John W Henry’s transfer theory holds up on closer inspection at Liverpool

Under the ownership of NESV and John Henry, Liverpool have undertaken a massive and expensive rebuilding programme. The club are certainly on the up at the minute and Kenny Dalglish’s return to management after an 11-year absence from the game has gone as well as could be hoped by this point. However, in a recent interview, owner John Henry alluded to the fact that the club may have overpaid for some its talent – is this a theory that holds up upon closer inspection?

The genial Henry argued: “There was a lot of criticism in Boston that we weren’t going to spend money on the Red Sox after we did the LFC transaction. We spent something like $300m in the off-season in Boston, and then there was the fear we wouldn’t spend in Liverpool. It is really surprising, ironic, to be now accused of overspending. Usually owners are accused of the opposite.”

Of course, he was referring as much to the Boston Red Sox’s expenditure as Liverpool’s, but the creeping suspicion that the owner may feel that the club have failed to achieve value for money is something that has seeped through to the terraces.

Since January last season the club have spent £112.8m on transfers while recouping £77.95m, giving a net spend (for all you Rafa Benitez fans out there) of just £34.85m. It’s difficult to argue against the fact that the quality of the squad has increased. There is more strength in depth and competition for places. The result has seen Liverpool slowly but surely climb up the table and become a force to be reckoned with once again.

A lot has been made of Sporting Director Damien Comolli’s role at the club and his preference for the Moneyball system of using statistics to back up the club’s scouting network system with regards to purchasing players.

The big elephant in the room with this theory has been the poor performances of Andy Carroll who cost the princely sum of £35m. Comolli stated that Carroll’s price was somewhat irrelevant as the club were always prepared to pay £15m less than whatever Torres was eventually sold to Chelsea for. However, this does seem a tad disingenuous, because if Liverpool had sold Torres, for say, £25m, Newcastle would have flat out refused to sell Carroll for £10m.

Comolli argues that: “The whole principle is about creating value, and managing to find a player in the market who is underestimated financially compared to his stats.”

Taking a look at Liverpool’s purchases since this policy was implemented and it is fair to say that there is a mish-mash of bargains, gambles on future potential and those that appear to be justifying their price tag. About par with any other football club, then. Let’s take a closer look at the individuals.

Jose Enrique has solved Liverpool’s long-running problem at left-back since the departure of John Arne Riise at a cost of just £6m and Luis Suarez has been magnificent since his £22.8m move from Ajax – making a mockery of the those that questioned whether he’d be able to make the transition from the Eredvisie to the Premier League smoothly.

Charlie Adam looks to be a decent squad member and at £8m, he certainly delivers an end product in terms of goals and assists, but with just one-year left on his deal and at a relegated club, you’d have hoped Liverpool could have got him for fractionally cheaper. Still, while people, myself included, may have their reservations on whether he has the sufficient quality to take Liverpool forward, he looks to be a favourite of Dalglish’s in his new-look Liverpool side this season.

Stewart Downing is simply not worth £20m, though. There’s no other way around it. He lacks the pace to truly trouble a top quality full-back and his delivery can range from the fantastic to the feeble. Liverpool have certainly overpaid with him, but to be fair, Villa’s price estimation was driven up largely because of the earlier departure of Ashley Young in the same transfer window – a player Liverpool are said to have prioritised over Downing and subsequently missed out on.

Jordan Henderson remains a player that divides the opinion of not only Liverpool fans but even those with just a casual interest in football. He’s cost £16m up front with potential add-ons of £4m. For a 21 year-old that’s versatile, pacy and intelligent, that doesn’t appear to be too far off the mark.

Henderson is hampered not by his price tag, but of other people’s preconceptions about him. He’s a subtle player with great vision and decent distribution. When you factor in the English premium, the price, while obviously over the top considering his relative inexperience, isn’t as far as, say, Downing’s is for me personally. He’s simply not the match-winning mini-Gerrard the media have often made him out to be, but that shouldn’t detract from the player he currently is and could be.

Carroll is the truly troubling one, though. Admittedly, he has been hampered by injuries since his arrival, but the side are in danger of leaving him behind. In his absence, Luis Suarez has struck up a good understanding with the rest of his new team mates and they appear to operate best in a fluid 4-5-1 formation without the Geordie front man.

While it is still far too early to label Carroll a flop, considering the circumstances, he does look to be rather leggy and a lot easier to bully off the ball than he did in his Newcastle pomp. He represents a pressing concern, particularly given the huge outlay on him,  but there is still plenty of time for him to come good.

Sebastien Coates arrives with a burgeoning reputation within the game following his exploits with Uruguay in their successful bid to win the Copa America. He will take time to settle and adjust to the pace of the league, but so long as people are patient with him, at £6m, his potential is enormous.

Craig Bellamy could just prove to be the bargain of the entire transfer window. Adaptable to several different roles and formations, his spirit and pace are a great asset to have in the armoury.

John Henry is indeed correct, it is strange for a club to be criticised for over-spending. No other club in the Premier League would ever be accused of something so cynical. When you analyse the team’s squad since the NESV came into ownership of the club, then it has without question improved significantly.

On the issue of whether the club has overpaid, purely on a transfer by transfer basis, like any club, they have for some players and haven’t for others. Carroll and Downing remain the two players that I’d personally be keeping an eye on although others will contest Henderson should be in there too.

Buying players based on solely on potential is an inherently risky business. With the new rules coming into force about the number of home-grown and English players eligible for each Premier League club’s 25-man squad, the change in emphasis is understandable.

NESV have a long-term ambition for the club, which includes speculating on potential. Not every transfer will come off and they will overpay for some in the process, just like they have done so already. But as with every rebuilding process, mistakes will be made, but what is most important is patience and the belief that they’ll get more things right than wrong. So far, Comolli and Dalglish appear to have subscribed to this view.

You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1

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