ALEX Manninger was on trial with Liverpool earlier this week. He might still be today, but I don’t really know the minutiae of how these things works. Either way, Liverpool decided they needed a third-choice goalkeeper.
Manninger offers someone who speaks English, has a pair of hands, and has banked some experience of being a back-up keeper for the best part of 20 years. Doesn’t seem a bad idea, does it?
Apparently it was, though. The Liverpool Echo ran a piece on Monday evening – ‘Liverpool FC fans divided over Manninger’
They also ran a poll and 51 per cent of people who voted deemed it to be a bad idea. Without asking the obvious question of ‘Why did you vote in that poll?’ we have people that appear to hold a strong opinion on a goalkeeper that will basically be used in training and at no other time. How can so many people care? Have you not got anything better to do than get really angry about who Liverpool’s third-choice goalkeeper is?
It’s practically an epidemic though, isn’t it? Moaning about all things Liverpool FC. If something happens, it’ll annoy someone. People forget that this football lark is supposed to be enjoyable. Getting angry with no end game. What’s the point?
The biggest bugbear of the serial complainers at the minute appears to be transfers, which given it’s July 13 makes perfect sense. The window opened 12 days ago so countrywide, teams are getting deals done, building their squad for next season, and getting things in place as they put their players, old and new, through a strenuous pre-season campaign.
We started pre-season training on July 2. On the first day of pre-season four new players turned up. Four. In this time I’ve heard people getting quite annoyed that we haven’t got our business done earlier — I’m not quite sure you can do much more than sign four players before you’ve started pre-season training (yes, Grujic and Matip weren’t signed over the summer, but they weren’t playing last season either).
A new goalkeeper, a centre back, a young exciting midfielder and a proven Premier League attacker in place on July 13. Presumably there’s more to come, but either way it’s a good start.
Compare and contrast with the clubs we’re supposed to compete with: Arsenal are at one signing, Chelsea are at one signing, Tottenham are at two, Manchester City are at two, while Manchester United are at three. So if you still believe in the concept of a big six, we’ve bagged more players than any of the other five.
You point this out to someone and the argument moves along to something that’s far more valid. You move on to the profile of player that has been signed. A young goalkeeper, a defender on a free transfer, a 20-year-old who hasn’t played outside of Serbia, and an attacker from Southampton.
It doesn’t really get the pulse beating does it? It isn’t Henrikh Mkhitaryan, it isn’t Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and it isn’t Ilkay Gundogan. The rest though, are you looking at Granit Xhaka, Victor Wanyama, Michy Batshuayi, Nolito and Erik Bailly and really thinking, ‘God I wish we had them?’. I honestly can’t say that I’m particularly bothered about them.
Three signings that City and United have made seemed to have moved people to anger. Two that Klopp has previously managed in Mkhitaryan and Gundongan. There is also Ibrahimovic, who, for all of his undoubted quality, will be 35 before United have played 10 league games.
What it has done, however, is cause people to look longingly down the M62 and question why we can’t sign those players. It’s a perfectly valid question. Why can’t we buy players that Manchester City and Manchester United are buying? Well the simple answer, sadly, is money and profile.
We aren’t poor by any stretch of the imagination — we’re the ninth richest club in world football. However, you hit a bump in the road when you convert that to the Premier League and we become the fifth richest club in this country. Arsenal, Chelsea, United and City are all richer than us, in some cases not by that much, but richer nonetheless. They have a financial edge. Paying £200k a week in wages to a string of stars isn’t really something we can compete with at this moment.
Instead of competing with them with money then, the most logical thing to do is compete with them in terms of scouting. You need to put the battle in your favour, and while we aren’t paupers — and there’s an argument that the owners could commit to higher wages or transfer fees — we have less money to play with. We also have the unfortunate reality that since Rafa Benitez left in 2010, Liverpool have played one season of Champions League football (and didn’t get out of the group).
Manchester United have missed three seasons of it since the 1993-94 season — they might not be in it this season but they can put it down to an anomaly. They can tell the top players that these things happen from time to time, and with the recruitment of a new manager they clearly see it’s wrong and the aim is that in 14 months’ time they’ll be back in it.
Get into a fight with Manchester United or Manchester City and nine times out of 10 the sad reality is that you will lose the battle. So don’t bother. Clever scouting is what we need.
Write yourself a list of the best 10 or so strikers/attackers in world football. I’ll go with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Karim Benzema, Higuaín, Lewandowski, Aubameyang, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Aguero, Muller, and Bale.
Strike off the ones who came through the youth system or their clubs, like Messi and Muller, and you’re left with players who Liverpool could at one stage have signed. In the case of Luis Suarez we actually did.
Aubameyang is probably the best recent example here. Remember in 2009/2010 when Liverpool played Lille in the Europa League? He was on the bench for Lille. He didn’t really make it during his loan spell from Milan though, scoring two goals in 14 games. He then went to St-Etienne and blossomed into a striker that Borussia Dortmund signed and has now become one of the hottest in Europe.
If we want him now then we have no chance, few clubs do. Robert Lewandowski was at Lech Poznan, Luis Suarez was at Ajax, Sergio Aguero was at Independiente in Argentina, Ibrahimovic Malmo and Ajax. Football is one big pecking order, and we’re higher up than all of them.
Get out there and get these players before they’re good. Or while they’re good and no-one has noticed. Taking a knife to a gun fight isn’t going to push Liverpool on to the next level. We’ve got players who fit this profile already — Coutinho, Sturridge, and Can definitely do, and hopefully the likes of Karius, Joe Gomez, Origi, Grujic and Matip will also end up in that bracket.
We have to box clever here, we don’t have to become a club who farms players, has them for a season or two and sells them on — and selling our players isn’t something that I want to see us do. However, Liverpool’s goal should be to build a team that piques the interest of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
These clubs sign the top players generally. They play the game in a way that we can’t — they cherry pick the top talent from across Europe. Again, I don’t want to sell our players by any stretch of the imagination, but if they’re looking at our players and thinking that they’d do a job for them then that’s only a good thing. It means that we’ve got lots of good players and we’re probably doing well on the pitch.
So, if we aren’t getting the chequebook out to compete with United and City, don’t get angry — embrace the pragmatism and hope that they get it right.
The reality of the situation is that it has to be brains over brawn. For now.
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