WITH his 50th appearance for Liverpool likely to come at Goodison Park this weekend, Alberto Moreno has been talking to Premier League Productions about seizing his chance in the first team and getting a run of starts that looked extremely unlikely a month ago.
In his quotes, circulated by the official Liverpool FC site, Moreno — a £12m signing from Sevilla in August 2014 — said: “What you’ve got to do is keep working, get your head down in training and work really hard so you’re ready when you get the chance.”
An admirable stance, and one that will endear him to fans as much as his surging runs down the left-hand side. But he could have also added “and it helps if you get to hang around long enough to prove why Liverpool paid so much for you in the first place”.
Liverpool brought in 24 first-team players during Brendan Rodgers’ first three seasons at the club. Less than half are now in the squad. Four have been sold, five are on loan, mostly with very little chance of returning, and four more were brought in on temporary deals but not deemed good enough to earn a permanent contract. In fact, two of the loan deals were terminated early.
Everyone will have their own theories on what those numbers tell you. It certainly isn’t a ringing endorsement of the players brought in under Rodgers. Or is it a failure of transfer policy rather than those specifically brought in? Does it expose problems with the manager not having more control over who he buys? Or does it suggest politics are at play with the freezing out of those he hasn’t picked himself?
All the above are probably valid to a certain degree. But the case of Moreno is an interesting one. It’s too early to suggest a recent run of good form means he will ultimately go down as a good signing. But he certainly looks much better in his second season at Liverpool than he did in his first. Which isn’t that unbelievable, or unlikely, the more you think about it.
The idea that a young player needs to hit the ground running at a football club or he’s out is a new one — certainly at our club. In the past youngsters were signed based on their skills, and learned how to become Liverpool players over time. Steve Nicol was signed as a young defender after playing 70 times for Ayr United, but had to wait a year for his first-team debut for the Reds, and even longer than that to become a regular. Nowadays, he could well be back on loan at Scotland after six months and written off as a dud.
Liverpool shelled out a record fee for a teenager when Bob Paisley bought Ian Rush for £300,000 from Chester, but no-one at Anfield particularly panicked when it took him over a year to score his first goal for the club. Terry McDermott was 22 and had experience of top-flight football with Newcastle United, but it still took him two years at Liverpool to become a fixture in the team. It helped that Liverpool were succesful at this time, of course, but generally it seems younger players were afforded much more time to break through than they are now.
There are stories that Moreno was offered to Spanish clubs in the summer after just 12 months at Anfield, which doesn’t seem unlikely when you consider Joe Maguire, now on loan at Leyton Orient, was playing ahead of him in pre-season. Fans, too, had written him off. I can’t talk, I sold him in the Transfer Committee game we play in the summer.
Patience is at short supply, both with fans and with managers. It is tough for a manager now, I accept. You’re never more than three games away from a ‘crisis’. Results are king, and if someone isn’t doing the business for you then you replace them with someone who is. Someone you can trust to produce. What is the point of developing a young player only to lose your job and the next manager get all the benefit?
The growing numbers of ins and outs each summer across the league shows the majority of managers now trying to solve their problems through transfers, rather than coaching or development. Liverpool have elected to join them. What was seen at the time as a ‘unique’ summer transfer window in 2014, when players were needed to bulk up a squad for Europe, now looks likely to become the norm. Football fans demand it. Managers are happy to hang their hat on it. Easier to point at the deficiencies in a squad rather than accept you could be getting more out of them.
I’m not saying all players need time. Sometimes it is obvious you have to cut your losses. Iago Aspas was too weak, Mario Balotelli too mad, Rickie Lambert too Lambert. But other times it feels we chase the new, rather than giving time to what we have. If we have a policy for buying ‘promise’ then surely you need to give time for that promise to develop? Especially if they are coming from another country to play a different style of football.
I hope Moreno’s resurgence continues and he has a great season at Liverpool. He might not just be playing for his own future, but for a fair chance for the next big money youngster who we all write off too early.
Pic: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo