Now that the gold dust has settled on the summer transfer window we thought we’d have a look at what it all means for Liverpool as the club looks to move forward and improve upon last season’s disappointing sixth place finish. This isn’t an attack on the manager or an attempt to justify anything. If you’re the sort of person that just wants to moan, whinge and be on the attack the whole time then this isn’t for you.
There are legitimate questions to be asked about the club’s transfer policy, about FSG’s desire to find value in the market and about the manager’s sometimes-odd decisions regarding starting line ups. Maybe we’ll go on to ask those questions in the future, but right now isn’t the time and right here isn’t the place.
We’ve broken our thoughts up into five different areas, so have a read and then let us know what you think.
What We’re Up Against
The overall feeling in the aftermath of the transfer market closing is that, in so much as the whole thing is a competition all of it’s own, Manchester City have ‘won’. They have signed big names like Kevin De Bruyne and Nicolas Otamendi, spent big money on their future by paying £49 million for Raheem Sterling, solidified their midfield squad options with the arrival of Fabian Delph, and they’ve bought the obligatory player no one has heard of to send out on loan in Patrick Roberts.
Yet the reality is that when you have virtually limitless funds you will always win, even if you get every decision wrong. If Raheem Sterling fails to develop into the player Manchester City expect him to will it really matter? If they end up selling him for £15 million and he heads off to Tottenham in two years time will it make a massive to them in the long run? It seems unlikely, especially when you consider that managers are blamed far more regularly than players are. At Liverpool Martin Skrtel has survived Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish, for example, and may well survive Brendan Rodgers, too. Now we’re not suggesting that Skrtel shouldn’t still be a Liverpool player, but it is noteworthy that Liverpool’s defence hasn’t looked particularly solid since 2008 – 2009 yet the main central defender has lasted longer than three different managers.
Jose Mourinho went into this campaign reasonably happy with the squad he had at his disposal. A poor start to the season meant he had to rethink, though, and so Chelsea went out and spent £21 million on Pedro and offered £40 million to sign John Stones from Everton. Manchester United spent the summer fumbling in the dark for a new striker and eventually decided to pay £36 million rising to £58 million for a teenager no one had really heard of.
Liverpool weren’t quiet in the transfer market, of course. We spent £32.5 million on the signing of Christian Benteke, yet the difference is that Liverpool have to get it right every single time. If Benteke doesn’t work out and we have to move him on at a £20 million loss how much will it affect us? A lot more than it would affect Manchester City or Chelsea, that’s for sure. It’s starting to get a little different for Manchester United in the post Alex Ferguson era, but even they can take the equivalent of a £22.5 million loss on Angel Di Maria without it upsetting the apple cart all that much.
The reality is that, whether Liverpool fans like it or not, the club is now on a different rung on the financial ladder to those above us in the league, at least in terms of what is attractive to players. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Chelsea and Paris St. Germain get the first pick of the litter, with Manchester United, Arsenal, Bayern Munich and the likes of Juventus getting the next look. Liverpool are, at best, in the third group of clubs when it comes to being the type of team that players want to play for.When you’re picking the third best players and need them to develop into world beaters every single time and the teams above you are picking better players than you and can do so indiscriminately and constantly, it’s going to take something special to get you to the top of the pile. Raheem Sterling could go on to become as good as Cristiano Ronaldo, yet when Manchester City can come in and buy him for £49 million what are Liverpool supposed to do? Say ‘stick with us, kid, we won some trophies 20 years ago’?
We’re up against clubs that can afford to get it wrong time and time again without it having any noticeable affect on their financial dealings, whilst we need to get it right every time and even then things won’t be ideal. If you think that doesn’t matter then you’re naïve in the extreme.
Caught In A Net
There’s been plenty of talk about Liverpool’s net spend this window, with some Liverpool fans convinced that the club’s low net spend is indicative of the fact that Fenway Sports Group ‘lack ambition’. @clemente_carl tweeted saying:
In the PL spending table #LFC are 3rd above CFC.However,in net-spending we are 13th below Leicester & Watford. FSG are bleeding the club dry
— Carl Clemente (@clemente_carl) September 3, 2015
A net spend of £15.6 million isn’t a huge amount of money, but it also paints a false picture of things. All net spend shows is that the club is being run in a financially secure manner, something we should all be delighted to see after the days of Hicks & Gillett. To suggest that it shows a lack of ambition from John W. Henry and his cohorts fails to appreciate just how much money they’ve put into the club in other areas; getting us out of debt, for example.
