Thursday 23 January 2020

Levy's transfer policy coming home to roost as Reds disappear over horizon

Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet thanks the away fans after a 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane, which was Jurgen Klopp’s first game. Behind are Jordon Ibe, Nathaniel Clyne, Lucas Leiva and Martin Skrtel. Only Clyne is still at the club. Photo: Getty Images
Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet thanks the away fans after a 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane, which was Jurgen Klopp’s first game. Behind are Jordon Ibe, Nathaniel Clyne, Lucas Leiva and Martin Skrtel. Only Clyne is still at the club. Photo: Getty Images

Matt Law

In the final months of Mauricio Pochettino's reign at Tottenham Hotspur, he would occasionally direct reporters back to the line-ups when Jurgen Klopp took charge of his first Liverpool game, at White Hart Lane in October 2015.

Of the names on the Liverpool team sheet, only James Milner, Adam Lallana, Divock Origi and Nathaniel Clyne are still at the club. None would now start in Klopp's strongest side.

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Rather than undertaking a ‘painful rebuild’ Daniel Levy (pictured) spent money on replacing Pochettino with Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images
Rather than undertaking a ‘painful rebuild’ Daniel Levy (pictured) spent money on replacing Pochettino with Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images

Pochettino's team included Hugo Lloris, Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Erik Lamela, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane, with Ben Davies and Harry Winks among the substitutes. All remain at the club and, of those, only Lloris has not appeared for new manager Jose Mourinho - and he will once he has returned from injury.

Ultimately, Liverpool backed their manager; Daniel Levy, eventually, chose to sack his. But if the Spurs chairman thought he had taken the more cost-effective option, then the evidence would suggest otherwise.

A long-term hamstring injury to Kane has left Levy with little choice but to dip into the cash reserves for a deputy or risk missing out on Champions League qualification.

The transformation in the fortunes of Tottenham and Liverpool since that day in 2015 is stark. Spurs finished the season in third place, 10 points clear of Liverpool in eighth; ahead of today's rematch, there has been a 38-point swing, with Klopp's Premier League leaders now 28 points ahead of Spurs.

Benefited

The easy conclusion is that Liverpool have benefited from spending considerably more than Tottenham. To a degree, that is true, but the context tells a slightly different story and calls Levy's transfer strategy into greater question. In terms of first-team players, Liverpool spent roughly £120 million more than Tottenham before this transfer window.

Despite that, however, Tottenham's net spend is actually higher. From the figures that have been disclosed, Spurs have a net spend of about £90m over the course of the past eight transfer windows, in comparison to Liverpool's £70m.

Put simply, Liverpool have traded better. For proof, look no further than Klopp's first summer as manager, in 2016, when his club beat Spurs to the signings of Sadio Mane from Southampton and Newcastle's Georginio Wijnaldum.

Mane was Pochettino's No 1 target and the Argentine is even said to have shown the forward around Tottenham's Enfield training ground.

Mane's £130,000-a-week salary did not fit in with Tottenham's wage structure, but the £34m Liverpool paid for the Senegal international has proved to be one of the bargains of recent years.

Pochettino was clearly still sore at missing out to Liverpool shortly after the 1-1 draw between the clubs at the start of the 2016-'17 season. "We need someone who has characteristics like we saw from Liverpool, like Sadio Mane, the type of player that can break the defensive line," he said.

That need has never properly been satisfied, but just as galling for Tottenham fans is Moussa Sissoko eventually cost their club £5m more than the £25m Liverpool paid for Wijnaldum.

During the summer of 2017, Tottenham spent more than Liverpool, as they broke their transfer record on Davinson Sanchez and also recruited Fernando Llorente, Serge Aurier and Juan Foyth for a combined £85m. But the £77m Liverpool spent on Mohamed Salah, Andrew Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has proved to be far better value.

It was the January transfer window of 2018, however, which proved the real game-changer. Questions were asked over Liverpool's ambition when they agreed to sell Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for £142m, and their judgment when they used just over half of that to sign Virgil van Dijk. They were the risks that Pochettino claimed Tottenham needed to take at the end of the same season, but his club did not sign anybody over the next two transfer windows and, just as crucially, only sold midfielder Mousa Dembele last January.

Players who had been looking for a way out, such as Alderweireld, Eriksen and Rose, were all retained and performances started to dip as Liverpool raced away on the back of their summer 2018 spending spree on Alisson Becker, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri.

Liverpool finished last season ahead of Spurs for the first time in Klopp's reign and beat them 2-0 in the final of the Champions League, which effectively acted as the beginning of the end for Pochettino.

Rather than undertaking the "painful rebuild" that Pochettino had recommended, Levy eventually took the decision to spend money on replacing Pochettino with Jose Mourinho.

That was certainly cheaper than selling the likes of Eriksen and Alderweireld, and signing replacements, particularly as Levy used Mourinho's appointment to agree a new three-and-a-half-year contract with Alderweireld before he could have started negotiating a free-transfer summer switch to a foreign club.

But Spurs have won only one of their five games since Alderweireld re-signed, and have lost Kane and Sissoko to long-term injuries - exposing the long-standing squad deficiencies again and potentially hitting the balance sheet.

Given the financial restrictions Tottenham's new stadium has placed on their transfer budget, Levy may well have to finally accept the time has come to cash in on one of his stars to try to rebuild the squad.

Otherwise, Liverpool and Klopp will continue to disappear over the horizon.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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