DEJAN Lovren’s new four-year deal — worth approximately £100,000 per week — did not come as a huge surprise to many, writes IAN RYAN. And, given how split the fan base is when it comes to judging the merits of our current number six, the immediate fume that followed was no great shock either.
I’m not one for sitting on the fence, and I found myself thinking Lovren must have the greatest agent since Tom Cruise was screaming “Show me the money” down the phone to Cuba Gooding Jr. According to national media reports, Lovren is now the fifth best paid defender in the Premier League, with only David Luiz, Nicolas Otamendi, Vincent Kompany and John Terry earning more.
Maybe I expect too much: I want FSG to be ballsy and shell out cash — paying big wages along the way — but then I question their judgement when they do. But, hey, I’m a football fan — it comes with the job. I guess I just want Liverpool to be more consistent in the approach to such matters.
Performances from the big Croatian over the last three years have often been far from perfect but his progress under Jürgen Klopp had, at times, offered a glimpse of why the Reds topped up their Southampton loyalty card in the summer of 2014.
For some, heads had well and truly fallen off by Friday dinner time. Maybe only our fan base could turn a new contract for a first=choice centre back into a full-blown DEFCON 1 situation. There’s a discussion to be had on the merits of the deal, but the reaction on social media from some bordered on the ridiculous.
In Lovren we’re not talking about an awful player, but maybe not a great one either and that’s the problem. Whichever camp you prefer to sit in, there are interesting views to consider but first let me nail my colours to the mast.
Over the past 18 months there is little doubt that the Croatian, capped 31 times by his country, has improved his levels of performance to the point where most sensible fans now don’t want to punch themselves in the face Jamie Vardy-style every time they see his name on the team sheet.
That wasn’t always the case.
He initially struggled under Brendan Rodgers but has been able to find a more consistent level under Klopp.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is good enough to start every week. A major concern is that we often accept mediocrity as a solution to a problem as long as that solution is a doing a decent job. It is a point that goes wider than Lovren and could easily be applied to a number of positions within this current Liverpool squad.
I am delighted and proud to confirm my loyalty to @liverpoolfc, the Manager, the Team and above all the fans has been formally extended. My drive and determination to achieve great things in the years ahead has never been greater. I would also like to thank my family and friends for all your love and support. To celebrate our amazing 125 year history, next season will be kicking off with a new kit. #YNWA
Lovren could easily occupy a place in a team pushing to be the sixth or seventh best in the league and be one of their star men. There, his lapses in concentration would go slightly under the radar with a more forgiving set of fans who aren’t constantly dreaming of winning a league title for the first time in nearly three decades.
I have no issue with Lovren extending his stay but I’d prefer it to be for the right price and I don’t see him starting as first choice when August comes around. However, I could easily get on board with him as our third or fourth choice option — playing games across a number of competitions next season to allow one of our first choice centre-backs a chance to put their feet up against Brighton after (hopefully) a Champions League game on the Wednesday night. After all, there is no denying he has the ability to put in a nine out of 10 performance. His recent showing in the Merseyside Derby when the current top scorer in the league did not get a sniff provides evidence to support this argument.
Unfortunately, concentration for a centre-back breeds consistency and that is where the flaws in Lovren’s game start to raise their ugly heads.
All too often he will stop doing the basics that often separate a decent central defender from a great one and serve up a performance such as the one against Crystal Palace. Broadly speaking, we’re all in this to win the league but I’ve yet to be convinced that he’s capable of operating consistently at an elite level to the extent where you win a championship with him at the heart of your defence.
While I accept professional football is a far cry from the real working environment of every day life, I still want to see individuals operating consistently at the peak of their powers before they warrant a huge increase in salary. Maybe that’s naïve, maybe it’s wishful thinking or maybe it’s both but it’s how I like to view the working world.
The inevitable shouts will come — it’s not your money so why do you care? But, like it or not, how much clubs spend on wages and transfers will always create debate and discussion. After all, the club will have a budget, and paying a potential back-up defender — and an injury-prone one at that — £5m a year or £20m over the course of his contract feels slightly excessive and even a touch negligent.
If we are to mount a decent title challenge next season then I doubt I’m alone in thinking our defence needs a fair bit of surgery over the summer. My initial view on Joel Matip was that he had all the makings of a great defender. However, he too has shown frailties in recent months and there’s now an argument to be made that Liverpool could benefit from two new quality reinforcements at the centre of their defence if they are to challenge on all fronts next season.
People will say that the Crystal Palace game was the first defeat for the Lovren-Matip partnership in 14 games, and it’s an argument with some substance. However, this same partnership struggles to put five or six games together in a row and you don’t win titles with defenders who lack the robustness to get through a season unscathed.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the need to pay the best wages to keep your key players and that the key to securing new talent will often rest on which club is paying the most money. But I also want my club to be slightly more savvy when it comes to doing deals. Spend big, spend clever and spend it on the right players.
There still feels like so much inconsistency to our negotiating strategy when it comes to getting bang for our buck. I must stress this article is not about criticising Lovren’s wage demands. He’ll ask for a certain amount and it’s up to the club if they pay it. But I’d like us to do things better.
There’s a very realistic chance that Lovren starts next season as third-choice centre back, yet he will seemingly be earning more money than Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Jerome Boeteng and Toby Alderweireld. These lads are in the top bracket of centre-backs in world football.
I understand football can be a complicated business but even so that’s a tough one to make sense of. I struggle to envisage a scenario where another elite level club comes in and offers Dejan £100,000 per week, so could the club have negotiated a better deal? Should it even matter to us?
Liverpool certainly seem to have taken that stance with Emre Can when I’d argue that is a more crucial deal to get done when looking to the long-term future. That’s my point about consistency and judgement. Under the current FSG model, how much you pay certain players will surely have an impact on future deals — whether it be rewarding other first-team players or attracting new ones to the club in the summer. Overpaying on one deal can impact future business — even in an era when the Premier league continues to be awash with cash.
I just want the best possible players playing for this club to ensure we get back to where we need to be. I think it’s appropriate and absolutely right that fans question matters relating to both on-the-field and off-the-field activity. I’m a big fan of our manager but do I agree with every decision he makes? No, of course not and that’s ok. Same goes for the owners.
Four more years of Dejan Lovren then — the debate will rage on.