The January transfer window was an incredibly frustrating month for Liverpool fans, and Brendan Rodgers too.
The Reds were thought to be on the verge of signing highly-rated FC Basel winger Mohamed Salah -in fact, his Anfield move was alleged as complete as early as the 7th of January by some areas of the African media – but the Egyptian ace’s transfer was hi-jacked in its latter stages by Premier League foes Chelsea.
Ian Ayre then hopped on the first plane to Ukraine to source Dnipro’s Yevhen Konoplyanka as a direct replacement, but after three days of ‘unbelievably complex’ negotiations, returned to Merseyside empty-handed.
How the Salah deal broke down, which was undoubtedly planned as the jewel signing in Liverpool’s January crown, is still open to interpretation. Rodgers has hinted that financial boundaries got in the way, whilst Ayre has claimed Salah always had his sights set on Stamford Bridge.
But essentially, the question of ‘how’ doesn’t really matter. The question Liverpool fans are asking is why the club has now gone four transfer windows with Brendan Rodgers at the helm without securing a single marquee signing.
It’s not an issue of quality as such. Oliver Smith, a contributor to ThisisAnfield.com, analysed the Merseyside club’s summer transfer escapades as ‘No Marquee signings, but Brendan Rodgers still gets a B+’.
I’d certainly subscribe to that grading to some extent. Big names may have been absent, but Simon Mignolet’s consistent performances since joining Liverpool in a £9million deal at the start of the season have provided a refreshing and much-welcomed change from the mercurial services of Pepe Reina. And Mamadou Sakho, at just 23 years of age and having already served as PSG captain, was clearly a great deal at just £15million.
But at the same time, all of Brendan Rodgers’ priority summer targets politely snubbed the opportunity to join his Anfield cast. Brazilian youngster Bernard joined Shaktar Donetsk for €25million, Willian made his way to Chelsea via a medical with Tottenham in a £32million deal, Diego Costa opted to stay with Atletico Madrid despite the Reds being more than prepared to meet his release clause, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan provided the most telling blow, informing; “Liverpool have a great past, but Borussia Dortmund has a great present,” following his £24million move to the Bundesliga.
Track back twelve months to Rodgers’ first window as Liverpool manager, and he lost out on both Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson to top four rivals Tottenham.
At this point, the Reds’ inability to land major targets, regardless of their fees or value, is becoming a syndrome that now must be remedied in the summer. Failing to do so, the negative after effects could be enormous for the Merseyside club, and Brendan Rodgers’ tenure.
The first cause for concern is the fate of Luis Suarez. Whether he remains a Liverpool player at the start of next season is yet to be seen – there’s a high chance that a positive showing for Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup will convince one of the 26 year-old’s many suitors to big bid for his services.
Should he leave, the Kop icon will most certainly need replacing. Admittedly, that could unlock the financial door to allow Rodgers to make the first stellar purchase of his Liverpool era.
Should he stay however, the only way to persuade Suarez to further prolong his tenure will be to find players that can come close to the Uruguayan’s immense quality, and rival his talismanic influence on Merseyside. Playing alongside the likes of Mkhitaryan, Willian, Bernard and Costa, or even Salah or Konoplyanka, is a project that would have undoubtedly excited and captivated the Premier League’s leading goal scorer.
In the long-term too, if we can assume the Uruguay international won’t spend his entire career at Anfield, having a player already on the roster who can mimic his vitality would automatically soften the blow of his departure. The same can be said for when Steven Gerrard eventually hangs up his boots.
At the same time, Brendan Rodgers must question what his baron spell at the top end of the transfer market says about him as a manager. No one is doubting the Ulsterman’s ability; setting the foundations of youth and a refreshed optimism, he’s done a fantastic job of getting the Anfield house in order over the last 18 months and moving the club back towards its former glories.
But just as many doubted David Moyes was capable of attracting household names at Manchester United until his £37million capture of Juan Mata, question marks will remain over Rodgers’ head unless he can break Liverpool’s big spending duck.
The problem is that the cycle can become incredibly self-fulfilling. Arsenal for example, spent almost a decade in dormancy from the Premier League title race, in no small way linked to the fact Arsene Wenger’s £14million purchase of Sylvain Wiltord in 2000 remained the club’s record signing for the next eight and a half years.
If you need evidence of the powers of a marquee buy, just look at the almighty uplift £42million signing Mesut Ozil has had on the Gunners camp this year, as they continue to hold pole position in the English table.
More than anything else, it’s purely the statement a £30million-£40million Liverpool signing would make to the rest of the top flight (providing it’s not another Andy Carroll).
Captures such as Simon Mignolet, Mamadou Sakho and, spanning back to January 2013, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, none arriving for more than £15million or being older than 25 years of age upon their signing, suggest a rebuilding process, a consolidation period, a sensible approach in the transfer market for a club looking to stabilise itself. That’s by no means a bad thing.
But when the big bucks are spent, it implies a club moving forward, confident and ambitious enough to take the risks required to reach the next level, whether that be a permanent residency in the Premier League’s top four or a movement into the title race. Furthermore, just as Liverpool’s marquee baron has become self-fulfilling, one major signing will pave the way for others to follow suit.
As always in the Premier League, the biggest danger for Liverpool remains being left behind. No one expects them to match the financial power of Manchester United, City or Chelsea, but even the penny-pinching Arsene Wenger has got in on the marquee game, and Tottenham broke their transfer record fee three times in the summer window alone. Local rivals Everton also have plans to make a permanent offer for Romelu Lukaku at the end of the season, which is the kind of acquisition that could dramatically propel the club forwards.
It seems absurd to suggest Brendan Rodgers has now progressed through four transfer windows at the Anfield helm without signing a player for more than £15million. Compared to the Damian Comolli era, to many on Merseyside it will be a welcome change.
But the rebuilding process is over and now it’s time for the club to announce their re-arrival at the upper echelons of the Premier League table. To fulfil that aim however, and for Brendan Rodgers to prove he’s the man to take Liverpool there, a marquee signing is a must in the summer.