by Ernie Fox
What do we need? Throughout the next few weeks and over the course of the summer, this expression will invariably dominate much of the news relating to Liverpool. From new signings to leadership, we will see a huge number of people not only expressing an opinion of what is best for the club, but what Liverpool FC needs to do. But this is all part of one much bigger question of what do we want? Because unless we can agree on what we want from the club, we can’t possibly agree on what we need to do to achieve that objective.
It seems a relatively simple question at first. Obviously as fans we want Liverpool to win; we want trophies and success, we want our club to lift titles and win every game they play in. Simple enough? But to formulate any business plan you have to provide realistic aims and objectives, it’s no good saying we want to win everything, we need a much more detailed answer of what that really means.
Allow me to start. I want more seasons like last. I want to see a Liverpool side working in harmony, playing fast attacking football, dictating play by retaining possession and playing with intensity. I want to believe that even when we’re a goal behind we have a genuine chance of scoring two back, and hen we’re in the lead I want to feel that there are more goals to come not holding my breath in the hope our flat back ten can hold out for the remainder of the match. I almost don’t care about league titles – if we can have a side I am proud of and that play exciting and compelling football, who am I to complain? The fact is that if we succeed in creating such a way of playing and ingrain it into the system, trophies are almost certain to follow eventually anyway; we might not win every year, but it will be one hell of a ride.
For my vision I can tell you what we need. We need stability, a template that can be passed down to the youth teams enabling those graduating from the academy to step up into the first team squad and integrate effectively. We need leadership, technical quality and pace in the team; and just possibly one or two world class players to give us that edge when we need it.
In my last article I suggested that we also needed Memphis Depay, a player who has now chosen to move to Manchester United much to my dismay. Apparently the Liverpool transfer committee disagreed, and according to his press conference, so did Brendan Rodgers. Really? Rodgers stated that we had sufficient wingers and so weren’t interested in Depay, that is partly true, but wingers who are able to score 21 goals in a season? Rodgers isn’t stupid, he knows only too well that there is far more to a player like Depay than just as a winger, he knows because he often utilises his front men in such a way of switching them between wide and central positions to cause defenders problems. I suspect his response to questioning over Depay was either to save face or towing the party line.
Maybe he is right. There are plenty of more fish in the sea, there are many others who can fill that role, but for me the relevance of Depay was far more than just signing a decent player. He was a proven goal scorer who had all the attributes that our side lacked this season, he would have filled a void that losing Suarez (and Sturridge) had created. We should have done everything to secure his services, but we didn’t. Am I giving ammunition to our rivals? Possibly. But there is no point trying to hide from the truth, to fulfill my vision we need to change our current transfer policy or we will continuously miss out on those exceptional players that take the side forward from being also rans to genuine contenders. My comments on Depay were as much a point of principle, here was another world class player who entertained the possibility of joining us, and we failed to take advantage of the situation, the transfer committee dithered and United picked up the pieces. What message does that send out to the rest of the world? To other possible signings? To our own fans?
If I’m wrong then maybe we need to be asking a few more questions of FSG. The question possibly should be asked what do Fenway Sports Group want? We all know what they said, we know they have ambition and have experienced success in the United States, but what about over here? What would constitute as a success at Liverpool? With another failure to secure the services of a top target most commercial businesses would be releasing some kind of statement explaining the reasons and instigate an internal inquiry into the matter. Despite the list of players choosing to ply their trade elsewhere instead of Anfield, FSG have done no such thing, which suggests that they don’t see our current failings in the transfer market as a failure at all. But if not, why not?
Perhaps the latest Forbes rankings has something to do with it. Last season we didn’t win the league title and yet we were propelled into the top eight most valuable clubs in the world. FSG have a gold mine in their hands and that is despite the sale of their most valuable asset, Luis Suarez. Why replace one player with just one or two others when the funds generated enable you to sign so many more? In business terms there is much higher prospect of making profits if you distribute that money across a number of assets as opposed to putting all your eggs into one basket. And that is precisely what they are doing.
Whilst FSG remain at the club it is highly unlikely that we will see Liverpool make that transition into champions because at the moment a player reaches a certain point when he is his most valuable they are likely to sanction his departure to ensure the greatest profit. As for finding a replacement, they have already demonstrated their philosophy on the matter why spend over the odds on a world class player who is only ever going to depreciate in value? It is about getting the best possible financial deal, motivated by a desire to profit from the club.
Is this a bit short sighted? Surely success on the field will provide even greater financial rewards, but at what price? Why would FSG risk huge amounts on an individual, who as we all know in football, is never guaranteed to succeed? If finishing in the top five or six of the Premier League lifts Liverpool into the world’s financial elite, why aim higher?
I stand by my belief that Brendan Rodgers is the right man for the job, his philosophy of high intensity, attacking football is what I want from the side and when the younger players begin to really develop into that mindset as they come through the system we will see that even more so over the coming years. But at the same time he is just as much of a threat to the club’s long term future as he is a benefit. Left to his own devices with little by way of financial investment, he will ensure we retain a place in the top half of the table utiliising the limited resources he has at his disposal. We will undoubtedly produce fantastic young players through the youth ranks who will then be sold off to the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid for extortionate prices by FSG, lining the pockets of Jon Henry and his consortium rather nicely.
Last summer when we needed to invest some of the Suarez money on a world class forward to spearhead our attack we were given a cut price Mario Balotelli; a man who’s reputation alone helped to refund much of the expense in shirt sales alone, but whose playing style was never going to integrate with Rodgers’ philosophy. You don’t have to look far to see where the inspiration for that signing came from.
The MLS is seeking to create a global product by signing big names in the world of football. Who cares how old they are or whether they still have the talent to ply their trade at the highest level? If they are able to lend their name to the franchise and expand its appeal globally then they are a success. Don’t be surprised to see a cut price Falcao or Cavani stepping onto the Anfield pitch next season.
To say the club has no ambition would be false, they have; however, whereas my ambition like many other fans is to see Liverpool become a leading force in the game on the field, it would appear that FSG’s ambitions are very much off it. The Premier League is becoming so rich, that even Champions League football is not necessary to make a healthy profit from the game. With Liverpool’s rich history and broad fan base there is no necessity to take financial risks because they are guaranteed a huge income as long as they remain competitive, challenging for trophies would simply be a bonus not a mandatory requisite for financial success. Brendan Rodgers at the helm will keep us there or there abouts, certainly high enough for FSG to keep harvesting their crop nicely without having to invest too heavily.
I don’t want the uncertainty of a new manager, or another season of transition where the entire squad is replaced and then the necessary period of uncertainty as the new squad attempts to adapt to the new manager’s philosophy. I want a philosophy that is passed through generations, in which new players are moulded to the Liverpool way and take the club forwards. But sometimes to become the best you need to invest heavily on one or two individuals of world class ability that are able to give you that edge.
It is becoming more and more evident that FSG and I want different things for Liverpool Football Club, possibly in a way that can never be reconciled. If I am wrong I’m happy to retract the above statements, and this summer would be the perfect chance to prove the likes of myself wrong with a couple of substantial signings. But I won’t be holding my breath.
Written by Ernie Fox