HERE we are then. Knee deep in it. The summer. The silly season. Call it what you will.
It’s that time we all wait and watch and hope. Checking the news and the gossip columns for signs of life. Hoping that Liverpool can do the deals that will create a buzz for August. Praying The Reds sign the players that can make a difference. Desperate for the club to show some real ambition in the transfer market
Football and money are strange bedfellows. You could argue with some validity, and plenty do, that what’s important is what takes place on the pitch – the 11 men going to do battle backed by the partisan crowd and geed up by the clued-up manager. They’ve always got a chance of achievement regardless, right?
Right. But, chances are, those 11 men doing battle have got more of a chance if they cost a bit and if they’re paid a bit. We can point to examples of the underdog punching above its weight. But more often than that the fat cats win out. Money isn’t the only route to success. But it certainly helps.
In 2017, it feels like there are less secrets in football than ever before. The Reds have sneaked through a little mentioned deal today for Chelsea youth player Dom Solanke but can they really be expected to do the same when it comes to improving the first 11 with big money buys?
While we’re not into double figures of days since the curtain fell on the last Premier League season, we’re already more than aware of the players Liverpool hope to lure to Anfield this summer: Virgil van Dijk, Naby Keita, Douglas Costa, Kalidou Koulibaly, Julian Brandt, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – all fairly certain to be on Jürgen Klopp’s ‘radar’, if not certs to be paid for from the ‘war chest’.
The problem Liverpool is that all of those players are likely to be on other club’s ‘radars’ too. And the selling clubs know it. Meanwhile, agents swirl around in these dangerous waters, thirsty for greater wealth, pushing for that more lucrative deal. They might be nailed-on targets, making them nailed-on transfers is much more difficult.
And at some point, Klopp, Michael Edwards and whoever else is involved in the signing of the cheques is going to have to decide when and where to go big. And that in itself is exciting but not without its difficulties.
As fans, we can easily sell the club to ourselves. Back in the Champions League, albeit with a qualifier to negotiate. With a great manager at the helm. With a promising squad, great fans, a new stand and so on and so on. Why wouldn’t you sign for The Reds? Well you would if you were a fanatical supporter of them. But a host of supporters of rival clubs, at home and abroad, will be saying the same. And the most of the players targeted will have little to no love of Liverpool.
Which brings it all back to the money. The hair-tearing wait for a title at Liverpool goes on and the mental scars on the support have been so clear so many times. It’s clearly got on Klopp’s tits at times. But without the big pot back at Anfield it’s unlikely to ever truly go away. We need that relief, that let-off – that big weight removed from shoulders.
So Klopp and co must try to win the unfair game – one currently weighted to just the place we wouldn’t want it to be. Manchester.
A list published over the weekend by Nick Harris (@sportingintel) showed that of the 15 biggest buys by English clubs only one of them, in 15th place in terms of value, wore the Liverpool red: Andy Carroll (£35m).
Of the rest, 12 ended up at Manchester City (eight) or Manchester United (four). Chelsea, with Fernando Torres (£50m), and Arsenal, with Mesut Ozil (£42.5m), make up the numbers in the big 15.
Manchester's buying power: 80% of most expensive PL players (12/15) have been bought by City (8) or United (4). And surely more this summer. pic.twitter.com/kFQXDgPOLv
— Nick Harris (@sportingintel) May 26, 2017
What constitutes hit, miss and maybe is up for grabs on some of the number, but when clubs are consistently forking out big figures for big players – and inflating the market by doing so – it means Liverpool are likely to have to ditch any thoughts of being frugal this summer.
It may be Fenway Sports Group’s preferred approach to buy young and buy early, and Solanke certainly fits the bill on that score. It may be against Klopp’s ideal to spend big money regularly when he prefers to nurture and improve. But otherwise how do you improve on what we have?
Everyone will have a player they would like to see moved on, or who they think Liverpool can improve on. But the regulars in Klopp’s side secured 76 points and fourth place in the season just gone, for a side that was on television more than any other.
With the prize money and TV cash that brings, and the riches on the horizon should Champions League group stages football become a reality, Liverpool will surely twist rather than stick in the transfer market. It’s just a case of when and for who, with what wage and what fee. Klopp could undoubtedly sell a vision to anyone but it might have to be accompanied by a club record amount of cold, hard cash.
Some may wince at that – a not so beautiful fact about the beautiful game. But a club record signing is a statement in itself. It says Liverpool mean business. That Liverpool aren’t fucking about. That next season everyone involved at the top level believes there is a chance to challenge and that’s focusing minds to get deals done. They’re giving the manager what they want.
For all the negativity money – spending it unwisely, not spending it, not being ambitious with it – can bring, it can also bring around a childish summer joy. Like when you got the silver club badge in the pack of Panini stickers. Or when you unwrapped your first proper footie.
A record signing. Imagine that. He must be good. He looks great in the red. He’s gonna be great on the pitch. I can’t wait for August. The Reds are going to be boss…