In prior articles, I contemplated the virtues of five players who should remain at Anfield, and five players who I believe should exit L4 this summer. As I prepare to look into my crystal ball, this time I will be turning my attention to five players I believe Liverpool should try to entice to Merseyside this summer.
Whether they will both be at Anfield next season is another matter, but both Rafael Benitez and Fernando Torres have emphasised the need for Liverpool to acquire the services of “four or five top-class players [in order] to compete”. Given that the Liverpool coffers have been bled dry by American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., and the fact that the club have failed to secure Champions League football for next season, it is highly improbable that we will see the likes of David Villa, Sergio Agüero and Franck Ribéry arriving at Anfield this summer. As such, the following players are five men that I believe Liverpool can REALISTICALLY aim to purchase this summer.
Liverpool’s over-reliance upon the talismanic Fernando Torres has been emphatically re-emphasised many a time over the course of this season, with the Liverpool attack looking toothless and impotent in his absence. Given Benitez’s stubborn refusal to alter the side’s 4-2-3-1 formation, his failure to procure a worthy back-up for the Spaniard following the sale of misfit Robbie Keane has been all the more baffling. Frenchman David N’Gog, whilst talented, is clearly not experienced enough to fulfil the lone-striker role against top opposition, and Dirk Kuyt lacks the pace and mobility to fill Torres’ boots.
Benitez’s faith in ‘one up top’ and the club’s lack of funds prevent the club from signing a truly world-class striker – would any top-class strikers wish to come to Liverpool knowing that they would only appear when Torres isn’t fully fit? The conundrum here is trying to find a striker good enough to play for the club AND be content at sitting out on a regular basis.
With West Ham owner David Sullivan recently announcing that his whole squad (except Scott Parker) are for sale, rumours linking Carlton Cole with a move away from Upton Park have resurfaced. Described by former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri as the best young player he has ever coached, the powerful hitman has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 21 months. Managing to score 24 goals in a struggling team over the last two seasons, Cole has finally started to develop upon the promise exhibited early in his career. Cole’s ascendancy was rewarded with international recognition in early 2009, and fans up and down the country have earmarked the former Chelsea forward for a berth in Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad.
Tall and powerful, Cole’s aerial ability and hold-up play is excellent. Under the tutelage of Gianfranco Zola, Cole’s finishing has also drastically improved over the last two seasons. The nature of Cole’s game means that he could be suitably used on his own and in tandem with Fernando Torres. Cole possesses the physical attributes required to play as a lone-striker, and partnering him with Fernando Torres would allow Cole to distract defenders and create space for the Spaniard. Given Cole’s height and strength, he would offer Liverpool a valuable direct plan B, an option that the club have not been able to utilise since the departure of Peter Crouch in the summer of 2008.
Bearing in mind UEFA’s future guidelines concerning the make-up of clubs’ squads, acquiring Cole would fit in perfectly with Liverpool’s aim of “buying British”, a policy that has seen them recently snap up English starlets Raheem Sterling and Jonjo Shelvey. A number of clubs are set to be monitoring Cole’s situation at Upton Park, with a range of figures from £10m to £20 being touted for the England striker. Should Liverpool test West Ham’s resolve with a fee of around £15m, I believe Cole would jump at the chance to move to Anfield.
The abject displays of the inexperienced Emiliano Insúa this season have been a major contributing factor to the Reds porous backline this season, and with the out-of-contract Fábio Aurélio set to depart, it is apparent that filling the troublesome position of left-back is a major issue that needs to be resolved this summer. This is a problem that Benitez has clearly struggled to adequately address; the sale of Stephen Warnock, Aurélio’s inability to remain fit, Andrea Dossena’s failure to adapt, John Arne Riise’s decline and Insua’s struggle to perform consistently have all been symptomatic of Benitez’s left-back woes.
Although Insúa has often been a threat going forward (he has four Premier League assists to his name this season), he has been caught short at the back far too often for a team supposed to be challenging for top honours. It is evident that Liverpool’s new left-back must be proven to be defensively sound, so for this reason I have ruled out the signing of Real Madrid’s Royston Drenthe and Portsmouth’s Nadir Belhadj. Given the club’s financial constraints and need to sign a left-back who can defend first and foremost, I believe that a move for Wigan Athletic’s Maynor Figueroa may represent a shrewd bit of business for the Merseysiders.
Arriving in England as another one of Steve Bruce’s talented imports from Latin America, Honduran Figueroa has effortlessly adapted to Premier League football, turning in a string of consistent displays as part of Wigan’s backline, which is no mean feat when you consider that he regularly plays alongside Titus Bramble. Strong and quick, Figueroa’s efforts in shackling the Premier League’s top attacking forces have not gone unnoticed.
The 27-year-old, capped 65 times by his country, is also known for possessing a sensational left-foot. Figueroa gained nationwide notoriety for his audacious 60.59 yard wonder-goal against Stoke City earlier this season. However, it appears that Steve Bruce is looking for his former player to rejoin him in the northeast at the Stadium of Light. Speculation is rife that Sunderland are set to table an £8m bid for the Honduran, so Liverpool should look to act quickly if they are to secure the services of the left-back, with his price-tag likely to rocket during the forthcoming World Cup.
Deluded Reds fans looking for another glamorous name should probably look away now. With the disgraced Charles Itandje in exile and Brazilian Diego Cavalieri strongly rumoured to be heading back to Brazil this summer, it is apparent that Liverpool are in need of an able deputy for the excellent Pepe Reina. Although the club have several talented young goalkeepers on their books, including Peter Gulacsi, Dean Bouzanis and David Martin, it seems apparent that Rafa Benitez will seek a more experienced custodian to act as back-up for Reina.
