Liverpool not getting bang for their big bucks
Despite their defeat at Hull City on Sunday, it has emerged that Liverpool have preserved what is becoming a permanent top-four spot.
Not because they remain in the Champions League positions of the Premier League, but courtesy of the just-published table of agents' fees.
They paid £9.4m to agents between October 2012 and September 30, 2013 – the fourth highest in England – but the stark admission from Brendan Rodgers about the depth of his squad in the absence of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho at the KC Stadium raised questions again as to whether Liverpool have been getting enough bang for their buck. There were eight new arrivals at Anfield last summer, at a combined cost of £43m.
Only Simon Mignolet is a certain starter for Norwich's visit tomorrow, prompting a wave of cynicism. Some, such as midfielder Luis Alberto and centre-half Tiago Ilori, are considered "for the future". Others such as Mamadou Sakho have international pedigree but cannot get into the side, while Iago Aspas and loanees Victor Moses and Aly Cissokho have failed to impress.
Not for the first time in his Anfield reign, Rodgers found himself in a politically vulnerable position when asked about the rationale behind a series of deals that swelled the squad at vast expense but failed to provide enough of the high-class, first-team players the club need to have any hope of a top-four finish.
It was almost impossible for him to answer, given he cannot be held wholly responsible for all these purchases. Despite the claims when he joined that he would engineer the club's buying and selling activity, it has become evident that he is a member of the 'transfer committee' rather than its chairman.
He is working alongside, rather than commanding, the head of recruitment Dave Fallows, chief scout Barry Hunter, analyst Michael Edwards and managing director Ian Ayre. It has created an environment where supporters and reporters alike play a form of 'transfer bingo' following each new arrival. "Did the manager sign him or the committee?"
As Rodgers is part of the committee, Liverpool can always answer 'both' but it does create an impression the manager was required to compromise his immediate needs last summer for long-term strategy.
When asked why Liverpool signed young centre-half Ilori from Sporting Lisbon for around £4m, Rodgers admitted: "Hopefully in the future, maybe long after I am gone, he can prove to be a talent. That is the responsibility of myself and the club going forward to nurture it."
In the same breath, Rodgers added: "You have to focus very much on the here and now, as well as having one eye on the future."
Liverpool can justify the introduction of the committee's checks and balance system since the traditional policy of letting the manager have who he wants was not working, either. Rodgers' first two major signings, for a combined £26m, were Joe Allen and Fabio Borini, who he knew from Swansea. As with last summer's deal, they absorbed plenty of cost for little return.
Owners Fenway Sports Group considered it essential to prevent a repetition of the errors of previous regimes, when the manager was granted too much control and too often delivered mediocre players via the same agents (although given the weekend revelations, one of the early promises to significantly reduce spiralling agents fees still needs to be addressed).
When Sturridge and Coutinho were signed 11 months ago, the new transfer system appeared to have yielded instant results. Last summer's activity and the acknowledgement the squad remain short of quality inevitably prompts more scrutiny.
Rodgers made it known publicly that he wanted a No 10 but when Henrikh Mkhitaryan decided to go to Borussia Dortmund, Willian went to Chelsea and Diego Costa renewed his contract at Atletico Madrid, the club instead found themselves signing Moses.
"There were areas that needed improving," said Rodgers. "There is no doubt that we wanted to bring in other players but for whatever reason, they didn't come in.
"We all recognise we wanted to get in one or two more starters, which didn't materialise. A lot of work went into it. What is the case is we are not in a position to spend money for the sake of it. We are trying to build for the future with a sense of the present, to strengthen where we can."
Liverpool's most expensive signing last summer was Sakho, but with Kolo Toure already signed on a free transfer to join Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, it seemed the club had spent £17m on a player they did not really need.
This January, Rodgers has made it known he wants first-team rather than squad players. It was the former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez who once said about his club's transfer policy (while at Valencia): "I asked for a sofa and they bought me a lampshade."
If the squad players fail to keep Liverpool in the Champions League places during Sturridge's two-month injury absence, one can imagine Rodgers offering a similar lament. (© Daily Telegraph, London)