With a disappointing season so far and a group of summer signings who collectively are failing to impress, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers must re-examine his strategy for the coming transfer window.
Brendan Rodgers is an impressive young manager. His man management style where he communicates with the players on a personal level, inspiring the best in them, did wonders to improve the squad. Most notably, the raw talent that is Luis Suarez developed into one of the best players of the world under Rodgers’ watch. The Northern Irishman has also guided several young British players to an excellent development curve. The way youngsters such as Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Jon Flanagan have improved during the last couple of years is spectacular.
However, the obvious weakness during Rodgers’ regime is the transfers. He supposedly has great support from the ‘transfer committe’ which includes a few individuals with expert knowledge on transfers, even though it has to be noted that Rodgers seems to have the last word.
When Suarez’s move to Barcelona became imminent, Rodgers could only say and do so much to cushion the blow for Liverpool. Replacing the Uruguayan with just one player is impossible. Therefore, the logical strategy was to sign several players who together could add a new offensive dimension to the team. Full backs Alberto Moreno and Javi Manquillo (on loan from Atletico Madrid) were signed to provide both defensive and offensive power. Adam Lallana, one of the best midfielders in the Premier League last season, and Lazar Markovic and Emre Can were brought in to add scoring options from the midfield. Adding to the short list of strikers are the forever young Mario Balotelli who came in from AC Milan for around £16 million and Rickie Lambert. Bringing in these talented players to compensate for the loss of one man doesn’t sound bad in theory. Offensively as a unit, all together should produce more goals. So far, it hasn’t been working out.
Apart from finding goal-scoring options, another way to address the loss of a scoring machine like Suarez is to concede less. This means Liverpool had to improve its defensive game. Rodgers’ solution was to finally spend big on a ‘Premiership proven’ centre back in the form of Dejan Lovren who was signed for around £20 million. However, contrary to his form in Southampton, the Croatian has been so unreliable this season that supporters find themselves calling for the return of Daniel Agger.
It would be an easy and lazy analysis to just condemn last summers spending for the underperformance of the squad in the Premier League as well as the early exit from Champions League. Many of them are young and still have time on their side. For instance, I still believe Markovic and Emre Can have the tools to become great Liverpool players. However, I’m a bit worried of the fact that Liverpool in general never seem to get value for money, especially when they buy ready-made players for the first team. While Liverpool do pay for youth, there are players who are expected to deliver as soon as they enter the squad, such as Lovren and Balotelli. To be honest, I don’t really care if the owners FSG are wasting their money, but it’s critical for the club to get value for money in the days of UEFA Financial Fair Play.
I truly believe in many players in the current Liverpool squad. Players like Markovic and Moreno are high-quality talents and I’ve no doubt whatsoever they have what it takes to be successful in the red shirt. Be that as it may, there’s an obvious need to strenghten four crucial positions: goalkeeper, centre back, defensive midfielder and striker. The club needs to find in total four players – one for each position – who can start games and simply help lead the team. The current goalkeeper Simon Mignolet lacks the authority, passing skills and game intelligence to be a top keeper. The big signing Dejan Lovren is not good enough to be the leader in Liverpool’s back four due to his lack of game intelligence and positional game. Lucas Leiva, while recently showing glimpses of his pre-injury self, should not be a starting defensive midfielder as his positional game cannot compensate for his lack of mobility. As for the strikers, none of them are reliable enough to step in during the absence of Daniel Sturridge.
Come January, the window will again open and LFC will get another shot at getting the right players for these positions. To be able to do so, Rodgers and his transfer committee should look at three key points: forming a British core, buying Premier League players, and signing Bosmans as squadplayers.
1) I recognise the need for a British core in every British team. I think that’s very important for the identity and soul of the team. However, in comparison with foreign players with arguably similar qualities, English players are hugely overpriced. They usually cost at least double their true worth. That’s unacceptable from the buyers’ point of view. I suggest getting the best youngsters way before they start playing Premiership football.
