Friday 30 September 2016

Daniel McDonnell: No reason to scoff at prospect of Shane Long in Liverpool shirt

Published 19/01/2016 | 02:30

Shane Long is good enough to strengthen the array of options in the Anfield dressing-room. Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

The instinctive reaction to another transfer story involving Shane Long is to wonder why he's in this position again.

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It's just 17 months since his last switch, a £12m move to Southampton that took English football by surprise given that the ink had barely dried on his contract at Hull. News of a link with Liverpool, and the possibility of a deal coming to fruition before the close of the January transfer window, has been met with a similar reaction.

Long has always divided opinion. That has been apparent in the response from the sizeable contingent of former Liverpool players working in the media. Danny Murphy told Talksport yesterday that he was shocked by any suggestion that the Tipperary native could be on Jurgen Klopp's shopping list.

Better

"No, no, no, no, no," said Murphy, who succeeded in getting his point across. "There's no point bringing in players who aren't better than what you've already got. Would you suggest Long is a better player than (Christian) Benteke? I don't think so."

Didi Hamann takes the opposite view, describing Long as the "perfect fit" compared to highly touted recruits who have flattered to deceive.

Transfer debates tend to fall down on the mistaken conclusion that Player A is being targeted by a prospective employer because they want to make him their main man. In reality, the vast bulk of business is about plugging gaps.

Since he joined Southampton, Long has functioned as a squad player. His 46 Premier League appearances comprise 25 starts and 21 sub cameos. A good portion of those have involved a brief as a wide attacker as opposed to central responsibility.

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Injury to Graziano Pelle has provided him with a rare chance to fulfil that role over the past month, and he has performed well, but the signing of Charlie Austin indicates that he will continue to be part of a rotation policy.

Much as he's important to Ireland's Euro 2016 campaign, it's worth remembering that he only started two qualifiers en route to France. His magic moment against Germany came as an impact sub.

As Klopp surveys his options with a view to finding players suited to his preferred style of play, it's easy to see why Long's high-energy approach would appeal. He is a proven Premier League operator, if not a consistent Premier League goalscorer, and his workrate always makes life difficult for opponents.

Defenders dislike playing against him and some of his better displays for Southampton have come in battles with opponents engaged in the title race.

A brace against Arsenal and a goal at Manchester City this term illustrate the point: he is capable of rising to a tough challenge and there are afternoons where he looks like a world beater.

The problem, as his detractors will argue is that he simply doesn't do it regularly enough.

Still, he is respected by other Premier League managers. Mauricio Pochettino and Alan Pardew are long-term admirers.

Norwich and his old club, West Brom, have also been mentioned in dispatches as two suitors that would be interested in hearing about his movements.

The size of the fee paid by Southampton did raise eyebrows and with two and a half years left on his contract, the feeling is that Liverpool would have to go higher to instigate a serious discussion. But with TV deals spiralling, value has ceased to be a key factor in Premier League deals.

The Merseyside club's transfer committee has paid over the odds for players who have struggled to adapt to England or aren't quite suited to Klopp's approach.

In Liverpool's current position, which is four points behind West Ham, two off Stoke, level with Crystal Palace and a point ahead of Southampton, they would not be weakened by adding an individual who knows the terrain and is used to being required for 60 minutes here and 30 minutes there depending on the scale of the task.

With a busy schedule of games looming over the horizon, there will be opportunities. And the impact on Euro 2016 shouldn't really be a major concern seeing as he's by no means guaranteed to be starting every week for his current club.

Sojourn

There is no comparison with Robbie Keane's short-lived sojourn as he left a really good thing behind at Tottenham and joined up with a manager, Rafa Benitez, who was intent on changing him. Klopp should know exactly what Long is capable of offering.

Unless the upheaval of moving family again is an issue - and the stress that goes with that shouldn't be underestimated - it would be a no-brainer for Long if Southampton allowed the ball to be left in his court.

Is he the 20-goal-a-season man that can propel Liverpool into the top four? No. But is he good enough to play for Liverpool and strengthen the array of options in the dressing-room? Absolutely.

What we know for certain is that the Anfield hierarchy have already demonstrated that they can do much worse.

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Irish Independent

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