At times so far this season, Liverpool have fielded some of the youngest sides in terms of their average age in the club’s and the Premier League’s history, but looking further forward, will manager Brendan Rodgers want to add some more experienced heads to the squad or will they continue with their current transfer policy which has seen them move for players of potential?
Liverpool have operated with a deeply flawed transfer policy for a number of years now right through their previous three managers – Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish – partly out of financial circumstance, while at times they have tried to turn water into wine with needlessly risky moves for the likes of Alberto Aquilani and Andy Carroll. Nevertheless, in terms of their success rate, Rodgers looks to have bucked the trend of recent times with the majority of his dealings going on to have an impact, with Daniel Sturridge superb since January, Joe Allen enjoying a decent first half of the campaign while Philippe Coutinho already looks like he could prove a bargain and was undervalued by Inter Milan.
Of course, Fabio Borini has been far from a success and already looks surplus to requirements when everyone is fully fit, while Oussama Assaidi, rumoured to have been signed at former director of communications Jen Chang’s behest, hasn’t had much playing time in recent months but at just £3m, he was always a relatively small gamble to have taken at the time.
Nevertheless, with captain Steven Gerrard another year older and vice-captain Jamie Carragher set to retire at the end of the season, there looks to be a real dearth of older heads around this talented but youthful looking squad, with only really the under performing trio of Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel, all whom are not assured of their long-term futures at Anfield, around for comfort.
Rodgers told The Mirror last month about the need for more ‘men’ to be added at the end of the season: “The biggest thing we need this summer is to bring in some men, some character that allows and supports the other men to see the games out. That is the reality of it – we haven’t been good enough. In order for us to be up there consistently we need to improve in terms of our mentality.
Technically we are very capable, tactically we have not been found wanting, the condition and intensity of their work is high so that only leaves you one thing – mentality. That is the area which needs to improve and to do that we need character. Look at Jamie Carragher, he is our best defender, he is 35 but we are losing that character. That has to be replaced. I also think there are other areas of the team that need improving.”
This would seem to contradict what managing director Ian Ayre had to say shortly after the acquisition of Sturridge from Chelsea during the January transfer window, telling the club’s official website: “You need to have a mix in your squad and we have probably got the best balance in terms of any team in the league. Our two most senior players have spent their whole careers at this football club. At the lower end we have a bunch of five or six very young players who have come through our Academy process and are now contributing for the first team.
“Then in the middle of that we’ve got world class international players like Luis Suarez, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson, Pepe Reina and Lucas Leiva. That’s the right mix I think. We’ve got people who understand what this club really means and have enjoyed success here. We’ve got young players breaking through, learning and getting experience from them. Then we’ve got international players like Luis Suarez who could be playing anywhere in the world – but he’s playing at Liverpool FC.”
Buying older players for the sake of it is a situation that threatens to compromise on the overall quality and standard of the squad in their ultimate aim of achieving top four football in the future, which at times they’ve looked capable of this term but for their inconsistency. The potential, talent and ability is all there, but to agree with Rodgers, the mentality has been missing, particularly when trying to protect a lead against the top flight’s bigger sides.
With both Gerrard and Carragher openly querying the policy which focuses solely on buying players in their early 20s, it led Ayre to argue that the approach wasn’t ‘set in stone’, while Rodgers spoke of ‘healthy’ disagreement with the board over the need to move for more experienced players in the summer and it appears a philosophical debate of sorts is underway at Anfield about what the team needs most for the future.
The spine of the side is fairly experienced but when it comes to squad depth, Liverpool’s is packed to the brim with emerging rather than established talent, which on the one hand is exciting but on the other makes it far less dependable, hence the inconsistencies in performances this season.
The squad is clearly taking Rodgers methods and style on board more as the campaign progresses which bodes well for next season, but this issue threatens to drive a wedge between the board and the manager, therefore stopping any quick and decisive action in the transfer market in the summer. FSG have already buckled at spending £5m on then 29-year-old Clint Dempsey in the past which led Rodgers to criticise ‘operational issues’ while labelling the squad he was left with as a result as ‘thin’ and he will be wary of the same situation happening again in the future.
The reduction of the club’s wage bill since last summer has focused mainly on shifting older players such as Dirk Kuyt, Joe Cole, Craig Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez off it, but age doesn’t always equate to hefty wages, and one thing is for certain, Liverpool cannot continue to operate on a transfer policy based on potential, even if it has worked reasonably well up until this point, and they require a much more substantial and balanced approach looking ahead.
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