Both Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers were badly let down by their owners in the summer with concerns to Tottenham’s and Liverpool’s movement and dealings in the transfer market and a repeat performance in January, with both still harbouring very real hopes of a top four finish at the moment, must not be allowed to happen again.
With each manager enjoying their first season in their respective jobs, it’s interesting that both felt they didn’t quite have the stock to stand up to Daniel Levy and John W. Henry, as you’d have thought that head coach never wields so much power and currency as when they’ve first been brought to the club.
The job on both of their hands is a similar one – negotiate the club through a period of relative instability and restore them on a consistent basis to the higher echelons of the top flight, with securing the Holy Grail that is safe passage into the Champions League group stages, with all the benefits it brings such as wealth, power and status the main aim.
Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Levy taking control of negotiations during the summer and while many, rather strangely considering what a safe and solid financial footing he has put the club in under his stewardship, have taken to criticising him for their lack of movement in securing preferred targets.
With the side sat in fifth in the league table at present, behind Everton in fourth on goal difference, considering the sheer pace of change at White Hart Lane over the past few months, ranging from a new manager, coaching staff, training ground, style of play and departure of several key players, coupled with the media’s near obsessive agenda to try and paint the Portuguese man at the helm as some sort of clown, they are well on course for a good season at the moment.
The main critique often levelled at Levy is that he is a businessman first and foremost and that he doesn’t listen to the needs of the fans. It happened when he club let Dimitar Berbatov leave on the final day of the transfer window to go to Manchester United in 2008 and the dithering over the Joao Moutinho deal, even after an extension had been granted, left them just hours to complete a complex move. As a result, Villas-Boas has been robbed of the natural heir to the Croatian in midfield and they remain heavily reliant on Moussa Dembele.
They lack control in the middle of the park and unfathomably seemed to prioritise tying up a deal for France international goalkeeper Hugo Lloris instead, despite the club already possessing the very serviceable Brad Friedel, which has only served to create more problems further down the line than it has solutions.
Moreover, you sense that the signing of Gylfi Sigurdsson was very much a pre-meditated move by Levy and that Villas-Boas was simply forced to give a tacit agreement to the deal upon signing on the dotted line as manager. While it’s difficult to doubt Levy’s ability to get great deal for the club, with the ‘financial partnership’ agreements involved with the Modric to Real Madrid switch sure to benefit the club financially for years to come, on top of the £33m fee, the 35-year-old boss needs to be given more of a say and more control over player recruitment and Levy needs to sanction early deals in several ears of the side that need addressing; namely a replacement for Modric, a new centre-back, cover at full-back and perhaps even another centre-forward, with string case to be made for either Klaas-Jan Huntelaar or Fernando Llorente in January.
Switching back to Anfield, though, and the constraints placed on Rodgers are equally as frustrating but for entirely different reasons. The focus from Fenway Sports Group (FSG) and chairman Tom Werner and owner John W. Henry in particular has been to drastically reshape the club from within, with an emphasis on reducing the hefty wage bill of paramount importance.
This has seen useful fringe players such as Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy all leave, while Andy Carroll and Jay Spearing were farmed out on loan and Charlie Adam moved on to Stoke on deadline day. It’s fair to say that the 39-year-old has held up his end of the bargain and the situation whereby he has had to rely on a number of youngsters to pad out a threadbare squad has been foisted upon him, all while trying to engineer some sort of Europa League campaign at the same time.
The balancing act always meant that things were likely to slip through the net, though, and with Rodgers speaking about ‘operational issues’ after the travesty that was the summer transfer window for the club, he was left with just one senior forward to rely upon for six months, with managing director Ian Ayre once again proving that he’s simply not cut out for this sort of level.
Quite why Andy Carroll was allowed to leave on loan without a replacement already in the door is anyone’s guess, and FSG’s refusal to go above £3.5m for Clint Dempsey was ill-advised at best, seemingly trying to make up for the ruinous excesses of the previous 18 months with one flail swing to get themselves back into the game. Rodgers torpedoed any move for Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge due to a reluctance to part ways with £15m for a player of questionable temperament, with the player refusing a loan deal. That despite all of this, the club sit just four points outside of the top four is somewhat impressive, even if they sit as low as 10th in the table.
Neither club can claim with any sort of certainty that they have a top four place all but sown up at this stage in the season, and negotiating a fair price for any player can often prove tricky in January, but the extent to which both managers were hindered in the summer by their owners, therefore creating the conditions by which their jobs were made much more difficult for a number of months means they are owed a debt of gratitude.
Nobody is asking for silly money to bandied about willy nilly, but sensible, long-term purchases to improve both squads in key areas where they lack depth is a necessity, and it’s time for both Levy and Henry to back the men at the helm that they have emplaced so much trust in to shepherd them through this period of transition with the sort of support that is not only required, but should be mandatory.