IT’S that time of the year again when, depending on your personality type, you’re either signing up for the latest celebrity diet, resolving not to drink any more alcohol for a month, deciding in what ways the next 12 months will be completely different to the last or, for the rebels, making a concerted effort not to do any of those things and steadfastly working your way through the left-over chocolates and Baileys to see how far up the scale you can push your body weight.
It’s also time for every media outlet in the country to post stories about Philippe Coutinho moving to Barcelona.
I have no better idea than you as to whether the little magician will be booking his entire family onto Easyjet flights from John Lennon Airport this month, but things have certainly changed in the tone with which the football club talks about his potential departure since the cast-iron assurances of no sale we were given last summer. It seems to me that most Liverpool supporters have also reached a level of acceptance with the potential transfer that many hadn’t just a few months ago.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 11, 2017
I remember saying in the summer how we would be hypocrites of the highest order to question the power of the player ultimately being able to force through a move when we were simultaneously blocking a move for Coutinho while (allegedly) taking Virgil van Dijk on fairground rides in Blackpool to convince him of the allure of the north west of England, and asking him to force his way to Anfield against the wishes of Southampton.
Van Dijk has of course just finalised his dream move, and it seems like the stuff of make believe to think that our number 10 won’t be getting his way sooner or later, either in this window or next.
There seems to be a belief in some sections of the football community that considers this all to be some modern-day phenomena started by Jean-Marc Bosman and heightened by the money pumped into the game by Sky and, latterly, BT, but player power was around long before Rupert Murdoch got his murky little hands on the beautiful game.
We only have to look back over the history of our club to see that Kevin Keegan and Ian Rush once departed for new adventures in foreign countries, and we all know how close Steven Gerrard came to leaving for Chelsea, which the club were seemingly powerless to stop at one point.
All three of those examples were British players who wanted to test themselves in a new environment, with Keegan and Rush wanting to move despite playing for Liverpool sides that challenged regularly for titles, unlike the current incarnation.
That Coutinho and, possibly, Emre Can, want to move away from the north west of England is even less surprising than our former legends wanting to get away. After all, save for having worked around these parts for a few years, the Brazilian and German nationals have no affinity with Liverpool and no reason to stay outside of professional considerations.
Those of you who have read or listened to me discuss football and footballers previously will know how much I like to remind everyone that they are, as much as many of us don’t like to admit it, just human beings making their way through life like the rest of us. They get paid handsomely to do a job most of us would give our left arm for but, at the end of the day, it’s just a job.
It’s always interesting at times like this to see the argument between two defined camps, one saying that we should force these humans to continue working in a place against their will, while the other argues vociferously that we should be booking the budget airline flights ourselves for anyone who is so rude as to not want to spend the rest of their life living near Sefton Park or the Formby pine woods.
It’s funny, isn’t it. I can’t imagine any other area of life in which we would consider it acceptable in a free, western country to force another human to work for a company against his or her will, just because people who like that company don’t want them to leave and just because they said at one point they would stay for a while.
When I put it like that it feels like an episode of Black Mirror. Jim from Morecambe who works at Apple wants to take his family on a gap year to explore Japan, but is forced to carry on developing the iPhone XV chained to a desk because the Apple acolytes refuse to let him leave, he’s just too important to the features on the new camera.
Is that what we’ve become?
The ‘make them stay’ argument also completely ignores that the footballers who represent us have personal lives that, as with the rest of us, weigh heavily on any decision they make about their work life.
Those of you in serious relationships — with or without kids — will no doubt have more sympathy for a footballer whose partner might have a strong desire to move to a city with a culture more akin to their home country, with friends already in place to help them to settle in.
On the flip side, I do also think that a strange modern-day phenomena is an acceptance that every footballer ultimately wants to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona. Was a vote taken on that at some point that no-one mentioned to me?
None of the three legends I mentioned above wanted to play for either of the Spanish giants, and for the vast majority of my life watching football both of those clubs had more problems than they did success.
In fact, once upon a time, playing for the mighty Liverpool Football Club was all that many footballers wanted in their lives, and arriving on these shores signalled the fulfilment of a dream. No doubt it still does for many players, as it does signing for Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich or AC Milan.
I remember Alex Ferguson acknowledging that keeping a player like Cristiano Ronaldo in Manchester for a number of years was an achievement in itself, but that was more to do with the climate in the north west of England than any assumption that he would inevitably end up in Madrid or Barcelona.
Ultimately, his desire to move to a warmer country coincided with Madrid regaining a position of power in world football, but I doubt he would have moved there had they been toiling in mid table La Liga.
If our ultimate desire is for footballers to sign for Liverpool and never want to leave, we’d be better served only ever bringing on board the likes of Jamie Carragher or his new mate Gary Neville, who are happy spending their entire careers close to home and have no desire to explore foreign cultures.
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It’s incumbent on our football club to make playing here such an attractive proposition that leaving becomes more and more difficult, but we must accept that no matter how good their current job, the high-performing individuals attracted here in the first place might inevitably be the type of personalities who want to experience new challenges in their lives.
Even away from the playing staff, it’s been sad to read that Pep Lijnders is leaving the club just a few months after Michael Beale departed for a new opportunity (although he has since returned). While Jürgen Klopp is “gutted” to see the young coach go, he accepts it as an inevitable part of life, as I think we all do.
I can’t imagine any Liverpool supporter claiming that we should force Pep to stay against his will despite him having received an offer to progress his career that he wasn’t expecting.
Regardless of what happens to Coutinho this month, my suspicion is that in the future the best players in the world will either refuse to sign long-term contracts or will ensure that any release clauses inserted into those contracts are effective in reality so that they have true freedom of movement should an opportunity arise that they didn’t expect.
Either that or we’ll start inserting them all with microchips that remove their autonomy and convince them that they’re happy at Liverpool until such time as we want to discard them.
Happy New Year.