Net spend, to clarify, is the monetary difference between the amount Liverpool have spent buying players and the amount they have received in return for players sold. According to this article on lfchistory.net LFC spent £86 million this summer, presuming Danny Ings’ tribunal gives a fee of around £6 million, and have received £70.4 million. 86 minus 70.4 leaves 15.6, or £15.6 million in real money, hence our net spend is £15.6 million. The largest chunk of money we received over the summer was the £49 million we got from Manchester City for Raheem Sterling. Yet we also received money for Rickie Lambert, Fabio Borini and Tiago Ilori (in the form of a loan payment) that bring the net spend down. Had we not managed to sell those players then our net spend would be higher, but we’d have a load of deadwood in the squad that Brendan Rodgers had no intention of selling. Net spend is, in truth, completely misleading. Transfer prices are things that matter to tabloid newspapers and their readers but shouldn’t matter at all to fans. For example, if Liverpool signed a player for £30 million from Manchester City one season but agreed to pay City in instalments of £10 million a year, then sold him for £20 million the following season and sent all of that to City to settle the outstanding amount, how much has the player cost the club? What if City bought him back for £20 million thereby writing off the debt? It’s smoke and mirrors; a clever way of club’s making supporters look at one hand whilst the other is busy taking their wallets. What matters is wages and that is where Liverpool aren’t as good as their counterparts. There’s a chart doing the rounds at the moment about squad cost, with Liverpool’s squad reportedly being worth £344 million, £39 million more than Arsenal’s squad. Yet how much money is being spent by each club on their squad’s wages?
— Dave O’Connell (@DaveOCKOP) September 3, 2015
Paul Tomkins has done an insane amount of good work regarding transfers in football and do you know what his research discovered? That the value of a team’s squad isn’t as important as the amount the club spends in wages, and that wages spent directly correlates to where a team finishes in the league. If Liverpool spent the 5th highest amount of money on wages then the likelihood is they’ll finish about 5th in the league. Sometimes they might finish 4th, sometimes 6th, but generally speaking 5th will be par.
So when people talk about net spend as if it’s some sort of gospel that we should all bow down and worship they’re making themselves look like idiots. Manchester United’s net spend will be huge this summer, yet they’ve spent nearly £60 million on a player that might turn out to be no better than Adnan Januzaj. Does that mean that they’ve done better business than Liverpool this summer? Only time will tell. It seems that too many fans want Liverpool Football Club to be operated with the same sort of financial abandon that resulted in Leeds disappearing from the top division’s landscape indefinitely, anything less and they won’t be happy.
Times They Are A Changin’
Things ain’t what they used to be. Liverpool aren’t the best team in the world any more, let alone the best team in England. The last time we won a trophy was in 2012 when the Carling Cup came back to Anfield. The last team we won a trophy that means something was in 2005 when Rafa Benitez’ first season as manager resulted in the Reds lifting the European Cup. The last time we won the league was 1990.
In yearly terms, it’s been 3 since we won a cup, 10 since we won a trophy people outside of England care about and 25 since we won the biggest trophy of all. Given that we can’t afford to splash the cash willy nilly, how exactly are we supposed to persuade players to come and play for us?
Liverpool supporters are rightly proud of the club’s history – it’s an exceptional one and our trophy cabinet is full of every major honour bar none. Yet can players who have no loyalty to the Liver Bird be persuaded to come to Merseyside purely on the back of our historical achievements? Would you swap McDonalds for Wimpy because the latter was huge in the ‘80s?
Liverpool fans should never reel in their expectations. It’s our belief that we can do the unexpected that sees occasions like Istanbul happen. Yet if fans were able to adjust their expectations and realise that it takes time to achieve the impossible then maybe there wouldn’t be so many morons in the fan base. Of course people’s anger with the loss to West Ham is based on more than just this season, yet there seems to be no appreciation for the context of the season in front of us.
Liverpool have added five new signings to the first team and three new faces to the backroom staff. The manager has sacked his assistant and the first team coach and replaced them with brand new people, yet some supporters aren’t willing to give any of them time to settle. Two wins, one draw and one loss from four games is far from a disastrous start to the season and puts us on better footing than Manchester United and Chelsea once the season resumes after the international break. Yet still fans are calling for the manager’s head.
