IT’S the January transfer window and Liverpool are in great position to crack on and have a real push at the league title. As it’s January 4, it’s safe to assume that given we haven’t already signed anyone, there isn’t going to be any new signings in the next few days.
Anything that Liverpool had lined up as a matter of importance would have been done already. In years gone by, Liverpool have let the January window open and close without the signing of a player – in fact, the last player that The Reds signed in January was Philippe Coutinho, arriving alongside Daniel Sturridge back in 2013.
Liverpool played the first few months of the 2012-13 with a barren forward line after the departure of Andy Carroll and it was clear that the club needed to address this as a matter of importance, so address it they did. On January 2, Daniel Sturridge was being photographed with a red shirt. Everyone involved identified a need as a matter of importance and went out and filled that need. Job done.
A lot of people think that we should be in the market to sign someone as a matter of immediacy. But the obvious difference here is that I don’t feel there is that immediate need, as there was in 2013. Yes, we are going to lose Sadio Mane for a few weeks. He’s gone now, but could miss just two league games if Senegal are to exit the African Cup of Nations in the Group Stage – I’m getting myself a half-and-half Algeria and Tunisia shirt made and I’m not going to wear anything else for the next few weeks.
Obviously it would be great for him on a personal level if Senegal lift the trophy, but that would mean that El Hadji Diouf gets some enjoyment out of life and I can’t really get on board with anything that sees that happen.
When our 11 is at its strongest I don’t see where we really lack. Yes, there are possible gaps at the minute but that happens to every team who have injuries. That aside, I really can’t see one thing where I’d say ‘do that and we’d improve hugely’ bar the obvious exception of goalkeeper. But yeah, enough of that.
Pace in a wide area is something Klopp has talked about, it’s something I’d like to see. Next season we will need more than just Sadio Mane if we are to try and compete on four fronts. Our goal on the first day of next season should be being able to put out a side every game that is good enough to beat a better team than the one we’re facing. We need to be able to rest seven players ahead of a Champions League game against Bayern Munich and still beat West Brom at a canter.
This limits us now, in a way. We shouldn’t — and I think Jürgen Klopp would agree with me on this — sign a player who wouldn’t find himself in that bracket come August. This leaves you in a difficult spot. For us to sign a player during this window that is absolutely good enough to play for Liverpool in the long term is tricky.
Sturridge and Coutinho both arrived in January and they both clearly are good enough – but they weren’t blockbuster names, they weren’t getting regular football, and we didn’t have to fend off a great deal of competition for their signatures. In signing those two players we pulled rabbits out of the hat. Excellent footballers for a very fair amount of money. We got them both for less than we paid for Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Fabio Borini combined.
Footballers of their quality do not grow on trees. They are not easy to find. We’ve been linked with a lad at Inter Milan, Gabriel Barbosa, who pretty much fits this exact dynamic. We could sign him and he could be brilliant. Alternatively, we could sign him and he could be rubbish. If we gamble and he’s rubbish then we’ve committed a large of sum of money to a player who isn’t helping us in the short term and wouldn’t have a future at Liverpool. Of course, there is the chance it would work. But regardless of whether it works the manager has to feel he can work with him in the long term. If he isn’t sure, don’t buy him. That’s just one of the ways in which this works.
Gambling as we did with Coutinho and Sturridge, at a time when there was far less pressure on us as a football team to do anything, makes sense. We were mid-table without anything to aspire to, except a run in the FA Cup maybe. Now we are in with a genuine shot at the league title and can’t afford to carry passengers.
The other way is to get the chequebook out and go hard on a top player who will make a difference and be around for years. This is basically what we all want. Go out and spend a club record fee on a player who we can watch for years, who will fire us to trophies. It’s very rare that this type of player actually moves in January, though.
The biggest move, in terms of cost, last winter was Giannelli Imbula at Stoke – Spurs, Arsenal and City were all in the same boat as we are currently and between them they signed Mohamed Elneny from Basel. The year before, Arsenal signed a centre-back for their squad and Chelsea swapped Andre Schurrle for Juan Cuadrado. They won the title but that wasn’t the difference between them winning it and not; Cuadrado made little impact and no longer plays for Chelsea.
The year before we were in a similar position to where we are now and tried to sign Yevhen Konoplyanka from Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, but Ian Ayre found himself getting had off by some mad Ukrainian fella on deadline day. Given we dropped just seven points from that point onwards (due to Kolo Toure and Steven Gerrard errors, and a capitulation at Crystal Palace) and played the best we football had in years, it’s hard to see what he could have added.
Despite the fact that there are numerous teams who find themselves in the position we are currently in every January, these moves just don’t seem to happen. It can’t be a coincidence. These teams aren’t all just deciding that they don’t fancy strengthening themselves for a second half push.
The reason for this is that it’s hard to get what you want in January. Any player who would cost £35million-plus would quite obviously be a very fine footballer — otherwise they wouldn’t cost that, would they (ignoring January 2011, of course)?
Let’s take Christian Pulisic as an example. If he’s good enough to make an impact for Liverpool, he will be getting regular football for Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund are currently sixth in the Bundesliga at their winter break. They probably have to write off their title hopes and focus on getting into the Champions League. If they let Pulisic go they’ll need to replace him. Where are they getting this replacement from? If they truly want to get themselves up the table they aren’t going to want to weaken their squad.
We pride ourselves on fitness too. How long would it take to get a player up to the levels that Klopp requires? If Klopp wants him to already be there it further narrows the pool. If he can’t put up with the levels of pressing that our team requires, the levels of all out combativity, then it could hinder us more than it helps.
So there are a number of criteria here. They have to be available, they have to be good and they have to have an immediate impact. These players are obviously not all over the place. Plenty could do the latter two things, plenty will be the former, but it’s rare that all three will be the case. How many players do you honestly suspect fit this bracket?
I’d love nothing more than to be able to go into the end of the season with two versions of Mane. To have a dual threat that scares the living daylights out of sides and put them on the back foot would be massive. But I also don’t want Liverpool to make an expensive mistake that prevents us from kicking on and wouldn’t be here in six months, that may also prevent us from getting more of the same. You commit money to something and make a rash mistake and it hinders you for years. We’re probably still paying Carroll. Everything we do has to be thought out.
It’s a tough balancing act. But if we do find the right player, he’s available and he ticks the boxes we shouldn’t hesitate to get him in. Just please, please don’t try and burn down Anfield if we don’t.
Twenty-seven days until Chelsea at home.