Liverpool's Summer Transfer Activity Explained

Posted by Paul Tomkins on July 12, 2005, 10:08:01 AM

I've noticed a pattern: every summer, the same discussions arise. Two opposing arguments will be proffered on every possible signing: He's too this, or He's not enough that.

"Yeah, but..."

"Shut it, dickhead. He's crap. End of."

Ultimately, it's the individual player in question who matters. We all look to what has gone before (at times I'm as guilty as anyone), but there is never a perfect precedent. Just because Player X didn't adapt to the Premiership, it doesn't mean Player Y won't either.

He might not, of course. But he is his own man, in a different period of time, and in a different set of circumstances. He is not a clone. You cannot replicate the situation as it was in the past, or even come close.

Signing a Scottish international from Celtic does not mean you get the next Kenny Dalglish. Signing an old baldy fella from Coventry does not get you another Gary McAllister.

It doesn't stop the repetition of stock arguments.


"He's Just A One Season Wonder"

Any player who has done well the previous season, but not beforehand, gets labelled the One Season Wonder. Almost always a striker, he will be compared to Marcus Stewart, Kevin Phillips (somewhat bizarrely, as he was rather better than that), Michael Ricketts (how did he looks so good for a while, and end up so bad?) and Andy 'How Many Penalties?' Johnson.

Of course, sometimes you cannot afford to wait for a player to be a 14-season wonder –– making your move at the precise moment he announces his retirement.

Then there's the issue of improvement: as a player's game clicks into place, for one reason or another. Is Peter Crouch improving dramatically, or did he merely have a good six months? (In a crap side, at that.) Bad and lucky players do not score 16 goals in 24 Premiership games in a poor team. Even the best players in the world, in the form of their lives, wouldn't do much better than two goals every three league games.

Would Crouch do better with players like Gerrard, Alonso, Luis Garcia, Kewell,  Gonzales, Zenden and Figo (hopefully) supplying the service? You can but assume it would surpass a pass from Rory Delap.

And how can you judge a player who had to play for Graham Taylor at Aston Villa, with one who would play for Rafa Benítez at Liverpool? Same freakishly tall human being with comedy teeth, but one whose ability to succeed depends on working with a manager who can bring the best out of him. It is like giving lumps of clay to Michelangelo and a monkey to see which one can manufacture something aesthetically pleasing.

(Admittedly, Michelangelo has been dead for 441 years, and as such, the metaphor is slightly ill conceived; unless, of course, to even it out, the monkey has also been dead for 441 years –– in which case, the whole thing is just rather macabre: a dead artist, a dead monkey and two untouched pieces of clay...)

The opposite: "He's Crap Now, He's Lost It"; to be used for any player who hasn't scored a goal for three weeks.


"He's Too Old/Past His Best"

A perennial, this 'old' chestnut. The current debate surrounds Luis Figo. Class is permanent, after all –– although even the best players head over the hill at some point, and descend rapidly down the other side.

Figo remains a quality act, and is still fit, professional and dedicated. It's a bit like moaning that your old Ferrari "only does 220mph these days...". Ultimately it remains better than even the top-range Skoda.

Then again, if the Ferrari won't even start, as the engine spontaneously combusted (although isn't that what the internal combustion engine is supposed to do?), then even the most basic, fully-functioning Skoda would be a better choice to get from A to B.

Of course, there's always Mauricio Pellegrino: he didn't do so good, did he? Big reputation, but on the slide. Bit like Laurent Blanc at Manchester United.

Sure, but don't forget Gary McAllister. 

Ah, but Pellegrino...

And repeat.

Good examples, and bad examples. I say potato, you say pottahtoe. I say McAllister, you say Pellegrino. Both are right; and neither are right.

Bergkamp and Zola remain prime examples of players still cutting it in their mid-to-late 30s. There are other players who looked past it at 29.

One last payday, or a legend with a point to prove? It's all about the individual.


"He's Too Expensive"

People like to assign players a set value, from which they are not allowed to deviate. Peter Crouch is apparently worth only £2.91758m in the eyes of most Liverpool fans, but worth over twice that to the Liverpool manager. Why?

The way I see it, Rafa has a set budget, which we are not aware of, and a hit-list of players on whom to spend that money. If he gets all the players he wants within the overall budget: bingo. That's all he cares about.

Is Peter Crouch worth £7m? If he is to Rafa, then he is to me. (Unless I'm being asked to foot the full bill; in which case he's a lanky streak of piss, and I can spare a fiver at most.)

Seriously though, if Rafa can spend a total of £7m on Figo, Zenden and Crouch, at an average of less than £3m each, then it doesn't matter which one cost £7m and which two were free? Three internationals, two of whom have achieved many, many things in the game, and another who appears to be coming good at a relatively young age.

Of course, the higher the price tag, the more pressure on the individual to justify it. But again, that's down to the individual, and you don't know if a player can handle that until he has the chance to. If he failed after previous big(ish) money moves, then that could be for a myriad reason.