If Brendan Rodgers was sacked tomorrow and Carlo Ancelotti or Jurgen Klopp replaced him then the public face of the club will have been altered. Yet we’ll still have the fifth best squad in the Premier League in terms of wages, we’ll still have Dejan Lovren in the squad and Daniel Sturridge won’t suddenly have recovered from his injury. Let the current gaffer have at least six months, see how things work out and, if you’re absolutely desperate to spend a huge amount of money, why not donate it to charity rather than spend it on flying a plane over Anfield?
The Next Steven GerrardIt’s a common cry in the modern game: ‘where’s the next local hero?’ Since the 1990s Liverpool have been blessed to witness some special talents emerge from their Academy, including Steven Gerrard, Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher and Michael Own, yet that line of young talent seems to have dried up in recent times. Gerrard’s decision to leave the club for the warmer climate of Los Angeles in the summer meant the last tie to the best the Academy had to offer was cut.
Are fans really after the latest and greatest from the Academy, though? Do the Anfield faithful really have the time to allow talented youngsters from the local area to develop? In the title challenging campaingn of 2013 – 2014 Brendan Rodgers found himself in a position where illness to Glen Johnson meant he had to look towards the then 20 year old Jon Flanagan in the left back spot. Flanagan, a Liverpool lad and graduate of the Academy, had been offered to every club in the football league during the summer with none willing to take a chance on him. The response to his inclusion in the squad from Liverpool fans on Twitter was, to be polite, mixed. Most were full of sound and fury at the fact that he was even in the squad, let alone the team. Abuse was sent out in the extreme with everybody questioning why he was in the team and furious at the manager for putting his faith in someone so poor.
Flanagan played well in the match, coming out of it with an extreme amount of dignity despite the fact that Liverpool lost the game 2-0. He was used intermittently throughout the rest of the season, improving to the point that he scored a cracking goal against Spurs at White Hart Lane, yet it took him most of the season to win over Liverpool fans who remained unconvinced he was good enough for the club.
This season we’ve already seen Jordan Rossiter given time on the pitch during the game against Arsenal (maybe Rodgers enjoys giving youngsters a run out against the London club), yet plenty of fans took to Twitter to question the manager’s decision in putting him on the pitch at all. How many Liverpool fans would have been pleased to see him in the starting line up against West Ham? How much criticism would have been thrown Rodgers’ way for starting him if the result had been the same?
People love the idea of local lads being given a chance to impress and a run out in the team, yet no one wants to give the manager the time to make it happen. It’s as if some fans expect the finished article to arrive all wrapped up in a bow, as though Steven Gerrard never made mistakes when he was a youngster.
Where’s the next Steven Gerrard? He’s there, it’s just that the manager needs to be allowed to give him time without his job performance being questioned every time he does.
How To Do It Differently
So if the next Steven Gerrard isn’t likely to be given time, if the Reds are up against it when it comes to making transfers and if the game isn’t the same as it used to be, how can Liverpool do things differently and succeed?
One thing that could be considered would no doubt shock the establishment and rock Liverpool fans to their very core – the manager could be given time.
Let’s think about it for a second. The last time Liverpool Football Club had continuous success was when the manager was given time to develop the team, whether you think that was Kenny Dalglish’s first stint or Rafa Benitez’ run in the team. Might it be worth letting Brendan Rodgers develop the team he’s brought together?
His critics would point to three years as Liverpool boss without a trophy, of course, yet in one of those years the club came within a whisker of winning its first title in over twenty years. In that year they had their star striker out for the beginning of the campaign, they stumbled to several unconvincing 1-0 wins in their first few games before losing at home to a lesser team when the manager decided to start two many central defenders across the back line.
It’s highly unlikely that the Reds will mount another title challenge this year, but why not give the current guy in the hot seat the time to develop the team he’s spent the summer building to see whether 2013 – 2014 was a one off? Will bringing another manager in now really make the difference, considering he’ll have to be given time to allow his methods to translate to the team and his backroom team to settle?
What if giving the manager time is the thing that makes the difference? What if the players gradually understand what their teammates are doing and what the manager is asking of them? What’s the worst that could happen? Isn’t it worth the risk?
Liverpool are the 5th best team in the country. They can’t spend the same sort of money as the four teams above them so what can they do differently? What can they do to give themselves the edge? Maybe it’s the little things that make the difference. Maybe it’s faith in things unseen that can get them into the race. What have we got to lose?