ALMOST three months ago to the day, I wrote an article looking at the types of signings that had been a success for us in recent(ish) years and whether this could form a strategy for us this summer. If you can’t be bothered reading it again, it concluded, based on past successes, that Liverpool should be looking at players aged 21 to 23 who could warrant the gift of a sword or a fireworks display when they left their club.
Now I admit the last bit can be a difficult one to judge. Maybe Burnley don’t have a fireworks budget? So perhaps, before trying to judge whether the players we have bought this summer have the right sort of profile, the second part needs drilling down a bit further.
My point was that the players we target should be clearly ready to make the step up. We shouldn’t be signing anyone on the back of a good six months but instead look at established players who have clearly outgrown their current clubs. Players who made their debuts early and stayed in the team, demonstrating quality and maturity.
Basically our target signings should be modern-day versions of Xabi Alonso — he who was presented with the aforementioned sword on leaving Real Sociedad. He was 22 when we bought him, but had already been captain for two seasons. He’d made 138 first-team appearances when he moved to the Reds, the majority of which were in the top division, and had 11 caps for Spain, 10 of which were won in the year before we bought him. He was a star, very much on the up, at a club who recognised they could hold on to him no longer. Liverpool pounced while others dithered.
So how do these numbers match up with those who we bought this summer? Let’s have a look. All numbers are pre-Liverpool.
- Christian Benteke: Age 24 – Apps 234 – Caps 24
- Adam Bogdan: Age 27 – Apps 121 – Caps 19
- Nathaniel Clyne: Age 24 – Apps 241 – Caps 5
- Roberto Firmino: Age 23 – Apps 206 – Caps 10
- Joe Gomez: Age 18 – Apps 24 – Caps 0
- Danny Ings: Age 23 – Apps 173 – Caps 0
- James Milner: Age 29 – Apps 509 – Caps 54
Now if we discount Milner — who fits into the ‘experienced and low/no transfer fee’ bracket I talked about in the first article — and Bogdan (because sub goalies who’s arsed?) the other five are worth discussing further.
Firstly, I mentioned in the original piece that we hadn’t signed a single lad aged 17 to 19 that had worked out in the last 10 years so it probably wasn’t worth bothering doing that. Now it’s early days for Joe Gomez, but it seems fairly certain that he’s had me off on that one. Which proves both that every transfer policy needs to be flexible for the right player, and that Liverpool’s transfer committee shouldn’t be employing me any time soon.
But look at the others. All aged 23 or 24 (just outside my ideal range, but the same age as Luis Suarez when he signed). All very experienced, mostly at a high level. All highly valued at their clubs, but ready to move on.
Benteke had racked up 234 club appearances before arriving at Liverpool, scoring 98 goals. He’s managed each step up in his career well, looking at plenty of times like he was Aston Villa’s only hope of a goal. By the end Aston Villa fans recognised he deserved a move on, only debating whether Liverpool was worthy of his talents. The cheeky gets.
Clyne had somehow amassed 241 club appearances a month or so after his 24th birthday. In 2010-11 he was the youngest player in the Football League to pay every single game, at only 19. By the time he moved to Southampton, aged 21, he’d played 122 times in the Championship for Crystal Palace. He was straight in the team for The Saints. He’s a young lad who knows how to play right back.
Firmino feels the most Alonso. ‘Only’ the 206 appearances for Bobby, but he’s a year younger than the other two, and has managed to move to another continent as well.
Like Xabi, all the top clubs had a look at him before deciding they weren’t quite sure. Like Xabi, he’s a recent addition to a top international team, with eight of Firmino’s 10 international caps coming in 2015.
As our chat with Hoffenheim scout Lutz Pfannenstiel revealed, the German club accepted he needed to move on and, while not quite buying him a sword, certainly wished him well. This doesn’t guarantee he will be a Xabi-style success, of course. But the profile is encouraging.
Ings feels like the wildcard. A good age at 23, but with the majority of his 173 appearances in the lower leagues. Yet to be capped by his country, it does feel like this move might have come a bit early for Ings, but his situation demanded that it was now.
It might have been a move that made sense from a financial point of view, but whether he is able to contribute to a successful Liverpool team remains to be seen.
So, generally speaking, the profiles look good. Nothing is won by player profiles, of course. They need to do it on the pitch for Liverpool Football Club. But I would argue that the right sort of player has been targeted this summer, even if many of us might have had different positions or specific targets we preferred.
However, this is only one profile of payer I suggested we look at. The other was the Coutinho/Sturridge example. Players overlooked by top clubs who would come to regret letting them go. Clubs who can buy anyone in the world often discard top players who they no longer have space for, or young players who haven’t had the chance to play because of the bigger names in the dressing room.
Real Madrid have let Sami Khedira and Asier Illarramendi go this summer. Pedro was this season’s talent who got fed up of wondering about his place in the Barcelona team. Bayern Munich were happy to allow Dante leave for a pretty nominal fee.
Could any of these players have been looked at by Liverpool? Perhaps they were. But anyway the time for transfers is now over. Now it’s about what they do on the pitch.
Over to you, boys.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo