Quietly but surely spending big money again at Liverpool?
Liverpool were one of the more active clubs in the top flight during the January transfer window, with Brendan Rodgers adding two fresh faces to the squad in the form of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, but have the club, somewhat quietly, started to invest heavily in players again?
Ever since Fenway Sports Group (FSG) took over the club, the financial outlay on transfer has been consistent, large but always with the crucial caveat that net expenditure was reasonable, therefore curbing any great excess on their end. Of course, this doesn’t factor in the astronomical and at times downright bizarre large wages handed out to young players with little or no competition for their signature in sight, and while we can all agree the policy put in place during the flawed Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli regime was a flawed one, it was at least definable.
Nevertheless, since Rodgers took over the club in the summer, over the two transfer windows he has presided, the club have now spent approximately £48.8m while recouping just £8m in the same period for a net spend of £40,8m. This figure is more than the previous campaign which came in at £35.35m and the one before that which saw them make a £5.1m profit despite bringing in both Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez for a combined figure of £58m, with any dealings that year somewhat distorted by the £50m received from Chelsea for Fernando Torres, a sum that only the Carroll transfer can rival in terms of gross financial mismanagement. Every player has their price, but let’s at least get the right player in the first place to start with, eh?
This season, Rodgers has brought in Oussama Assaidi for £3m, Fabio Borini for around £10m when you include add-ons, Joe Allen for £15m, Sturridge for £12m and Coutinho for £8,5m. It seems that FSG during the latest window have done their best to grant the manager with more money to invest simply because they let him down so badly in the summer.
Rumours persist that the Nuri Sahin loan signing, which came with a £2m loan fee, and was subsequently ended just six months into it so that he could return to former club Borussia Dortmund, was not Rodgers idea in the first place, but former director of communications Jen Chang’s, with the Assaidi move and his subsequent lack of first-team action coming under the same theory.
The former Swansea manager spoke in the summer when Carroll was allowed to leave on loan about ‘operational issues’ at the club, with confusion reigning over whether a director of football was being brought in or whether it would be transfer by committee. This period also saw FSG reject paying anything over £3.5m for Clint Dempsey who then moved from Fulham to Tottenham for the reasonable amount of £5m, with Sturridge slipping through the clubs finger at the eleventh hour. This has seen the club look desperately short of attacking options during the first half of the campaign and Suarez practically have to carry the side all on his own at times, so why the drastic change in tack since then? And is there even a clearly defined policy in place?
It would seem so, and when you take a look at the ages of the players concerned that Rodgers has signed, or not as may be the case with Assaidi, a pattern has emerged. Coutinho is just 20, Sturridge is 23, Allen is 22 and Borini is 21, yet what they all also have in common is that they have all represented their country at international level despite their tender age to the collective tune of 18 caps.
The policy of buying British potential has been replaced by a more sensible global approach of purchasing young, hungry and potentially world-class talent before they reach their peak and by choosing to shop outside of the top flight a little more, you simply get more value for money, with Coutinho looking a tad on the cheap side for a player with his burgeoning reputation.
This relatively heavy level of investment is a direct consequence of the good job that Rodgers did in reducing the heavy wage bill in the summer, though, which was one of the biggest tasks he was given when handed the job. Carroll has move out on loan with a potential £17m deal in place at the end of the season at West Ham, Charlie Adam, Maxi Rodriguez, Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy, Doni, Alberto Aquilani, Fabio Aurelio and Joe Cole have all been shifted out the exit door since. Wages are the main draining force on big clubs these days, not transfer fees.
The fact that he has been allowed to spend so much this month with very little return into the club can best be seen as a combination of guilt on FSG’s part for the bungling in the summer and gratitude for completing the task in hand way ahead of schedule. Young players demand less and want less, and it’s no coincidence that Rodgers has chosen to rely so heavily on youth during his time on Merseyside.
When you factor in the ever-changing nature of what constitutes the club’s league ambitions this term, Liverpool still retain an outside chance of pinching a top four place if they can maintain their consistency between now and the end of the season, but the longer they spend away from the lucrative riches of the Champions League, the more it will hurt the club’s coffers in the long run. Their spending has slowly but surely crept up to a more ambitious level again and you sense they need to start winning more to make that gamble worthwhile. It’s far from reckless, even by the standards recently set at the club, but it’s a noticeable change in tack as they attempt to bridge the gap on those above them.