Liverpool look set to clinch the signings of both Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge and Blackpool winger Tom Ince during the January transfer window, but with the vast majority of the club’s transfer budget yet again spent on British players with the overwhelming element of risk behind them, are the club merely repeating the mistakes of the past all over again?
Of course, this is referring to the terrible excesses of the Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli era which thought that it was a good idea to spend £71m combined on Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson. So far under Brendan Rodgers, the club have spent £15m on Joe Allen and £10m on Fabio Borini, both of which he has worked with before in the past, while the proposed £12m deal for Sturridge which looks certain to go through and the Ince switch which should come in between £4-6m all smacks of a lack of imagination in the transfer market and not quite the best value around either.
Building the nucleus of your squad around young, determined, homegrown talent is clearly a positive, but it’s when the fees involved start to escalate and inflate to such an extent that any move is negligible in terms of what the player can actually offer that you have to start questioning the motivation behind any such move.
The 23-year-old England international is clearly a talented player capable of playing in multiple roles, so in theory, you are essentially getting two players for the price of one, with his ability to play out wide and through the middle up front. Nevertheless, there’s a reason that Chelsea have been so willing to do business and were again in the summer.
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The move has been met with a lukewarm response by most of the club’s fans so far and while Rodgers’ tough stance regarding contractual negotiations and agents fees is a long overdue one but hugely welcome all the same, the fee does seem a little on the steep side. Every Liverpool fan that I’ve talked to regarding Sturridge has said the same three things – he’s a good player, he has something to offer even if there are question marks about his temperament and character, but looks a little expensive, surely they could get a better deal than £12m when you consider the second point?
Personally, Sturridge has always looked like someone in search of a home and when he gets one, playing through the middle, he could be a very dangerous and effective player. Looking at the size of the fee long-term, while it’s not quite as bad as the Comolli-Dalglish signings, it does appear a bit rich for my liking, but with depth required above all else up top and out wide to give a clearly fatigued Raheem Sterling a rest, should the club make over £15m on Andy Carroll in the summer, they come out ahead eventually with a player more suited to their needs. We shall call this version of events ‘Scouse maths’.
Speaking of which, the fee regarding Ince looks likely to be smaller than the official figure quoted for the deal given that the club will essentially be paying themselves 35% of the fee after their sell-on clause becomes null and void, so if it’s pushed up to around £6m, Liverpool will pay approximately £4m and so on. When you stack it up against what Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha would cost at the moment, or what Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cost in the past, then it certainly looks a very appealing piece of business and value for money.
However, while Barcelona have become expensive practitioners of this sort of transfer policy, by which you buy back youth-team players from elsewhere at double the cost, it does point to a certain lack of creativity in terms of scouting. Are the Sturridge and Ince deals interlinked? Can the club only afford Sturridge if they move for someone like Ince who they can get a sizeable discount on? If that’s the case, then it’s another question mark about pursuing the Chelsea man over someone like, say, Newcastle’s Demba Ba, a Premier League proven striker available for just £7m.
It was rumoured that Rodgers was only going to be handed a transfer kitty in the region of £10m in January earlier in the campaign, but that looks a little frugal now and wide of the mark. With the top half of the table so open still, there are plenty of opportunities for upwards movement and FSG seem to be finally putting their money where their mouth is after the dithering left the club woefully short on deadline day.
Moreover, there has been tangible progress in recent months as the players have adapted to their new manager’s methods, and in order for this ‘project’ to be successful it requires a certain amount of faith, which needs to be backed up with money. The likely deals to bring Sturridge and Ince to Anfield in terms of style and substance looks sound ones, but you do have to wonder what the scouting department at Liverpool really do for 10 months of the year if this was the best that they could come up with for a combined £18m; they will fill gaps in the squad, there’s no doubt about that, but the sheer lack of ingenuity on show has become a worrying, long-term trend.