You shouldn’t believe everything you read, or what your television tells you. I’d advise that lesson not just in regards to football, but for every piece of information your brain has ever taken in, from news reports on the Middle East to the truth about Julian Assange. But back to the beautiful game, if there’s one specific area of sports journalism I’d recommend you pay as little attention to as possible it’s the transfer rumours.
So when I recently read the headline “Liverpool switch interest to keeper Al Habsi” it would be fair to say I took it with a pinch of salt. And indeed, I’d like to stress early on in this article that I doubt this transfer will happen, but the fact such a transfer story exists, the sheer notion of its acceptability, raises some interesting and concerning questions about the Merseyside club.
If we hopped in our footballing time-machine and went back to 2008/2009 (which i’m sure most Liverpool fans would love to do) would we be reading rumours along the same sort of lines? Would the Reds be allegedly interested in a player propping up a side at the foot of the Premier League table? I think not.
I don’t wish to have a dig at Ali Al Habsi. The Omani international has played in almost 100 Premier League matches, and on occasion produces exceptional performances that earn Wigan invaluable points amid their constant and seemingly eternal fight against relegation. Additionally, Al Habsi has achieved cult status, not just with Wigan spectators but with football fans across the country. He clearly has enough ability to play in the top flight, and perhaps even for a better club than Wigan.
But should he really be mentioned in the same breath as Liverpool Football Club – a team that won the Champions League less than ten years ago, and lifted the League Cup last season? Does the shot stopper have the level of pedigree required to wear the No.1 Jersey at Anfield on a regular basis? In 2009, the answer would have been a simple no.
And even now, despite the Reds’ mid-table obscurity, I get the feeling that employing Ali Al Habsi would hardly appease the vast majority of disgruntled Liverpool fans who are already having to accept that long-standing first choice keeper Pepe Reina will be leaving at the end of the season for a collection of reasons – one of which is undoubtedly the club’s recent demise in stature.
The chances are, Al Habsi probably has made it onto Brendan Rodgers’ shortlist for replacements for Reina when he departs in the summer. He’s probably some way down the list, behind the likes of Asmir Begovic and Victor Valdez, and until recently Stoke City’s newly signed Jack Butland. But this is where the danger begins, and what I would argue has been the underlying flaw in most of Liverpool’s transfers since the days of Rafa Benitez.
For example, I find it highly doubtful that back in January 2011, Andy Carroll was Damien Comolli’s or Kenny Dalglish’s first choice as a replacement for Fernando Torres. The club also bought Luis Suarez at the same time, but the difference in quality between Carroll and Suarez is enormous, despite the former costing over £10million more. Similarly, when Comolli was given the task of bringing in a new winger to Anfield with a £20million budget, I struggle to believe the top target was Stewart Downing.
It’s not my aim to simply spit out an article that is essentially Liverpool-bashing. It’s all very well pointing out that Liverpool are a worse team than they were three years ago, and therefore are now being linked with worse players than they were three years ago, but where’s the analytical integrity in that? It’s like listening to talkSport, where Andy Gray and Richard Keys decide that racism is very bad, Arsenal are having a poor season, and Sir Alex Ferguson is doing a good job, and then pat each other on the back for coming up with such cutting edge and intellectual conclusions.
So Liverpool fans, my point is this: although much has changed at the club over the past three years, in terms of the quality of players at the club and final league standings, the expectation from the supporters at Anfield is still the same. Even now, despite spending the majority of the season loitering in mid-table, most fans still believe Champions League qualification is a realistic possibility, and next year, no matter where the club finish on the last day of this current campaign, fans will still expect to make it into the top four.
Signing the Wigan keeper would simply be another step in the wrong direction. The gap between the expectations of fans and the Premier League reality is constantly expanding, and bringing in Al Habsi would not only increase that gap, but also show a lack of ambition to stop the current malaise at Anfield.
Of course, money is an issue. It’s no secret that Brendan Rodgers is having to contend with limited transfer funds and a wage bill that’s bursting at the seams. Furthermore, the Liverpool gaffer has inherited a squad made up of inexperienced youngsters and over-priced players who have now dramatically deprecated in value so much there’s little point of selling them on.
Come the departure of Pepe Reina in the summer however, there will be a shortlist drawn up of potential replacements. And although I would not recommend believing this transfer rumour, there is a high chance Ali Al Habsi will have a place on that shortlist, albeit with a quite low ranking. But should the Reds actually make an offer for Al Habsi, I would be truly concerned.
Swapping a player with the pedigree of Pepe Reina, for one that failed to make it into the Bolton Wanderers First XI a few years ago would not only be a decline in quality in one specific department of the Liverpool team, but it would also signify how the club’s recent demise is not just a simple slump, but the beginning of a long term depression in terms of quality and stature that could see the club never regain its past glories.