False Nine editor James Dutton takes stock of Liverpool’s deadline day fiasco…
Bill Shankly: “At a football club, there’s a holy trinity – the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors don’t come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques”
April 12, 2012 – Liverpool Chairman, Tom Werner: “I would say we certainly have the resources to compete with anybody in football”
June 1, 2012 – Liverpool Football Club Statement: “The owners are always willing to provide funds where necessary to strengthen the squad. There will be no requirement to sell players this summer in order to fund new purchases.”
August 22, 2012 – Liverpool Manager, Brendan Rodgers: “I would need to be a nutcase to even consider at this moment to let Andy Carroll go out”
Liverpool fans must face up to some uncomfortable truths, specifically that the ownership, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), has delivered similar broken promises that so epitomised the previous detested American owners, and so publicly failed to support the manager that they have tasked with delivering the club back to the upper echelons of English and European football.
Yet it is vital that supporters do not lose sight of FSG’s long-term plan, that hinges on much more than the proposed signing of a 29-year old attacking midfielder. Liverpool has been a club in decline for 3 years now – both patience and a grip on reality is needed for a restless fan base.
A lack of backing from the board is hardly a new phenomenon for Liverpool; it is well known that Rafa Benitez was left high and dry during the Hicks and Gillet era, but the problems precede even that sorry period in the club’s illustrious history. Back in 2006 Chief Executive Rick Parry refused to sanction an extra £2million to complete the signing of Dani Alves from Sevilla – Alves has now gone on to become one of the most renowned full backs in world football and the crux of Barcelona’s system. Back in 2003 Parry refused Gerard Houllier’s desire to sign a certain Cristiano Ronaldo because the club had already spent a substantial amount on securing the services of then French prodigies Anthony Le Tallec and Florent Sinama-Pongolle.
It has emerged that FSG were unwilling to pay over the odds for a 29-year old who would not provide re-sale value. Yet in failing to cough up an extra £2-3 million for Clint Dempsey the owners have undermined their new manager’s position and his integrity. Rodgers was adamant the club needed to procure goal-scorers, but he has been badly let down by his employers. The Northern-Irishman prides himself as a man of principle, and as such he should resign – but he is dedicated and committed to the regeneration of Liverpool Football Club having promised to ‘fight for his life’ for the club in his first press conference.
Ian Ayre, the Managing Director, has consistently proved inept – first as one of the board members who intrigued to replace Rafa Benitez with Roy Hodgson in 2010 and more recently with his anonymity during the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra controversy – and reports are emerging that the owners have belatedly lost patience with him after his failure to secure any deadline-day signings. In the past decade the club has been run from behind the scenes by business men with no experience of big football clubs and owned by men unfamiliar with the sport. The failure to sign Clint Dempsey is just the latest debacle in years of mis-management that are not befitting of a club of this stature.
The austere times that Liverpool now find themselves in are a direct result of the disastrous transfer dealings of 2011 where, disregarding net spend, over £100 million was shelled out by Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli on the likes of Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam. Of the signings from the previous calendar year it can be argued that the club would only gain a profit from the majestic Luis Suarez. Comolli represents perhaps the most catastrophic acquisition of FSG’s 22-month stint on Merseyside.
Liverpool are caught up in a vicious cycle – the owners are committed to self-sufficiency and Financial Fair Play. They are also determined to deliver Champions League football back to Merseyside, as outlined by John Henry in 2011 when he demanded a top four finish from Kenny Dalglish. Without the fiscal windfall that Champions League football generates Liverpool are left with a severely restricted budget. This is not to mention the continued inertia surrounding the proposed new stadium/redevelopment of Anfield which sees the club falling further and further behind its rivals. The importance of new stadia and continued participation in the Champions League in modern football is often overlooked, but Arsenal fans should be grateful that it is not lost upon Arsene Wenger.
No one would doubt that Joe Allen is an outstanding talent and the prospect of him lining up at Anfield for at least the next 5 years is an incredibly enticing one for the fans, however was it prudent of Brendan Rodgers to spend over half of his budget on a central midfielder when he was so intent on showing Andy Carroll the exit door? The likes of Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez have not been sufficiently replaced in this transfer window. Last season Liverpool scored less goals than the relegated Blackburn Rovers and they now enter the 2012-13 with just two recognised forwards and a dearth of supporting attacking options.
Rodgers however will be delighted that he has kept together the experienced spine of a squad that continues the legacy of Rafa Benitez. Pepe Reina has not been at his best since the departure of Benitez and his goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero in 2010, suffering from the change in footballing styles at the club in the process. The tiki-taka style that Rodgers exudes will allow Reina to flourish in his role as the sweeper-keeper, allowing Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel to play a high-line in defence. Where Rodgers has succeeded is in building one of the finest midfields in the league – with new signings Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin joining Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard whilst youngsters Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson provide competition.
Though Liverpool fans will rightly feel let down in the transfer market this summer they can only be encouraged by the burgeoning academy in place – the final legacy that Rafa Benitez bestowed upon Melwood. The 17-year old Raheem Sterling made his full Premier League debut in an outstanding performance against Manchester City last weekend whilst striker Adam Morgan, 18, started against Hearts of Midlothian in the Europa League last week. The influx of youth into this new-look Liverpool side was evidenced by the fact the starting XI against the League Champions last Sunday was the youngest since December 2003 with an average age of 24.5. This ignores the fact that the average age dropped when the injured Lucas was replaced early doors by the 20-year old Jonjo Shelvey. Though Liverpool’s league form nosedived after the Brazillian’s serious knee injury last season, they are much more well equipped to deal with his absence this season.
Despite the steady decline over the last 3 and a half years that has seen the club fall from the top UEFA-ranked side in Europe to scrapping for qualification into the Europa League, the club is in an infinitely better position than it was just 2 years ago. On transfer deadline day in August 2010 Liverpool completed the £5million capture of the 29-year old Paul Konchesky on a four-year contract. The current owners and manager have a much more concrete plan for Liverpool Football Club, as witnessed by Rodger’s very own appointment, a self-proclaimed ‘student of the game.’ Back in 2010 FSG outlined their plan as a 3-year project – patience is therefore required and a re-appraisal in 2013 necessary.
Follow James Dutton on Twitter: @jimbodutts