With Liverpool and Man Utd both making significant moves in the transfer market in the past few days for two of England’s brightest young things, the state of both transfers has come under scrutiny from certain sections of each club’s respective support. It would appear on the face of things at least, that while both players have burgeoning potential, do either side actually require their services at this moment in time?
We’ll start off with Sunderland midfielder Jordan Henderson’s move to Liverpool. Depending on where you read or who you believe, the deal varies between a £20m figure or £13m plus David Ngog. This of course means that both deals total £20m, but the impact of a transfer that values Ngog at a whopping £7m proves the difference between a bargain and a huge gamble.
If Liverpool manage to snare Henderson for £13m plus Ngog they would have pulled off a transfer coup of sorts. £20m though does look awfully steep, even when you factor in the premium attached to English talent in the transfer market. But do they need him?
Well, to my knowledge at least, Liverpool require a specialised left back, a couple of decent wingers able to get the best out of Andy Carroll, another back-up striker and another centre half before they need to strengthen the central midfield area. However, this is not to say that the move is without merit.
Liverpool have been derided in the past for a failure to buy English talent. They have also been criticised for the lack of squad depth at the club – a move for Henderson is simply a solution to going some way to addressing both problems. The need for another central midfielder is not urgent, that much is clear, the club are seemingly well stocked in the area with the likes of Gerrard, Lucas, Meireles, Spearing, Poulsen. Not to mention Jonjo Shelvey, Joe Cole an on-loan Alberto Aquilani.
But cast your eye around at Liverpool’s rivals at the top end of the league and each club has at least as many options as Liverpool do at present – Man Utd showed, perhaps more than ever before, how key the need for a strong squad is and rotation has never been so important to a club’s success ever before.
Henderson’s acquisition could also in turn mean that the likes of Aquilani and Joe Cole are almost definitely set to depart, with Christian Poulsen in all likelihood following them out of the exit door too. So, in summary, central midfield may not be a priority as yet to the naked eye, but perhaps Dalglish and Comolli are moving to address a potential shortfall in options later on in the summer.
Finally, a lot depends on the formation chooses to line-up with and Henderson’s ability to perform in several roles. Whether it is 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, Henderson’s adaptability could be an invaluable asset. So, all in all, while it may prove an expensive signings and one that’s appeared somewhat out of the blue, when you delve a little deeper, the move isn’t as illogical as first perceived.
Moving on to Phil Jones and his proposed £16m to Man Utd. Jones would appear to have greater potential than Henderson, predominantly due to the fact that he is 18 months his junior. Also, while Henderson can perform ably in a number of subtly different midfield roles, Jones is able to start at either centre half or holding man which could prove an invaluable asset in the future.
But, and this remains a big but against Jones’ proposed move to Man Utd this summer – do they actually need him at all? Man Utd have probably the best centre half pairing in Europe in Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. They are backed up by the superb Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans – it’ll be difficult for Jones to usurp any of those in the pecking order any time soon.
Jones has been touted in some quarters as being Ferdinand’s natural successor, but isn’t that the role Smalling was signed for last summer and has excelled in this season just gone. Vidic is entering his prime, and Evans, while he may have had an inconsistent season, is fantastic cover to have as fourth choice – certainly better than any other Premier League side can boast anyway. There would appear to be little room for Jones at centre half for the time being, despite Rio’s creaking bones.
Which brings us onto the versatility issue with Jones also able to start at holding man, as he has done so in front of the Samba/Nelson partnership at Blackburn for most of his time in the first-team at Ewood Park. But, and again this is a big but, Jones is able to perform the role for a side such as Blackburn; the difference between doing it for a relegation embattled side and a title challenging side is huge and the expectations are increased tenfold on what you do with the ball when in possession.
To put it simply, if Jones has been signed to add bite to the Man Utd midfield as much as his ability to play at centre half in the future, it could prove to be a wasted transfer this summer for the club. He lacks the experience and discipline to perform the role at the top-level just yet. If Ferguson wanted to sign a midfield enforcer, he should have signed someone already seasoned in the role for a similar price. There is longevity to the Jones deal, no doubt about that, but it’s difficult to see what sort of role he will play in the immediate future.
Ask yourself this question – would Man Utd have moved so quickly for Jones this summer had both Liverpool and Arsenal not shown serious interest? Of course they wouldn’t have and the move smacks of trying to keep the player out of rivals clubs clutches rather than any proposed worth they may get out of the deal in the short-term. If they loan him out for next season, perhaps even back to Blackburn, they’d at least improve Jones and develop him by exposing him further to top flight action, but if they sign him and simply make him a squad player at Old Trafford, the lack of first-team opportunities at this crucial juncture in his career may stunt any further progress he may make.
Well there you have it – both transfers came relatively out of left field, both transfers are shockingly overpriced and both have the potential to blow up in each club’s faces. It takes a truly distorted transfer market that places emphasis on a player’s potential as opposed to his ability right now, but that is the world we live in now; unproven players almost always cost more than proven ones, therefore negating the point of investing in ‘potential’. Both Henderson and Jones have bundles of it, but for my money, Henderson’s move seems to make a bit more sense at this point in time than Jones’s, for the simple reason that you can actually see a place for him in a revolutionised Liverpool side, whereas with Jones at Man Utd, there is no such guarantee.