Thursday 22 November 2018

Klopp curbing Liverpool's profligacy

German has spent big but well in bid to finally end club's title famine

New Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson with manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Reuters
New Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson with manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Reuters

Colin Young

They have spent more than £1.2billion over 28 years in pursuit of their first Premier League title and their 19th English championship success. Liverpool have won the Champions League, UEFA Cup, three FA Cups and four League Cups in that period but still the league crown has evaded them.

The roll call of league winners in that time must make for depressing reading for any Liverpool supporter: Chelsea (5), Arsenal (4), Manchester City (3), Leicester, Blackburn and Leeds (1) and, worst of all, Manchester United (13). Their great rivals have now won 20 league titles in total, taking Liverpool's long-standing record under Alex Ferguson seven years ago.

As for Liverpool, they have fluctuated between the hopeless and the nearly men over two very long decades. Since Kenny Dalglish last lifted the English crown in 1990, they have finished as low as eighth three times, seventh three times, sixth four times, fifth twice, fourth seven times and third five times. They have been runners-up on four occasions, and two of those were in the last nine seasons.

The closest they came to finally winning their first Premier League trophy was under Brendan Rodgers in 2013/14. Top of the league with three games to go, Liverpool - and, famously, Steven Gerrard - slipped up and handed the title to Manchester City. Then they sold Luis Suarez to Barcelona and Rodgers bought Christian Benteke in his stead. He is not the first Liverpool manager of the Premier League era to squander hard-earned cash from the club's sales. But he might be the last.

Jurgen Klopp's extraordinary summer spending spree may have been largely funded by the sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in the January transfer window - he spent £75m on Virgil van Dijk within that period - but a Liverpool manager spending big to try and win the title is not a new phenomenon.

The team Kenny Dalglish first assembled after he took over from Joe Fagan in 1985 was not cheap but the most the player-manager spent during his first reign in the dugout was the £2.8m required to bring Ian Rush back from Juventus after his unsuccessful year in Turin.

It was Dalglish's ability to spot a bargain in his early years which enabled him to assemble one of the best sides in the club's history. Liverpool even bought Irish players back then, and Ray Houghton and John Aldridge, at a combined £1.5m, were two of Dalglish's best buys. John Barnes was an absolute steal at £900,000.

But when Dalglish walked out of Anfield after a traumatic Merseyside derby, no-one at the club could or would have guessed they would not win the league title again. Dalglish had sullied his exemplary transfer record by signing David Speedie before he left. It got considerably worse than that in the years after.

Every manager since Dalglish has squandered money - including Dalglish himself when he returned to the club. He signed Andy Carroll from Newcastle for £35m in 2011, and splashed out another £20m on the patently average Stewart Downing when he took over after the Roy Hodgson debacle (he signed Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky for £10m).

Carroll is not the only player for whom Liverpool paid too much for too little. The current West Ham striker is the club's joint sixth most expensive signing with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and left at a £20m loss, but Rodgers and Rafa Benitez arguably fared worse. Benitez bought Robbie Keane for £19m, hardly played him and sold him for £16m within months. Benitez also bought Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani for nearly £35m, Rodgers paid £16m for Mario Balotelli.

Spending big on big players has usually worked for Liverpool, which is encouraging for Klopp as he attempts to bridge the considerable gap to champions Manchester City this season. It is the accumulation of the lesser signings which hampered his predecessors and denied Liverpool a return to the champions' table. And they all did it. The list of failed signings is embarrassing. For every Mo Salah there is at least three Lazar Markovics.

Klopp has taken his spending over £400m with his three major summer additions, Alisson, Naby Keita and Fabinho. But he is working in a vastly over-inflated market with the TV billions in the bank. Twelve months ago, the £36.9m spent on Salah looked an expensive gamble. Now he looks like a bargain.

Former captain and assistant/caretaker manager Phil Thompson knows that Klopp's figures will become more relevant if he has signed flops this summer. But the Sky Sports pundit is convinced the German coach has added enough quality to seriously challenge City, particularly with the acquisition of Brazilian keeper Alisson from Roma for £66m. That world record fee for a goalkeeper was quickly broken by Chelsea, when they signed Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic Bilbao.

"It was within 48 hours of losing the Champions League final that Fabinho was announced as our first signing, the holding midfielder to maybe put a bit of pressure on Jordan Henderson," says Thompson. "Liverpool have done their business nice and early, unlike some clubs who have been caught out. For Liverpool though, I think it has been a fantastic transfer window.

"We needed an aggressor in midfield and got that in Keita. I know it's not right, but he was sent off four times last year, and a little bit of nastiness helps in a side, plus he gets goals and Shaqiri will bring goals from midfield too.

"But the goalkeeper has been a main position for Liverpool. What was really pleasing was the goalkeeper situation. Jurgen Klopp was very protective of both goalkeepers, certainly after the Champions League final, but we all thought this had to be nailed down and there had to be a change. They are good keepers but were they of the level? He did it and he spent big. It was a world record for a keeper, until this week, and it gives everyone a lift, not just the fans, but the team and the players. Yes, Karius might not be happy with it but it happens in football.

"If Liverpool go on and win the league title it will be incredible and he will be the signing of this window. I know it is a lot of money but that is where it lies. We have seen how well David de Gea has done at Manchester United and the amount of points he has saved them. If Alisson can do that at Liverpool - because offensively we are up there with Manchester City quite easily - then it is quite exciting. That was the one area that needed to be sorted. It was massive

"This fella has kept Ederson out of the Brazil national side, so he is a good goalkeeper, but no matter how much you pay, not just for a keeper but for outfield players as well, you don't know what they are going to be like, particularly coming from abroad and coming into the Premier League. If he comes and he does the business, and saves us points and adds to what we have defensively, he could be a fantastic signing.

"Alisson will have to accept all the pressure that comes with playing in the Premier League and being Liverpool goalkeeper, because they have been watching Karius for every mistake and every save and it will be exactly the same for him. But this is a big, big chance for him."

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