For instance, Liverpool spent quite big to sign Jonjo Shelvey from Charlton, but with the valuation of English players also meant they could sell him on for a decent fee. Manchester United spent £30 million for Luke Shaw while Liverpool spent £25 million on Adam Lallana. Enormous fees. The most hyped English players are even more overpriced. Ross Barkley is likely to cost at least £40 million if you want to poach him from Everton. Instead of looking at the most hyped British lads in the Prem, Liverpool should go further down in the league system. Players such as Dele Alli (MK Dons), Will Hughes (Derby County) and Patrick Roberts (Fulham) are very exciting players. Make offers with add-ons based on performances. If they perform well, LFC will obviously pay more, but they would also be more useful. Win-win-situation. While it has to be said that those guys are also overpriced, they’re not nearly as expensive as the most hyped guys in the Prem.
Take Dele Alli as an example. If the papers are to be believed, he’s likely to cost £3.5 million + add-ons. Let’s say Liverpool sign him and he’s not good enough. What’s going to happen when he’s 21 years old and have 2 years left on his contract with the club? Liverpool are not going to pay much add-ons due to lack of performances and they will look to sell him on. Then, the club is likely to get the £3.5 million he cost in the first place. Afterall, such a fee is what you expect for a young British guy who played a few first team games for Liverpool without being good enough. Of course, if Alli proves to be good enough for LFC, then they will pay more for add-ons, but he’ll still be a cheap first teamer – especially as he’s British. Another positive point with getting them younger is that you might not just get ‘home grown’ players but also turn into ‘club-trained’ players which can be useful in UEFA competitions. So, what is there for LFC to lose by signing a player like Alli? Not much, I’d say.
2) British players are not the only overpriced players out there. Overall, all players in the Premier League are overpriced. It’s quite simple; play well in the Prem and plenty of rich PL-clubs notice it. They believe it’s easier for these players to adapt to a new team as they are already settled in the league and in the country. They think it’s less risky to get players from the Prem. But why would it be if you have good scouting? Considering his bloated value, was a Premier League player like Dejan Lovren a smaller risk after one good season in Southampton compared to Toby Alderweireld who joined Southampton on loan from Atletico? I don’t think so.
This could be a managerial problem. Managers have a huge influence in British clubs. They want guys who they’ve seen from close range, who they might have already coached and think they can trust. It’s not about objectively how good the player is – it’s about personal preference. It’s understable, but it’s not effective. And it’s definitely not value for money.
In fact, I think signing first team players from other Premiership clubs is something Liverpool should avoid doing. However, the exceptions could be if a player is A) truly world class or B) contractual circumstances lowered the player’s value.
Of course, Arsenal did nothing wrong when they tried to sign Suarez for £40 million. He was worth every penny. Top notch players are worth top money, no matter what league they play in. The assumed clause in Suarez’s contract also meant they assumed he was available for a very reasonable fee but, that obviously wasn’t the case. However, Suarez’ case wasn’t a typical one. Usually, at least in England, there are no clauses. Instead, the usual contractual circumstances that lower players’ value are if they have one year left on their contract, or if they can leave as free transfers.
For example, Winston Reid’s contract expires after this season. He could sign on a free transfer, which makes him a potential bargain. Another interesting player who has around a year left on his current contract is Nathaniel Clyne. Those players should be interesting for Liverpool, despite being Premiership players, simply because of their contract situations.
3) Getting Bosman transfers from the Prem and other leagues could mean a bargain for potential first teamers but same could be said for squad players. This is a recipe Juventus and a few other clubs like. I think the logic behind it is quite simple: you’ve got a limited amount of money to spend therefore, do not waste too much money on players who are not supposed to be more than squadplayers. If possible, sign them on Bosmans. If they flop, just move them on and make a profit. It means you have more left in your transfer kitty for the key signings. That can’t be a bad thing, right?
To be fair, Bosman signings aren’t exactly free. They cost a sign on bonus and they are in a position to demand higher wages. But I like the fact that they start as underdogs in the squad. People don’t expect Bosman signings to be amazing. The big price tag isn’t there, neither is the pressure. For instance, imagine if Liverpool had spent £16 million on Yevhen Konoplyanka last January. We would have expected the Ukrainian international to really strenghten the side. He’s available on a free transfer for next summer, and what would your expectations be of him then? Not as high, I’d think.
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Overall, considering all three points that I’ve discussed, it all boils down to smart spending. The club’s hand should not be forced to settle for overpriced players just because they’re British and/or they have played for the Premier League. If Rodgers is to improve this coming transfer window, he and his team should search far and wide for the best possible fit to plug the gaping holes that have become more apparent this season. These players may not come for cheap but should Rodgers decide to break the bank, it should be value for money.