Having had the position of Wolves’ number one usurped by Marcus Hahnemann this season, strong rumours have emerged that Welsh international Wayne Hennessey is poised to trade Molineux for Anfield this summer. Now firmly established as Wales’ first-choice goalkeeper, Hennessey holds the Football League for consecutive clean sheets, having kept nine in a row whilst on loan at Stockport County. Upon his return to Molineux, Hennessey successfully established himself in Wolves’ first-team, with his fine displays leading to him being picked as the club’s Player of the Year for 2007/08 and his selection in the PFA Championship Player of the Year for the same season.
Whoever is manning the Anfield hot-seat next season may not feel comfortable in placing their trust in one of the club’s many young goalkeepers to deputise for Pepe Reina should he get injured. At 23, Hennessey has already racked up over 100 career appearances for Wolves and Stockport, in addition to 24 caps for his country. Valued at around £2.5m, Liverpool could do a hell of a lot worse than acquire the services of the talented Welsh custodian.
It seems that the problems Benitez has had in addressing the left-hand side of his Liverpool team have not been restricted to defence. Each of Liverpool’s left-midfield options have failed to adequately fulfil the role; Albert Riera’s form prior to his exile was inconsistent and lethargic, Ryan Babel has struggled to show the maturity and tactical nous to perform consistently, Yossi Benayoun has a tendency to drift inside and is much more-suited to a central role and Maxi Rodriguez, a natural right-footer, is better suited to playing on the opposite flank. With Riera a certainty to leave this summer, and Benayoun rumoured to be following suit, it seems that Benitez’s options for this position are to further diminish.
Manchester City’s anticipated heavy summer-spending will surely spark a cut-price exodus at Eastlands, with Bulgarian winger Martin Petrov likely to fall victim to Roberto Mancini’s summer clearout. Picking up the 31-year-old would represent a smart move for Liverpool. Unhappy with his lack of playing time at Manchester City, Petrov has already expressed frustration at his failure to be selected regularly, publicly blasting Mancini’s predecessor Mark Hughes late last year.
Petrov is a player who hugely impressed me in his first season with The Citizens, with his lightning pace and pinpoint crossing down the left-hand side for City remindful of wingers of yore. In addition to this, Petrov has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to produce ferocious shots, with his left-foot reminiscent to that of previous Anfield heroes John Arne Riise and Patrik Berger. Unfortunately, question marks remain over the Bulgarian’s fitness, with the 31-year-old only managing 25 league appearances over the past two seasons.
Despite this, I believe that Petrov would be an excellent acquisition for Liverpool this summer. The player himself would probably relish the opportunity to re-assert himself in the Premier League, and at 31 he clearly has a good few years left him in. Petrov would probably be available for no more than £6m this summer and would provide Liverpool with an excellent option for the left-wing slot.
Rafael van der Vaart
Liverpool’s failings this season have partially resulted from a stifling lack of creativity. Due to the absences of Fernando Torres, poor form of Steven Gerrard and erratic usage of Yossi Benayoun, Liverpool have all too often lacked the panache, guile and flair to unlock defences. Whilst Dirk Kuyt, Lucas Leiva and Javier Mascherano are all admirably industrious players, their lack of finesse in the final third has prevented the side from being more predatory in front of goal. The acquisition of Rafael van der Vaart would certainly go some way towards curbing this deficiency.
The Real Madrid playmaker, 27, is one of a number of high-profile players to have been linked with the Anfield club in recent months. Speculation regarding a potential move to Merseyside heightened after the two clubs’ respective officials gathered before Liverpool’s ill-fated clash with Real’s cross-city rivals Atlético Madrid. Prior to the start of the 2009/10 season, the Dutch international was thought to have no future at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu after it was revealed that he hadn’t been issued a squad number. Against the odds, van der Vaart managed to fight his way back into coach Manuel Pellegrini’s side, scoring several crucial goals along the way.
Signed during the reign of previous Real Madrid president Ramón Calderón, it is clear that current president Florentino Pérez will be looking to further dispose of the remnants of his predecessors’ tenure. Despite van der Vaart’s recent return to form and assertions that he wishes to see out his contract in Madrid, we can expect to see the Dutchman callously banished in the same way that his compatriots Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben were.
Should this be the case, I have no doubt that van der Vaart would be welcomed with open arms at Anfield. Preferring to play as a central playmaker, the Dutchman is versatile enough to perform on both flanks, as well as being capable of filling the support striker role. Given the club’s lack of truly creative options in these areas, van der Vaart’s acquisition would be like a breath of fresh air. He is also esteemed for his fine range of passing, and is composed in front of goal. The lack of goals contributed from Liverpool’s midfield this season (none between Lucas and Mascherano in the Premier League this season tells its own sorry tale) has evidently been a hindrance, and signing the Dutchman would surely inject much-needed goals into Liverpool’s midfield.
Having played top-level football in Holland, Germany and Spain, as well as racking up 75 caps for his country, it is clear that van der Vaart is an experienced professional who would be able to handle the pressure of playing for a club like Liverpool. A mooted fee of £6m has been rumoured as being sufficient to secure the services of the Dutch ace, and given the quality of the player, it appears that this deal would be a “no-brainer” should the opportunity to secure his services arise.
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