert 14 playing virtually every match with several of them penos.
The problem is as a club we constantly have this mentality that we can turn promising players into superstars, FSG obviously takes it to that extreme but in every era for the past 10-15 years we have done it to an extent. Rather than trying to buy players who are already proven quality
We wax lyrical when they turn out well like a Torres or Sturridge but there are too many of them that don’t work out, like an Andy Carroll, and we have a tendency to overpay for these potential stars which end up hurting us in the long run
Everyone hopes they can find diamonds in the rough but we actually buy buckets of rough constant and hope there’s a diamond in there, instead of actually just buy a bloody diamond
Good article Tony! Agree with the vast majority of it!
Our failures in transfer windows are just increasing. It’s quite clear our transfer strategy does not work. It’s clear our transfer committee does not work.
Our successes in the transfer windows are becoming few and far between with only Suarez, Sturridge and Coutinho notable exceptions in recent years. How can that be after the 100s of millions spent?!
I’m all for buying promising, talented youth but we can’t rely solely on them. Either to perform immediately or indeed to fulfil their potential. How many ever do fulfil their potential compared to the millions spent on them?? While we wait for these players to possibly fulfil their potential we spend more and more years out of the CL so if one does happen to make it one of the big clubs will just come along and snap him up because we don’t offer that lure of CL football.
To borrow an analogy from another poster; it’s like spending millions on tonnes of coal in the hope of finding that one diamond. Just go to the fucking jeweller and buy a fucking diamond!! It’s far more likely to get what you pay for!!
I’m not advocating going out and spending £50mil every window but fuck me, we NEEDED a quality striker in the summer after losing one of the best forwards on the planet. So what did we do?? We waited until the end of the window to panic buy someone we didn’t really want!!
And then what about the millions wasted recently on players like Borini, Assaidi, Alberto, Aspas, Sakho etc?? Players that are bought and then rarely if ever played!! What’s the thinking behind that?
I agree that there needs to be an investigation done on our transfer strategy/committee failings but where I dont agree is that we should not spend in Jan!!
If we fail to make the CL this year we will not get back into it for quite some time and will fall further and further behind the rest of the pack. The CL money massively increases for the 15/16 comp and if we don’t make top 4 it will probably be Utd and/or Arsenal who will. We will then find it even harder to attract the requisite calibre of player and the longer we are out of the CL the harder it will become as we’ve already seen. We need to spend in Jan in order to ensure we make top 4. The millions we spend in Jan will save us and make us millions in the long run when we make top 4.
The problem is who do we trust to spend that money in Jan???
Read somewhere that only a third of all signings are actually classed as ‘successful’.
Has Rodgers signed any player at any of his clubs in his career so far that has gone on to bigger and better things?
That will be good to know, another good read this.
FSG may be naive when it comes to football, but they are not stupid when it comes to business. Surely their trust in the whole signing process is as diminished as ours? If so, where does that leave Rodgers?
Like I say. Some where. Someone (not a Murdock arse kisser). Analysed recent transfer activity and concluded only 1/3 of transfers are ‘successful’. Not sure what defines ‘successful’ but I’m assuming a player who turns out to be shit hot!
So I’m thinking there’s no science in it. Maybe it’s a lottery? Do your best research, buy 9 players, 3 will be shit hot, 3 will be just shit, and 3 will just hang around.
Then I look at Man City. Effectively a brand new club. They brought and bought in big names in their back room. Then purchased big players at their peak. Paying top dollar for both wages and fee.
We’re told we can’t compete with City Chelsea PSG etc. Really? The LFC way of old was to buy the best players, pay the best wages and WIN EVERYTHING. Dalglish done it twice with two different clubs. It’s the only way. The alternative? Become a selling club like Southampton and Swansea.
You probably mean Paul Tomkins. Stop being a prick by the way, no one is kissing Murdoch’s arse.
City and Chelsea were financially doped by billionaires prior to FFP. Did you miss that bit? Whatever the rights and wrongs, we don’t have that option.
We just spent £100+. On what? Potential? Or should I say 1/3 of potential.
I won’t be calling for Rodger’s head end of this season. I’ll be calling for FSG’s. If they had calmed down a couple of seasons ago we’d have rafa running the show now.
What? That a bad thing? Really? Alonso and Cara quote, words to the effect of: “remember those European nights? We thought we could beat anyone”!!!!!!
PS. Anyone taking money off Murdoch is a ‘prick’.
That’s a lot of people. Tony isn’t a prick. Get a grip.
I agree with much of what Tony said. It’s high time to reconsider transfer strategies. FSG may be in way over their heads and seriously need to assess their methods at every level. If it requires taking a step back in order to take two forward, I am all for it. The hierarchy, however, have their own logic.
Liverpool must spend in January……spend on a world class MANAGER with a proven resume of achievements.
We, as all other football clubs, need a passionate owner. As passionate as the fans. Who actually supports the club. Who would not mind sacrificing for the club. Who would put their heart and soul into the club. I look around nowadays and see very little of that. Some small time tycoon buys a small club because he loves football in the first place, on top of being associated with the game or being in the limelight among all things associated with football. He cannot pump in hundreds of million every other week, but you don’t blame him because he cannot afford it. Some fans might hate him for it whilst some will understand.
FSG is no small time tycoon. But how passionate are they about football in the first place?
Passion is an over-rated quality in modern football. What we need are cold blooded professionals, both at an ownership (parent company) and operational (Anfield) level. If FSG made a strategic mistake, it was not to do with investment, but rather with their choice of operational team. Once the European run is over, this will no doubt be addressed. We need a new CEO as much as a new manager, perhaps.
If passion is all you need to succeed, Phil Thompson would be manager and we’d have a team of Joey Joneses.
Here’s an article which may interest FSG: https://nz.sports.yahoo.com/news/article/-/25587432/klopp-open-to-managing-in-the-premier-league/
Not all you need. But I bet Phil Thompson would do well as a manager if given the right owners.
we just got dicked by Palace, there’s your transfer policy right there. right we in the CL and just finished second in the league who we buyin………. 9 lads no cunts ever heard of