Also see: "He's Too Cheap". As in "He only cost £3m or less, he can't be any good." (Josemi, Nunez ... Um, Hyypia, Henchoz, Riise, Baros, McAllister, Babbel.)


"Only A Reserve At Another Club"

One man's meat is another man's poison. Or in other words, what works for some may not work for others. Is Michael Owen any worse now than 12 months ago, despite being third choice at Real Madrid? Can you compare the standard of player between a reserve at Barcelona and a first team player at Birmingham?

This particular argument surfaced twice in the summer of 2004: it was used to denigrate Antonio Nunez, and yet Luis Garcia –– Liverpool's star in the knock-out phases of the Champions League, and joint top-scorer overall –– was only a reserve at Barcelona, even before Deco and Guily arrived. Luis Garcia may be a far better player than Nunez; but neither were in their respective teams' first XIs. Again, it depends on the individual, not their situation. Fernando Morientes was another who lost his first-team place at Real Madrid, but remains a class act.

The same can be said of one outgoing transfer: Alou Diarra. Good enough to play for France (although not a first choice, of course), but at Liverpool he was behind Gerrard, Alonso and Hamann. No wonder he opted to play first team football in France with the World Cup looming. Had Gerrard and Hamann left Liverpool this summer, along with Biscan, Diarra might have become a key player. Some teams are strong in one area, and at Liverpool it has been with central midfielders. You can't ask ambitious players to hang around as fourth or fifth choices for long.

A reserve at a big club can be a great player in need of an opportunity.


"Never Played For A Big Club"

Actually, this is one of my own favourites. While not essential, it's always helpful if a player has experienced the unique pressures of life at a big club: the bigger, more demanding crowds who expect success; the existence of a whole host of legends from the past to live up to; the regular appearances in European football; the extra press attention; and, of course, the likelihood of squad rotation, which brings its own challenge to confidence.

But even great players often have to make the step up at some stage. Juventus signed Zidane from Bordeaux, and the bonus was that he was a bargain. Real Madrid then bought Zidane after his first experience of a big club, and it cost them £46m. Juventus got the Frenchman's best years, and outstanding value for money.


"We Must Sign World-Class Players"

Always a good one, and certain to lead to a three-day debate as to what defines 'world-class'. World-class players, if (loosely) defined as the very best 50 players in the world (and not just those who grace the world stage now and then), tend to cost £20m upwards. Not to mention £20m+ in wages over a four-year contract.

Someone –– usually aged 15 –– will get overexcited and go too far as, high from the fumes of unchanged underpants, he suggests the manager should sign Robinho, Robben, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronald McDonald. The words 'Championship Manager' will appear in reply soon after.     

Any team needs the best players it can get its hands on: providing they fit into the scheme of things. Real Madrid remain the perfect example of how buying the best players without any great masterplan can result in declining standards. World-class players demand world-class wages. If their egos are oversized, and they drag their weight rather than pull it, they can destabilise a club.


"No Premiership Experience/Might Not Settle"

Always a good one to pull from the bag to write off any potential signing who happens to be from another country. Every signing is a gamble: the same is as true of those from England as those from overseas. Clearly overseas players will need the possible period of adaptation, but it's not like anyone's asking them to switch from football to blindfolded tobogganing.

Apparently suited to the English game: Salif Diao. Patently unsuited to the English game: Luis Garcia.

While they are clearly different types of players, sometimes good players are all you need; the rest will take care of itself in due course. Better to get someone like Robert Pires working with the dedication of a Salif Diao, as you'll never get a Salif Diao playing with the skill of a Pires.


"He Wouldn't Get Into the Chelsea or Arsenal Side"

Always a bit misleading, this one. After all, Frank Lampard was Footballer of the Year, and yet many Reds would opt for Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso every time. Chelsea fans might argue that, given their parsimonious defence, which broke Liverpool's 1979 record for fewest goals conceded (in less games, mind), Jamie Carragher wouldn't get into their team.

Chelsea are perfectly happy with Lampard, and Liverpool are delighted with Carragher. Neither club needs to buy their rival's best player from 2004/05: although you'd always try to find a place for them, somewhere, if given the option.

Ultimately this is about what Liverpool need; not what Chelsea or Arsenal do not need.


Conclusion

So basically, the ideal signing would be a player aged around 24/25, with Premiership experience, who was born overseas in a sunny clime (they are always more skilful, aren't they?) but who grew up in the English game, and who has played in the latter stages of the Champions League at a club with a large home crowd and a tradition of success, as well as experiencing international football.

I fed all the information into my high-powered computer (ZX Spectrum 48k) and waited for 16 hours (in between a quick game of "Horace Goes Skiing") for the results to print out, dot-matrix format, on thermal paper that looks more like loo roll.

According to those criteria, the best signing the club has made in the last 20 years is...







... Harry Kewell.

©Paul Tomkins, 2005

Details of how to get my book on Liverpool Football Club, "Golden Past, Red Future", for £2-£4 discount can be found at www.paultomkins.com, along with a list of shops and online stores now stocking the book.

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