TRANSFER deadline day always reminds me of Camelot in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Going into it hoping that your team will be the one to make the headline-grabbing big money move that will have the fans gathered outside the training ground, tipping ice buckets on their heads and shoving marital aids in the ears of unsuspecting reporters. I find myself watching the ensuing nonsense and, akin to King Arthur, turning to say “On second thought let’s not go there, it is a silly place.”
Now that the transfer window has slammed shut (does it not ever just get nudged shut?) debates are being had all over the place about whether Liverpool have done enough in Jürgen Klopp’s first summer at the club, whether they have spent sufficiently, addressed the right areas and generally been able to keep up with the Jones’s. The Manchester clubs registered a net spend of over £300million between them, while the Reds remained in the black, actually making a profit on their summer dealings.
As we know full well, winning the Premier League is rather tricky, made even trickier this season by the numerous incoming world class managers and the vast swathes of money they have been spending on their squads. By not investing heavier than he has, Klopp may find himself having to cut down the mightiest tree in the forest … With a herring!
Some fans have accused the club of failing to buy the necessary horses and have instead left themselves with nothing more than two coconuts to bang together.
The contrasting argument is that, on the face of it, the club appears to have strengthened in several areas. If you’d said at the start of the summer that we’d swap Adam Bogdan for Loris Karius, Martin Skrtel for Joel Matip, Kolo Toure for Ragnar Klavan, Joe Allen for Georginio Wijnladum and Christian Benteke for Sadio Mane, I’d say that’s a good job well done.
However, for a fan base that only (rightly) thinks about winning the title, is that business enough to take us from eighth to first, or more to the point, does it even allow us to be a part of the conversation?
Klopp said last week that he can’t believe how obsessed people are in this country by transfers, indicating that there is little appreciation that things can be improved on the training pitch. Vorsprung durch Ausbildung.
The German definitely sees his teams as a sum of its parts made up of various elements all integral to the eventual outcome. This should in theory lessen the necessity to be too reliant on individuals, reducing the need to go out and spaff £93m on French midfielders who you previously sold for a packet of Space Raiders, not that I’m singling out any particular example of course.
There again, if this is indeed the case and the manager believes that there are certain roles in the team that are necessary to make up a functioning winning machine, it does raise a few further questions on Liverpool’s transfer activity this summer.
According to reliable reports, the club attempted to sign Ousmane Dembele before he opted for Borussia Dortmund. The young phenomenon plays off the left, is direct and has lethal pace. Once that deal went west, Klopp signed Mane from Southampton who is direct and has lethal pace, so the assumption is that he was an alternative option to Dembele. That makes sense, even though he plays on the opposite flank.
However, similarly reliable reports also claim that Klopp wanted to bring in a left back (Ben Chilwell), a deep lying midfielder (Mahmoud Dahoud), a more attacking midfielder (Piotr Zielinski) and late on in the window, another left winger (Christian Pulisic). None of those players ended up at Anfield this summer, which is fine. It happens. But the more pertinent question is why were alternatives not sought and signed?
If there was a feeling that there was a need for those players, surely that need still exists? The ideal option may not have been available, but surely in a world filled with thousands of fairly capable players, odds are that there was someone else who could have been a viable option instead of Chilwell or Dahoud. Are those players so incredibly suited and perfect for the role that it’s worth making do with what we have for 12 months or more rather than looking elsewhere?
You could argue that the signing of Wijnaldum was an alternative to Zielinski, but then the Dutchman signed for more than twice what Liverpool were apparently willing to pay for Zielinski, so why wasn’t Wijnaldum the first choice? The only explanation is that Zielinski was seen as potentially better value for money, but understandably, fans couldn’t care less about that. We want the best available players to play for Liverpool. If Wijnaldum was seen as the better player, he should have been first on the list.
Which leads me on to another major talking point regarding the club’s transfer activity, a topic that I’ve dubbed ‘not-signing-a-left-back-gate’.
Those familiar with my previous TAW articles will know that I don’t despise Alberto Moreno with every fibre of my being as many others do, but even if you inexplicably believe that Moreno is really good, we would still have required a left back as he is the only one we have. That Chilwell, a youngster with no Premier League experience, was apparently the only left back we targeted is odd, especially with plenty of options supposedly out there.
I’m not necessarily talking about Jonas Hector by the way, a man who apparently is the exception to the rule of not judging a player on the evidence of one tournament. I could not believe how certain people were over the summer that he was the answer to all our left back prayers. Unless there is a growing English base of FC Köln fans I’m unaware of, I can only presume it was based on his decent performances at the Euros and nothing more.
The other area many felt needed strengthening was the midfield, though Klopp didn’t necessarily agree, saying after the Burnley game “I know you would all buy a left-back but a midfielder?
“Emre Can was on the bench, he had a back problem, Lucas Leiva is injured and you ask me for a hard midfield player.”
You can see Klopp’s point, but then you can also understand why people would question it when Can is still developing, and has had quite a few injuries since arriving, while Lucas hasn’t been used much at all as a midfielder in the last 12 months. Incidentally I am delighted that Lucas is staying. I will be front row centre for his testimonial next year.
It may just be a case of Klopp being a victim of his own success with people seeing his midfield at Dortmund comprised of the likes of Sven Bender, Nuri Sahin (he honestly is very good when played in the right position) and Ilkay Gundogan. Sahin and Gundogan in particular were absolutely crucial cogs in Klopp’s Dortmund success, but you look at this Liverpool squad and there are no obvious versions there. Jordan Henderson and Wijnaldum are both fine players, but neither even at their best has really shown an ability to control a game from the middle as Sahin (in his prime) and Gundogan did for Dortmund.
The approach for Dahoud appeared to be addressing that, but no alternative was sought after Gladbach made their position clear. Maybe it’s something the club plans to revisit next summer, but for now Henderson isn’t a Gundogan, Wijnaldum isn’t a Sahin, though you could argue that Can is a Bender … Oh grow up.
Klopp may well feel that a different approach is needed for the Premier League, and patience (you remember that thing right?) will have to be shown if he’s to find the right formula to unlock stubborn defences while maintaining an effective all-action approach against the bigger teams. He evidently thinks he has the players to do that.
Being on Twitter last night confirmed something to me, that no matter who you support, who you’ve signed or how generally well your team is doing, almost everyone thinks their team ‘didn’t do enough’ in the transfer market. The important thing is that the manager does, and unless he’s a brilliant actor (and that Nivea advert suggests he isn’t) then Klopp is satisfied with his summer’s work. Let’s see what he can do from here.
Transfers are done for another four months. Jürgen Klopp and his squad seek the Holy Grail of the Premier League. So what else is there left to say other than … Ni!
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