A common feature of Brendan Rodgers’ short spell in charge of Liverpool FC so far has been a strong emphasis on the word ‘hunger’, whether it be applied to the young players snapping at the heels of their more established first-team counterparts or used as a negotiating tool, but when it comes to the January transfer window, it seems that the club may not be bullied in the pursuit of a fair deal for the first time in a long while.
The move to bring Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge to Merseyside has stalled according to reports not down to any footballing concerns that either party has, but due to the player’s representatives after the club appeared to come to some reasonable middle ground in terms of his £60,000 per-week wage.
The 39-year-old boss has been made keenly aware of the need to balance the wage budget the longer the club stay out of the promised land of the Champions League, which has seen Andy Carroll leave on loan, with West Ham paying all of his wages, Charlie Adam sold to Stoke and Craig Bellamy, Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt all allowed to leave in the summer.
A signal of this shift in direction from a club which seemed quite unfathomably incapable of striking a fair deal for itself to one which is more reluctant to part with its hard earned cash is a welcome one given the litany of transfer failings and deadwood that Anfield has been treated to in the past few years.
When Rodgers hauled Joe Cole off at half-time during the club’s loss against Swansea in the Capital One Cup at home earlier in the season, he chose to highlight the midfielder’s wages and compare them against his failed Liverpool experience: “The club have invested an astronomical amount of money on a talented player and Joe had the opportunity. He has been back fit a couple of weeks and his opportunities have been limited but you have to see. I thought it was difficult for him, it was too slow and it wasn’t what I would expect from a team I tried to set up to be dynamic.” This kick up the backside has prompted Cole to perform better in recent weeks whenever he’s been granted a starting berth to impress.
A recent report released showed that Liverpool spent the second most, behind moneybags and reigning champions Manchester City, on agents’ fees between October 2011-September 2012, to the embarrassing sum of £8.6m, which has seen Rodgers adopt a more hard-line approach in trying to head off the greedy demands of Sturridge’s agents this time around. That amount is £5m more than Manchester United, £2.1m more than Tottenham and £3.1 more than Arsenal. Given the quality of players, the lack of competition for their signatures and the fact that they all wanted to move to Liverpool, it’s literally unforgivable that the club paid so much under the Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli era in particular.
Now, the England forward’s entourage want to receive a percentage of any future transfer fee if he leaves the club in order to rubber stamp the move and precisely because Liverpool have paid more than £31m in fees to agents since October 2008, a change in approach is long overdue and they shouldn’t have to kowtow and bow down to players in such an obvious fashion.
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There is a time and place to be prudent, though and to curb an engrained reckless approach to expenditure and when principal owner John W. Henry wrote an open letter to the club’s fans back at the start of the season, he stated: “We will build and grow from within, buy prudently and cleverly and never again waste resources on inflated transfer fees and unrealistic wages. We have no fear of spending and competing with the very best, but we will not overpay for players. We will never place this club in the precarious position that we found it in when we took over at Anfield. This club should never again run up debts that threaten its existence.”
Quite how this translated into believing that paying anything above £3.5m for Clint Dempsey was excessive is yet another baffling move in a string of odd decisions by Fenway Sports Group since coming to power at the club. Picking your battles is fine, but getting it so wrong on such a consistent basis is troubling, even if their tough stance now looks to be the correct one.
Rodgers stated in the aftermath of Raheem Sterling agreeing a new £35,000-a-week deal after months of haggling with his representatives: “They will get a good contract coming here but if they want to argue over money, and other things that go around it, I don’t want them here. In my experience those players will eventually let you down anyway. So, for us, it is about getting players in who are hungry to succeed and to pull on the shirt.
“That’s the simple message for any player coming here – you can’t take the money and run. You have to earn the right to play for this club and to help us succeed. The club are really on board with me on that. It is part of what we need to be successful again. You trace back over many years at this football club and they have brought hungry players in. They were also good players, but they were all hungry.
“I’ve seen it at Chelsea, you pay a fortune for top players and it doesn’t always work when you spent £30 million or £20 million, it doesn’t guarantee you anything. You could bring a boy in here on a free transfer or bring him from the Championship, all of these big players weren’t dropped out of heaven, they have to come from somewhere and the most important thing when you get that type in is that they’re hungry to succeed.
“Football is a unique business. It’s one of very few sports and industries where you can get paid very good money on potential. People will tell you what they’re going to do. I would rather reward people for what they do and then there’s no drama.”
The reference to Chelsea is clearly aimed at Sturridge, and it seems for once that the club actually has a plan B should they have to pull the plug on the deal, despite the medical being seemingly done and dusted, with PSG’s Kevin Gameiro lined up for a short-term loan switch.
Liverpool have been a laughing stock in the sport for years now when it comes to their powers of negotiation, both in terms of inflated fees and needlessly high wages, but it seems as if the tide is finally turning in that respect now under Rodgers guidance, which with Financial Fair Play on the horizon, is the only logical approach to take.