It seems at the moment that there are two clear school’s of thought regarding Brendan Rodgers’ status as Liverpool manager.
The first is hypercritical, to blame him outright for Liverpool’s strong decline and credit his success in the Premier League last year solely on the performances of Luis Suarez. The other, more sympathetically, is to look at the transfer committee set up in 2013 and suggest that Rodgers can only be partially responsible for Liverpool’s failings, as opposed to wholly.
Most clubs have their own unique structure for dealing with different things in different ways. Liverpool’s method of finding and recruiting players is contentious, looking more bureaucratic and political than any other.
The committee was formed with good intentions. Too many of Liverpool’s signings through the nineties had been heavily influenced by agents. Players were reportedly signed because of who they were represented by, and managers assumed far too much power, preventing long term strategies being implemented.
The transfer committee was forged in light of the departure of Damien Comolli in April 2012. He oversaw the decadent outlays for Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing (amongst others), which were an irrefutable failure and a waste of the lucrative £50m Fernando Torres windfall.
As Ian Ayre, Liverpool’s CEO, announced upon its formation last year:
“We have a head of analysis (Michael Edwards), a head of recruitment (Dave Fallows, signed from Manchester City, supported by chief scout Barry Hunter), a first-team manager, myself. All of those people are all inputting into a process that delivers what a director of football would deliver. It’s a combination of old-school scouting and watching players — and that’s Brendan, his assistants, our scouts — with statistical analysis of players across Europe and the rest of the world.
“By bringing those two processes together, you get a much more educated view of who you should and shouldn’t be buying. What we believe, and we continue to follow, is you need many people involved in the process.”
Clearly, the democratic creative input has gone too far. How responsible has Brendan Rodgers actually been for the squad that has been assembled? They’ve gone from one extreme to another.
Fabio Borini, Joe Allen, Oussama Assaidi, Mamadou Sakho, Simon Mignolet, Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto, Mario Balotelli, Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana. According to data available on transferleague, they cost a combined £130m. Phillipe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge have been an undeniable successes. Lazar Markovic is still very young. Alberto Moreno has done okay. Kolo Toure’s been an asset given he cost nothing.
Either way, Ayre’s committee has fundamentally failed and created a large financial deficit (something that will become more prominent next year with Liverpool teetering on passing Financial Fair Play). This kind of lavish spending is in contrast with the policies of Arsene Wenger, who has found himself criticised for different reasons.
Wenger has come under a similar amount of criticism for failing to spend, especially in the areas of defensive midfield and central defence. Instead, he’s persisted with Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta, while promoting Hector Bellerin from his youth team.
What’s been the difference? Little. How much have Arsenal saved? Millions.
As Wenger has said on countless occasions: signing new players is not a guaranteed method to improving a squad. It can help, sure, but it is something that should be approached with a degree of caution. Just how detrimental has Mario Balotelli’s (who was heavily linked with Arsenal over the summer) overall impact off the pitch been? Ultimately, Rodgers gained more in his first year when he blooded Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan than when he assembled a costly selection of European talent.
Tottenham’s transfer activity in light of Gareth Bale’s departure mirrors this. Levy outlayed around £60m on Clint Dempsey, Moussa Dembele, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue and Benjamin Stambouli- all centrally based midfielders. Yet this season, they’ve persistently started Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb.
It would be wrong to say that young players are the definitive answer, but an expectant fan base can put too much emphasis on signings new players. Spending money symbolises that a club mean’s business (literally), and is a great way of assembling skills you do not have.
But did Liverpool really need to outlay £45m on two technically adept attacking players in Lallana and Markovic?
To outright dismiss the importance of operating in the transfer window would be foolish; but the failings of Liverpool’s lavish transfer committee proves that there’s significantly more to a successful winning formula than assembling a wide array of foreign talents.