Monday 26 February 2018

The inconvenient truth for Liverpool: world class players no longer want to move to Anfield

Jurgen Klopp and (inset) Sane and Costa, both of whom were approached by Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp and (inset) Sane and Costa, both of whom were approached by Liverpool

Chris Bascombe

At some point over the next few months, Jurgen Klopp will sit with his recruitment team and hold Anfield’s annual ‘what are we going to do now?’ meeting.

Discussions about how to improve the squad for next season are frequent, of course, but there comes a point when decisions must be taken on the number of signings required and the calibre of player who can be lured.

Recent results have left Liverpool’s support in no doubt what is needed. The idea of another transitional season, accommodating six or seven emerging players who must learn the demands of English football while the club copes with the additional demands of Europe, sounds suspiciously like the makings of an all-too-familiar campaign in 2017-18.

They need a proven goalkeeper. They need a proven centre-back. They need a proven striker. They need bigger squad. And they needed it in January.

The transfer strategy of Fenway Sports Group is well documented, if rather simplistically interpreted.

As this week’s annual accounts have demonstrated, Liverpool do not have the resources to outbid Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City and the buzzword since 2010 has been ‘smartness’.

Instead of paying £80 million for an established midfielder, Liverpool have been searching for those players who can be developed and whose value will soar to such a level with top class coaching.

This approach has been the subject of repeated appraisal and re-appraisal during the course of seven years.

Rather than represent anything especially innovative, it is exactly what every other club with fewer resources than the mega-rich clubs aspires to.

Each time Liverpool’s strategy is explained, and you hear or read perfectly reasonable and lucid accounts about how it is far better to find the next big thing for a fair price and lower wage than blow the budget on a superstar, you can’t shake off the idea of the other 95 per cent of the Premier League thinking ‘what exactly do you think we’re trying to do? Stand aside while you buy the world’s best youngsters?’

8Suarez.jpg
Suarez pounced on an error by Betis substitute Nahuel Leiva to slot home his 16th league goal of the season after Alex Alegria had given Betis a 75th-minute lead. Photo: Getty Images

Critics of Liverpool’s policy have argued the club has effectively relegated itself in the transfer market, underestimating their name to compete with mid-table clubs for mid-table players. With the exception of one Luis Suarez-inspired campaign, the result has been a succession of finishes just above mid-table.

The policy might be pragmatic and – if executed well – can lead to signings such as Suarez and campaigns like 2013-14, but such years are exceptional, freakish even. And no sooner do they happen, Barcelona or Real Madrid intervene as they did with Suarez in 2014 and Xabi Alonso in 2009.

But for all this, there is a rather less palatable truth Liverpool are coming to terms with which has nothing to do with strategy, nor refusing to pay huge fees and salaries for proven international footballers.

Despite the criticism, there is plentiful evidence of Liverpool trying to sign world-class players over the last seven years.  The most sought after stars are showing no desire to move to Anfield. That, more than any pre-meditated decision not to target such individuals, is the hindrance facing Klopp this summer.

Read more here:

The list of those who Liverpool tried and failed to sign somewhat contradicts the idea the recruiters are overrated, or that FSG will not spend significant amounts on coveted stars.

Diego Costa, Henrik Mkhitaryan, Alexis Sanchez, Willian, Mario Gotze and Leroy Sane are just a few of those Liverpool approached.

Liverpool are adamant the financial package at Anfield was equal to, or in some cases even more than that offered by Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and Manchester City.

We would need more detail about each individual case to verify this. Many understandably suspect the modern player will always go to the club offering most, but if Liverpool's version of events is correct the inconvenient truth is too many of these players do not want to move to Merseyside.

SOCCER Ma (42) (INT_ED4_S01) (Read-Only).jpg
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero Picture: PA

By reputation, Liverpool should be sniffing around every top class player on the market. They should be monitoring Antoine Griezmann. If Manchester City can’t guarantee Sergio Aguero a start every week next season, Liverpool should be thinking he can be the striker they have missed since Suarez left.

Yet to even reference these names in connection to Liverpool seems laughable, devoid of credibility given recent history. Not because FSG would not pay the fee – there is no evidence they’d stand in Klopp’s way if he told them it would transform the side – but because no-one will believe Griezmann and Aguero would move to Anfield ahead of Manchester United or Real Madrid.

Moreover, paying £60 million for one player would obviously impact on Klopp’s resources to strengthen other areas of the team. Liverpool can afford to pay this much for a player, but would it make sense when so much more needs fixing?

This is the dilemma Klopp faces this summer as he seeks those players who will make an immediate difference while also ensuring he corrects what has undermined the last three months of this campaign – lack of strength in depth. Liverpool’s bench on Monday was as frightening as the performance against Leicester.

The number of names linked with the club is expanding by the week. It is an exhaustive list based on several factors including age, fee, salary and – of course – necessity as Liverpool wait to see if they are in the Champions League, Europa League or miss out on Europe entirely.

But also, it is a list that must include a key question, which has become more prevalent in recent times.

“Will this player REALLY want to play for Liverpool?”

Not even Klopp’s charisma and famed powers of persuasion can alter that fact.

Read more here:

Telegraph.co.uk

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