It seems Brendan Rodgers has identified Shakhtar Donetsk forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan as the player capable of pushing Liverpool into Europe next season. The Armenian forward scored a record 25 goals in the Ukrainian League this campaign, as Shakhtar went on to win the division. Now The Sun are reporting that Rodgers will bid £20million for the forward, whether Luis Suarez stays at the club or not.
It’s a big transfer fee for the 24-year-old, considering the amount of experience he has. Mkhitaryan has only played in either the Armenian or Ukrainian leagues, which are nowhere near as competitive as the Premier League. The Armenian forward, who can also play as an attacking midfielder, has made 21 Champions League appearances with Shakhtar, but has only scored two goals, a brace against FC Nordsjaelland this season.
However, he has been prolific in the Ukrainian league this season, scoring some stunning strikes. Mkhitaryan has a decent amount of pace, but most importantly seems to have the instinct to know when and where to be. The mind-set of a striker, his positioning is perfect when it comes to scoring goals. The Armenian’s control and dribbling skills have lit up the Donbass Arena over the last few seasons.
Mkhitaryan has been deadly on the international stage too. Scoring six goals in the UEFA Euro 2012 qualifiers, including one against the Republic of Ireland, the 24-year-old helped Armenia finish in third place in the group, just four points adrift of Ireland in the Play-Off spot. Mkhitaryan also scored an equalising goal against Italy last October in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, only for Armenia to lose 3-1.
The attacking midfielder-come-striker is definitely a gamble. He has proven himself as goal scorer with Shakhtar in the domestic league, but in the Champions League he has struggled to make a mark on the score sheet. This would suggest against Europe’s strongest defences, he’s not quite good enough to be prolific on the elite European stage. However, his international form questions that, as he was EURO 2012 Qualifying Group B’s top goalscorer.
It’s difficult to come to a solid conclusion on Mkhitaryan, which means he is definitely a gamble. But is that something Liverpool need to take right now? Since the January additions of Coutinho and Sturridge, the Reds have been ferocious on the attack. In 2013 Liverpool won 5-0 against both Norwich and Swansea, and put six past Newcastle.
But with Luis Suarez’s future in doubt, and Daniel Sturridge’s ankle injury possibly ruling him out of the start of the season, Rodgers is right to look for a new striker to come to Anfield. But with the teams around them looking at players such as Cavani, Hulk, Gomez and Rooney, should Liverpool be joining them in eyeing up a top forward who has proven himself at the highest level?
Liverpool will struggle to sign the world’s best players, who will be looking for Champions League. But if Rodgers and Ian Ayre work hard, they may be able to sell their plan, and the club, to a proven goalscorer. The Premier League’s Christian Benteke and Michu have scored 37 goals between them, despite it being their debut season in the English top flight. The Reds could consider one of those two, or be even more ambitious. Roberto Soldado has scored 24 goals for Valencia this season, while Alvaro Negredo and Stefan Kiessling have both scored 25 goals in their respective leagues. If Ayre and Rodgers wanted to be more ambitious, these are the players they could try and sign.
That said, proven players haven’t always worked at Liverpool. Robbie Keane, Fernando Morientes and Harry Kewell are just some of the players brought to Liverpool with high expectations, after they had played so well at the highest of levels. Yet they all failed to deliver at Anfield, disappointingly playing well below the standards they had previously set.
Keane was never given a real chance by Rafa Benitez, but could only muster five goals in his brief spell with the club. Morientes joined Liverpool as a Champions League runner-up, but you couldn’t tell. His eight goals across one-and-a-half seasons with the Reds highlighted the tough time he had at Anfield. And then there is Harry Kewell, who looked like a shadow of the player he was at Leeds. Hampered by injuries, Kewell rarely shone during the times he was fully fit. Sensational at the Yorkshire club, the Aussie winger peaked in his first season, and was a huge anti-climax for Reds fans who had been so eager to see him in a Liverpool shirt after his Leeds days.
So at a club like Liverpool, experience isn’t always necessary. Whereas for Chelsea you would say they need a Cavani or Lewandowski, someone proven to be one of the best strikers around, and not a big money gamble on an unheard of striker, Liverpool are always different. The Reds have gambled and endured both the benefits and negatives at times. Sturridge was a risky signing considering his poor form at Chelsea, while Lucas was unheard of when he joined the club for £6million. But while the club have reaped the rewards from them, they have also enjoyed too many negatives with proven players too.
Nevertheless, £20million is a massive gamble for Liverpool. In their current position, looking to get back in the Champions League, they have to look at signing Michu, Benteke, Soldado, Negredo or Kiessling. There is much more justification for spending £20million on a well-known player that for some reason doesn’t work, than paying so much money for a nobody who was out of his depth in the Premier League. With high ambitions, the club need to bring in a player who has experienced one of the top leagues in Europe.
The Reds also don’t have that much money to waste. After Kenny Dalglish’s spending spree, that saw £110million leave Anfield for players including Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll, Fenway Sports Group need to keep a tighter grip on the purse strings. And with a new stadium to finance too, Liverpool’s owners need to consider how much money should be spent on a punt. £5million for a talented youngster, maybe even up to £10million for a kid with great potential. But £20million for a player who, despite scoring some goals on international level, has only scored twice in 21 Champions League appearances, is too much.
If Liverpool are serious in aiming for a place in Europe next season, then they need to spend their money on players who have experienced the top European leagues. When it comes to bringing in a goalscorer, Rodgers can’t afford to mess around and get it wrong. He needs quality, and £20million is too much of a risk for the man about to start his second year with the club. John Henry made it clear that the owners want to see progress, and see Champions League football very soon. If Rodgers gambles £20million on a nobody and gets it wrong next season, he could start feeling pressure from the board and fans, who will start to get restless.