After Liverpool’s bright start to the season under new boss Brendan Rodgers, which has seen a familiar trend to last season of good performances not being matched by results, the 39-year-old has largely had to rely on youngsters to pad out his somewhat threadbare first-team squad and with this ‘project’ *shudder* well underway, should the club dispense with the services of three of its costliest transfer blunders from the previous regime and make a clean start altogether?
The three players in question are of course Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson, ridiculously purchased off the back of half a season of good form each for the cumulative cost of £71m. Financial mis-management on this scale has not been seen since Enron and Damien Comolli, the man charged with negotiating these deals on behalf of the club, is now a laughing stock in this country and practically unemployable off the back of it, but should Liverpool simply cut and run on them now?
First up we have Andy Carroll, the £35m man who scored just 11 goals in 58 appearances for the club and a paltry six in 44 games in the league after largely struggling for both form and fitness. He did begin to hit his stride towards the back end of last season, though with a couple of superb displays in the FA Cup against Everton and Chelsea which went a long way to earning him a place in Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad, where he acquitted himself well.
Talk of Carroll ever justifying his fee has by and large subsided by now because it’s become universally accepted that it’s simply never going to happen; he’s not worth the eighth biggest transfer fee in history and it is of course absurd but the temptation to get too bogged down in his price tag often distorts the conversation when analysing what an effective player he can still be on his day.
While the club’s fans were perfectly willing to continue to back their big man, growing warmer towards him, it became clear that he just didn’t fit in with Brendan Rodgers system and he was shipped out on loan to West Ham in the dying embers of the last transfer window. The loan fee and the agreed fee between the clubs should Sam Allardyce’s side stay up is thought to be in the region of £20m in total, which given his struggles would still represent a sizeable return on what has so far been a failed investment.
With the club having to pull out of moving for Clint Dempsey because they couldn’t, or more importantly, the owners wouldn’t stretch beyond their £3.5m offer saw him eventually leave for Tottenham for £5m, which came just hours after Charlie Adam had agreed to join Stoke for £4m. It’s clear that the club’s coffers have been tightened and the spending taps turned off, so Rodgers would probably require the money gleaned from Carroll’s sale to reinvest in his young and inexperienced squad, particularly if someone like Nuri Sahin continues to do well on loan.
For me, it would be a great shame to see Carroll leave Liverpool. When they signed him on a five-and-a-half year deal they accepted that he was far from the finished product and would need time to grow into his role as the club’s new number nine, so to shift him on just 18 months after he moved to Anfield because he doesn’t quite fit in with the new style of play, robbing the side of its only real plan B seems a huge waste of opportunity and talent, and if he does well at West Ham this season, which I fully expect him to do in an environment that suits him, then he should be welcomed back into the squad full of confidence despite the obvious temptations to cash in while the going is good.
Moving on to Stewart Downing, a player who has probably struggled just as much if not more than Carroll to justify his fee. Last term, his form was indifferent at best and downright awful at worst. The much-famed statistic that in 36 league games that he finished the campaign with no goals or assists does mask the amount of decent balls into the box and chances he created for his team-mates, though, and the side’s profligate finishing didn’t help his own confidence much.
Under Rodgers so far, the manager has challenged him to win back his first-team place after being usurped in the starting eleven by 17-year-old winger Raheem Sterling, while being mooted for a future left-back role after a few tentative appearances at the back. It’s clear that the manager feels burdened to use him for the time being and against Udinese, starting on the right wing, Downing put in one of his better performances in a red shirt, seemingly motivated by the manager’s words to the press about him and for the first time in a long while, he seemed prepared to take players on and come deep and ask for the ball rather than simply taking the easy option out by playing it backwards all of the time.
The main problem with Downing, though, is that unlike Carroll, at 28 years of age, his sell-on value has greatly reduced. Liverpool overpaid partly because Aston Villa overpaid and because the Midlands club had already shifted on Ashley Young to Manchester United earlier on in that transfer window and they remained reluctant to lose the pair of them in one summer, which subsequently drove his price up. If the club received a £10m offer for him, they should bite the club who is offering its hands off, but anything much lower and you have to question whether they’d be worth selling him just to bring in a different player of broadly similar quality.
The final player on show is Jordan Henderson, who has largely been restricted to Europa League outings under Rodgers so far, but he looks as if he’s much more comfortable in a three-man midfield than he was last season after being asked to perform in an unfamiliar right midfield role under predecessor Kenny Dalglish and the former manager’s handling of him was hugely questionable and his lack of confidence a direct result of being played out of position.
There are tentative signs that Henderson could have a role to play under Rodgers, but as more of a squad player than a regular starter. This dampening of expectations will suit him and allow him the freedom to play with more confidence and he’s looked sharp whenever called upon so far this term. At 22-years-old, while it may be disappointing that he’s so far struggled to live up to expectation, he remains a tidy, useful and versatile member of a small squad with his best years ahead of him and he’s worth keeping around for the next few years at least, if not indefinitely.
The club’s wage bill has certainly risen since these three signed for the club, brought in to help secure a return to Champions League football, a massive gamble on FSG’s part at the time it has to be said, before going on to fall woefully short. Every year that they remain out of the competition is a massive drain on the club’s resources, but two of three certainly still has something to offer for me.
Selling players for the sake of it isn’t a plan of action by any means and Carroll and Henderson should only be moved on if adequate replacements that will allow the club to run on a more even keel financially are found, but the approach with Downing should certainly be a more pragmatic ‘wait and see’ one and his place in the squad should be most at risk, where Rodgers agrees, though, remains to be seen.
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