LET’S be blunt: Criticism of Liverpool’s much-maligned Transfer Committee has been bang on the money quite a lot of the time. Although most modern-day clubs have something similar to the set-up FSG put in place when they axed Damien Comolli in 2012, none of them have been stupid enough to give it a name — and therefore give the fans something specific to criticise. Liverpool under Fenway Sports Group has been many things, but consistently intelligent in its approach to every aspect of the game is not one of them.
So instead of a Director of Football, with a clear remit and decision-making ability, we’ve had a Transfer Committee. Speaking in 2013, Ian Ayre described it thus: “We have a head of analysis, a head of recruitment, a first-team manager, myself. All of those people are all inputting into a process that delivers what a director of football would deliver.”
It’s as though they had never heard the old adage that too many cooks spoil the broth. In fact, to absolutely kill that particular metaphor, it’s as though they decided that broth wasn’t really necessary at all when you could just put some gravy granules in water and it would do pretty much the same job.
It’s easy for us, on the outside, to criticise the committee but I’m wondering if maybe it’s time to reassess their work and give them the benefit of the doubt a little bit more. When all’s said and done it was FSG’s decision to use said committee, not theirs, so the members within it were just doing the best job that they could within the remit they were presented with. Perhaps one of the biggest problems they faced was that the man at the top of the chain wasn’t 100 per cent sure what he wanted from his new signings.
I’m not one for criticising Brendan Rodgers. He gave me the best full season of my adult life as a Liverpool supporter and I completely disagree with people who suggest it was all down to Luis Suarez. That’s personal opinion, though, and it’s also old ground that has been trodden many times before.
I’ve no right to claim I’m correct on the Rodgers issue any more than anyone else. In the end it was right that his time at Anfield came to an end and we have, as far as I’m concerned, got the very best man for the job in the dugout now and Brendan has moved on to an excellent job at Celtic — so everybody’s happy.
One thing I do think is worth pointing out, however, is the muddled thinking that seemed to dominate the last couple of windows of Rodgers’ time at the club.
He didn’t quite seem to know what he wanted to do with the squad, buying players to suit one system and then reverting to the three at the back that he’d previously abandoned at the first sign of trouble. Is it any wonder, therefore, that the transfer committee seemed to be equally erratic in the players it brought to the manager’s attention?
Speaking to Sky Sports after his departure, Rodgers seemed to absolve himself of all criticism by suggesting that the committee model was the problem. He said, “You can’t have no players. If you want a left-back, but the one you want isn’t available, then there is a list of three or four. You then have to take the best in that group. It is the model”.
That’s fair enough, but is it radically different from how other clubs work?
Presuming that the system has been put in place to take into account the asking price of the player, the amount of scouting done on him and his perceived value, is it any wonder that only certain players fit the bill?
Let’s say, for arguments sake, that Klopp had genuinely wanted Higuain. He’s just gone to Juventus for a rumoured £75million. Liverpool would never have paid that so isn’t it likely that they’ll have told the manager, “actually he’s a bit pricey, but you can have any of these”? Doesn’t that suggest good scouting and organisation?
The other reality with football is that players don’t try as hard if they think a manager is on his last legs. Like it or not, they take their foot off the gas if they think the manager’s position is untenable. Heading into the start of last season the players must have known that Rodgers had received a stay of execution. They’ll have tried to win the games they played but when things started to go wrong and the Northern Irishman started to lose his head, players won’t have been trying as hard.
It’s notable how much better Adam Lallana has looked under Jürgen Klopp, for example. The same with Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino. All of them were used as sticks with which to beat the transfer committee by some prior to the German’s arrival. Now they look like stalwarts of the team.
Perhaps Klopp is just an infinitely better manager than Rodgers. Maybe his reputation means that players who wouldn’t have come to Liverpool previously are now keen to play at Anfield. Yet none of the players we’ve signed this summer seem to be the kind we could only have dreamt of bringing in in the past. I could imagine Mané, Wijnaldum and Klavan signing before now, if the manager had wanted them. In fact, the transfer committee apparently offered Rodgers Mané before he went to Saints but he wasn’t interested.
My point is that the noises coming out of Anfield suggest that not much has changed on the transfer front since Klopp’s arrival. He hasn’t overthrown the committee and stormed the offices of Chapel Street, demanding that we spend £100m on Paul Pogba. Yes he’s used his knowledge of the Bundesliga to suggest targets and he may well have used his contacts from his former life to get the players he wants, but most if not all of them appear to have been on Liverpool’s radar already.
Most of the systems that FSG have set-up at Liverpool are imperfect if not outright flawed. Perhaps, though, it’s time to give those involved in the club’s transfer wing some credit. So far this season we’ve bought well, got a balanced first-team and a brilliant looking bench and we’re also getting rid of plenty of the chaff that has been bloating the squad and didn’t seem to want to move on. That’s a tip of the hat in my book.
MAMA CAN STILL BE PAPA IN LIVERPOOL’S DEFENCE
THE Sakho thing’s interesting, isn’t it? Partly because I’m wondering how long it will be before James Pearce at the Echo snaps and goes on a spree like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, but mostly because of what it says about the player and the manager.
I’m absolutely delighted that Klopp is taking a strong stance over things he doesn’t like and is acting in a way that he thinks is in the best interest of the club. The most important thing for Liverpool Football Club this season is a strong squad mentality, with a team full of people who want to work for each other and for the club as a whole. Both Leicester City and Portugal have shown recently what that can achieve.
That Sakho was apparently breaking club rules, missing sessions and being late for the flight out to America and so on is unacceptable. It’s great that the manager isn’t over-reacting, though. His words suggest that he’s making clear who is boss and giving the player a chance to respond, which is brilliant.
One thing that I don’t think has been spoken about enough, though, is the player’s mental state. Because of a balls up by UEFA he’s missed the two biggest games of his career recently in the form of the Europa League final and the European Championship final. His career has been put on hold and both of the clubs he played for lost games that they might have won with him in the team.
Little wonder, then, that he’s not exactly in tip-top shape just at the minute. Hopefully, he gets his head together and when the Reds return from America he’s ready to get back to his best. He seems to be a genuinely nice bloke and Liverpool FC will be better with a fit and firing Sakho in the squad than without him.
AMERICAN DEFEAT DOESN’T LEAVE LIVERPOOL IN A STATE
IT’S interesting how a Liverpool victory in a pre-season game causes some people to say “it’s only pre-season” but a defeat and the same people are happy to throw in the towel for the new campaign.
I thought Liverpool played quite well at times against Chelsea and it was pretty clear from the behaviour of their players what sort of football Antonio Conte is going to get them playing. That’s fine, the new disciplinary rules introduced for next season means they’ll be lucky to finish games with 10 men, let alone 11.
Though you never like to see the club you support lose, I’m not overly disappointed about last night. It will remove any sense of complacency and force Klopp to have a look at the weaknesses still evident in the side. Obviously the set-piece goal will give him cause for concern given how often we conceded from set-pieces last season.
I do hope that a narrative doesn’t form within the newspapers and on Twitter, though. Every single club concedes from a set-piece during the season. If Liverpool do just that we can’t all lose our heads and bemoan the fact that we’re still terrible at set-pieces. If we concede four or five in a row then it’s a problem. Four or five in a season and that’s a different matter entirely.
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