Wednesday 20 June 2018

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From Raheem Sterling to Ed Woodward - Men under pressure to perform this season

Tim Rich looks at who might feel the heat if things go wrong in early weeks

Christian Benteke celebrates after scoring for Liverpool in their 2-1 win at Swindon
Christian Benteke celebrates after scoring for Liverpool in their 2-1 win at Swindon

Tim Rich

Four men who might feel the heat if things go wrong in early weeks

Brendan Rodgers

There are many reasons to want Rodgers to succeed. He is young, tactically adventurous and is in charge of one of football's great institutions. And yet he is favourite to be the first Premier League manager to lose his job.

How you finish one campaign often determines how you start the next and Liverpool's end to last season was a shambles.

There was the limp surrender to Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi-final, topped off by a 6-1 thrashing at Stoke. The end-of-season review led to Rodgers firing his assistant manager and first-team coach. There is now only one head left on the block.

Owner John W Henry is a disciple of Moneyball, buying cheap and selling dear. Liverpool's selling has been excellent, fetching £116m for Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling.

However, the Suarez money was spent on young, promising players who ended the season still promising, but a year older. The £32m spent on Christian Benteke has to produce instant results and Rodgers is charged with taking Liverpool back into the Champions League, while being tied to the Thursday-Sunday treadmill of the Europa League.

The long-awaited rebuilding of Anfield has begun and Rodgers must hope it is a metaphor.

Radamel Falcao

If you wondered why you should hire a super-agent, look no further than Jorge Mendes' work for Falcao. Last year, with Monaco desperate to get him off their books, Mendes negotiated a salary of £265,000 a week with Manchester United for a striker whose serious knee injury had kept him out of Colombia's World Cup squad and which was still evidently troubling him.

Falcao's return was four goals. Mendes' response has been to negotiate another, if less lucrative, contract with Chelsea.

This season Falcao will turn 30. He is being reunited with Diego Costa, a magnificent foil in Falcao's final season with Atletico Madrid, in which he scored 34 goals. Costa's role at the Vicente Calderon was to make the space for Falcao to exploit. If he can repeat the trick at Stamford Bridge, Falcao's transfer will be held up as an example of Jose Mourinho's skills as well as Mendes'.

Raheem Sterling

He has got what he wants, or rather what he thinks he wants - an enormous contract, worth £150,000 a week, and a club capable of winning major silverware.

He has left a club, Liverpool, who were prepared to make him the fulcrum of their attack for one where he will be considered an add-on. Sterling may be promising, but he is no Sergio Aguero. At Anfield, Sterling was regarded as very good, but not exceptional.

At £49m, he is the most expensive English footballer on the planet. And yet, if you examine the 10 highest transfer fees paid for an Englishman, only three - James Milner, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand - could be counted a success. Milner eventually had to leave the Etihad Stadium because he felt that he was given insufficient opportunity.

Manchester City did bid big and now their director of football, Txiki Begiristain, will have to hope that Sterling delivers. And after a raft of unimpressive footballers brought in by the Spaniard that included signing a cheque for £42m for Eliaquim Mangala, the pressure is bearing down on Begiristain as much as it is on Sterling.

Ed Woodward

How we yearned for the press conferences at Carrington, where Alex Ferguson, questioned about Manchester United's lack of transfer activity, would mutter that there was "no value in the market".

The United chief executive who succeeded the doggedly dependable David Gill has found value everywhere. Perhaps stung by the realisation that in his first transfer window both he and David Moyes moved far too slowly, Woodward has kept on signing Louis van Gaal's cheques. A quarter-of-a-million a week for Falcao, £60m for Angel Di Maria, nearly £30m for Luke Shaw - these were the kind of signings that excited supporters and bank managers across Manchester.

Some of these players turned out to have brought only their reputation. This summer, Woodward has authorised a similar level of spending. This time last year, Woodward set Van Gaal the lowest conceivable bar for any United manager - finishing fourth. This season will have to be a lot better. (© Independent News Service)

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