Tottenham Hotspur duo Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey both moved to White Hart Lane in the summer when it looked all but assured at various points in the transfer window that switches to Anfield under new boss Brendan Rodgers were a mere formality – but given their respective struggles of late, have Liverpool FC dodged a bullet?
Make no bones about it, the summer transfer window was a disastrous one for the Merseyside club, with Rodgers repeatedly bemoaning his ‘thin’ squad and talking of ‘operational issues’ getting in the way of him completing deals. Having let the likes of Maxi Rodriguez, Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt leave, it was the move which allowed Andy Carroll to move on deadline day without a guaranteed replacement lined up which exposed the truly fragility and worrying lack of depth in the team’s forward ranks, with Luis Suarez carrying them at the moment.
However, the two situations were themselves very different involving the players concerned here – Sigurdsson chose Tottenham in a straight fight between the two clubs, while the money men at Liverpool refused to pay more than the pitiful amount of £3.5m for Dempsey due to concerns over his age, paving the way for an 11th hour move from Villas-Boas, even if you suspect the American would have preferred the move to Anfield given the choice.
It has to be said that Rodgers appears to have gone back in a serious way on his ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with Swansea on more than one occasion. Not only did he go back in for Joe Allen later on in the summer, but admitting his interest while simultaneously stating that the Welsh club had first dibs on Sigurdsson was tantamount to torpedoing the move on purpose, and that the Icelandic international eventually turned him down must have pleased chairman Huw Jenkins no end.
Rodgers spoke to the press in the wake of the Sigurdsson snub, hinting that money may have been a motivating factor.
“We agreed a deal for him to go to Swansea and that was wrapped up. I then became the Liverpool manager and that then wasn’t something that was going to happen at Swansea so he then had a choice of where he wanted to go,” Rodgers said.
“I knew what the market was and I wasn’t prepared to pay anything over what I had known was agreed before. Liverpool would have provided Gylfi with a wonderful opportunity to perform with a manager that he knows and at a club which is a real footballing institution.
“But he’s decided to go to Tottenham, for whatever reason.”
It became clear that in his preferred 4-3-3 system, Rodgers had doubts about Gerrard’s role at the tip of the triumvirate, which has since been temporarily solved by Lucas’ injury absence. But the club’s pursuit of both Dempsey and Sigurdsson hints that he had reservations about the England captain having the legs that the position requires – to both join in with the midfield on the back foot and help link up with the lone striker when the side does have the ball.
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I argued at the time that the move was a questionable one on Sigurdsson’s part, simply because with a new manager, and it being somewhat unclear whether he was bought by Daniel Levy or Villas-Boas, probably the former, that he had a long-term future at White Hart Lane. The need for reinvesting in that area was made even more of a top priority in the aftermath of the departures of both Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart.
My main worry was that given that they’ve already brought in Moussa Dembele to great success and tried to sign Joao Moutinho as well, does Sigurdsson really fit into the team’s starting XI? Factor in the fact that Sandro is almost undroppable at the moment and you simply can’t imagine the attacking midfielder commanding a regular spot by the end of the season, let alone in two or three years time, which you certainly could at Liverpool. On the player’s part, it was an astoundingly short-sighted decision.
There’s a feeling that unless he’s scoring goals, Sigurdsson doesn’t really contribute all that much to the team’s overall standard of play; he’s not especially involved in build-up play, nor does he possess a wide range of passing and there are signs already that he’s regarded as little more than a squad player to be rotated in Europe – even though he’s been involved in all 10 of the team’s league games so far this season, he’s started just five of them.
Moving on to Dempsey and Fenway Sports Group’s reluctance to part ways with more than £3.5m for him only helps to highlight the financial constraints placed on Rodgers, particularly when you consider the free-spending days of Kenny Dalglish just a year before and the fact that they had already sold Charlie Adam to Stoke earlier in the day for £4m. It has been estimated that Rodgers removed approximately £8m from Liverpool’s wage bill in the final 24 hours of the transfer window, which when you factor in that the club must have received a healthy loan fee for Andy Carroll too and it makes the value placed on Dempsey even more stark.
It had already been reported that Dempsey had turned down a move to Aston Villa earlier in the day and he seemed extremely keen to move to Liverpool. Nevertheless, with Emmanuel Adebayor lacking any sort of pre-season and with predecessor Harry Redknapp having left the balance of the squad in quite frankly appalling state with only one senior forward to select in Jermain Defoe, a move for a utility forward was essential for Tottenham’s strength in depth.
After an anonymous performance against Premier League champions Manchester City at the weekend, though, and a somewhat steady but hardly spectacular start to life in north London, Dempsey has come in for some criticism of late. When you factor in his own lack of pre-season, the slow start is understandable and he’s certainly got a role to play in the coming months, but I have to say that I’m not too sure he’d have been any better off at Liverpool, even though they could certainly do with the extra body up top.
At Fulham, Dempsey lacked a clearly defined role and in a 4-3-3, he lacks the pace or guile to play either wide on the left or right and behind the lone front-man is about 10-15 yards deeper than the position he occupied at Craven Cottage last season when he struck 17 league goals.
The demands of playing for a club like Fulham and one like Tottenham or Liverpool are completely different – teams set up to play with men behind the ball, away from home at least, against the aforementioned two teams, but are more likely to go toe-to-toe with Martin Jol’s side, meaning there’s more space in behind the opposition’s midfield for Dempsey to exploit and there’s a distinct lack of expectation playing for the west London outfit.
This all points towards an influential role for the forward in one environment and a reduced one in another, but with the side competing in Europe still, and with Adebayor still finding his feet, he’s likely to be a key role in the coming months, much more so than Sigurdsson.
It may be considered churlish to state that Liverpool enjoyed a lucky escape on both transfers for I feel that Sigurdsson could have made a real impact at Anfield in a side short on goals, while Dempsey, considering Rodgers’ system, always looked to be a square peg in a round hole.
The American certainly has more to contribute at White Hart Lane in the short, medium and long term in my eyes and the supporters should be patient, but should Sigurdsson continue to be marginalised, which will only continue with the increased investment in that area of the pitch, he has only himself to blame for a questionable decision which could harm his career.
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