Liverpool have been credited with a long-standing interest in Swansea captain and centre-back Ashley Williams after a campaign of defensive wobbles at the back, but would the player be tempted to move to Anfield and is he even the right man to help plug the notable holes in Brendan Rodgers’ inconsistent side?
It’s worth noting that Sunday’s Capital One Cup victory for the Welsh outfit over League Two Bradford City, in a one-sided final that saw them run out comfortable 5-0 winners on the day, that Michael Laudrup’s side are now guaranteed European football next term in the Europa League, something which for all their endeavours this season, Liverpool still are not. That puts into context the decision that would face Williams were the Merseyside giants to step up their reported interest with something more concrete. Can Swansea take him that much further? Or would the move simply be a sideways one based more on sentiment and history rather than footballing reasons?
Just two points and one league position currently separate the two sides in the league table at the moment and for all of their prestige, Liverpool remain a side in transition grappling with a new style of play under Williams’ former manager Rodgers, whereas Swansea have gone one step further than last campaign’s plucky underdogs punching above their weight, adding a degree of validation to their undoubted progress as a club with their first piece of major silverware in recent memory. One is a club on the up, the other a stagnant sleeping giant. One has more potential for improvement, the other a glass ceiling on their ambitions. He could quite happily stay at Swansea for the remainder of his playing career content in his club legend status, or move on for what looks a sizeable challenge before Liverpool to try and restore them to a side capable of competing with the top four on a consistent basis.
During his time at Anfield so far, Rodgers has shown a tendency to refer back to players he has worked with before with the summer moves for both Joe Allen and Fabio Borini and there’s a sense that Williams could perform the tasks asked of him a darn sight better than first-choice central defensive pairing Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel have done this season.
With Jamie Carragher set to retire in the summer and Sebastian Coates still looking way too rough around the edges to warrant an extended run in the starting eleven, there’s a genuine concern that the Agger-Skrtel axis needs to be broken up if the side are to progress, after they’ve both endured their worst seasons ever from both an individual and collective team viewpoint at Liverpool. A centre-back capable of putting pressure on their places in a way that Coates has been unable to must be right at the top of the agenda when it comes to strengthening the team in the summer.
Rodgers’ preferred 4-3-3 formation requires both defenders at the heart of the back four to be comfortable on the ball and when the side are in possession, they pull apart to cover the full-backs who have rampaged forward up the flanks. This has left a huge gap between both Skrtel and Agger at times and both appear to be having some sort of crisis of confidence, not to mention a complete collapse of form as they struggle to adapt to this new style of play which asks them to be a bit more than just a defensive shield.
Of course, having kept 10 clean sheets in the top flight this term is far from a disaster and they look capable of matching last season’s return of 13, but there’s a sense that their lack of defensive solidity is holding them back as a side from truly progressing and with both Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson having fine seasons out wide, it’s likely that reinforcements will be brought in for the middle as opposed to on the wing and the sheer volume of sloppy displays and preventable goals given away by both Agger and Skrtel has seen the latter dropped from the side in recent times and Carragher restored and quickly become the best defender on show, one costly error against Zenit aside.
With a fee in the region of £10-15m likely to be demanded for Williams, the fact that the Wales international is 29 years of age in August would appear to make the deal one that FSG are going to feel uncomfortable in sanctioning after they previously buckled at paying just £5m for Clint Dempsey last summer when he was of a similar age. The move doesn’t quite fit in with the transfer policy that the club and Rodgers have pursued in recent times and Swansea will be extremely reluctant, particularly after Rodgers went back previously on a gentleman’s agreement to sign Allen last summer, to lose another key player to the same club.
There’s no doubting that from both a style and substance standpoint that Williams certainly has something to offer Liverpool, but with relations little more than cordial between the two clubs still, the fee will be driven upwards way north of what the Merseyside club will consider reasonable. The underlying point to take away from the deal, though, is that a new defender of proven Premier League class is a priority, and whether they look to the continent once more for a young and hungry and altogether cheaper alternative, that shouldn’t detract from the wider point that the side have continued to look defensively suspect for the majority of the campaign.
Someone of Williams’ ilk would be a fine addition, but this deal looks dead in the water before it’s even begun.