Saturday 20 July 2019

Liverpool must take time over Philippe Coutinho replacement and learn from past mental scars that cost managers their jobs

Alberto Aquilani, Andy Carroll and Mario Balotelli
Alberto Aquilani, Andy Carroll and Mario Balotelli

Chris Bascombe

There are three names to consider when demanding Liverpool immediately respond to the sale of Philippe Coutinho.

Alberto Aquilani, Andy Carroll and Mario Balotelli.

Three dud signings, each of which arguably cost a Liverpool manager his job and took a few more casualties along the way.

When Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez left in club record transfers, Liverpool’s reaction satisfied a thirst for transfer activity but proved catastrophically ill-judged.

Alonso left for Real Madrid in 2009 and was replaced by an injured Italian midfielder, Aquilani, whose reputation soared while he was in recovery and dipped beyond the point of no return once he played football.

Rafa Benitez’s side went from runners-up to seventh below Aston Villa in the space of a year. He lost his job. So too did his scout Eduardo Macia shortly after.

In January 2011, with Kenny Dalglish now in charge, Carroll moved from Newcastle for £35 million on a bleak winter deadline day. Supporters were momentarily pacified after Torres' £50 million move to Chelsea until those rare – extremely rare - occasions Carroll was fit.

He was not good enough for Liverpool and a furious John W. Henry fired Director of Football Damien Comolli for perceived negligence with the Torres cash, Carroll one of several poor deals. Dalglish followed.

The repercussions of Suarez’s £75 million exit to Barcelona were similarly felt by Brendan Rodgers; having gone so close to the Premier League title in 2014, there was a shambolic search for a striker until deadline day the following August.

Rodgers’ U-turn on Balotelli – initially vowing he would never sign him only to convince himself he could succeed where others failed – proved the beginning of the end of his reign.

Carroll and Balotelli left mental scars, not only for owners Fenway Sports Group but the recruiting staff as accountable as the managers. For a club and ownership whose philosophy is based on being the smartest rather than wealthiest guys in the sport, it was especially chastening.

Since Jurgen Klopp took over perceptions of the chief scouts and Director of Football Michael Edwards have changed.

There is an easy measure of their reputation; when things are going badly their name is referenced in every critical article. When things are going well they are barely mentioned at all.  The best scouts thrive in their anonymity.

The purchases of the last two years – including in no particular order Sadio Mane, Gini Wijnaldum, Mohamed Salah and Andrew Robertson – have been reassuringly good, or in the case of Mane and Salah extraordinarily astute. Coutinho’s value has transformed the African pair into £120 million players in their own right.

As with Virgil Van Dijk, their signings followed extensive and studious research of character as much as talent, which ought to be compulsory with any buy but has certainly not been the case with every major Liverpool signing of the last 30 years.

That is why despite the predictable clamour for the club to act now - throwing out a series of bids for stellar names in the hope one will find a chairman willing to sell for a fee reflective of value – it would be a grave error to act with haste and without certainty.

Up until the moment of Coutinho’s departure the club has insisted they have not made approaches for a replacement. As Klopp stated on Saturday, the focus was solely on trying to convince the Brazilian to stay.

Now he has gone, it is inconceivable Liverpool are not re-assessing their options. As with Suarez, there has been enough notice served of Coutinho’s intentions to ensure a contingency plan goes into operation. No-one at Anfield is surprised this deal happened in January.

Nevertheless, those believing it guarantees a new number ten before the end of the month should be cautious.

Not only is January a difficult market, Liverpool will be wary of spending a premium as clubs add an extra £25 million on any asking price, just as the Merseyside club achieved when reluctantly agreeing Coutinho’s sale.

Klopp has also demonstrated he is more patient than those demanding action.

There was frustration when the Liverpool manager refused to sign an alternative to Van Dijk last summer but his view it had to be the right one rather than anyone was finally rewarded this January. Had Liverpool been similarly prudent in January 2011 and 2014 they may have taken short-term grief with accusations of under-ambition and hesitancy, but the long-term pain would have been less severe after Torres and Suarez’s sale.

Liverpool will replace Philippe Coutinho. They will reinvest their £140 million. It is a question of when, not if, even if the when proves to be in four months rather than within three weeks.

They cannot make the same expensive errors when last spending big in the aftermath of selling big.

Liverpool’s recruitment has been improving as much as the team. The hope must be they are able to secure the long-term prospect they have admired before the end of the month. Appeasing those craving a short-term hit, overspending to protect approval ratings, would only deepen the pain of Coutinho’s loss in the same way it did after Suarez took the same path to the Nou Camp.

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