Brendan Rodgers has come in for some fully-justifiable criticism over the last six months or so. With the best will in the world, this season has been extremely disappointing, both on and off the pitch – the new signings have flopped, the goals have stopped flowing, the results have been poor and Steven Gerrard missed out on the send-off he deserved.
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However, you don’t become a bad manager overnight. There have been plenty of positives for Rodgers over the last three years and we would be amiss to credit our second place finish in 2014 entirely to the brilliance of Luis Suarez.
There have been a lot of unfortunate moments this year that Rodgers could not possibly have foreseen – Daniel Sturridge’s injury problems, Raheem Sterling’s contract saga, Steven Gerrard’s moment of madness against Manchester United – and ultimately, despite it all, we finished the year within touching distance of the top four and with two domestic cup semi-finals to our name.
Rodgers’ position is far from safe – the 6-1 humiliation against Stoke City on the final day of the season was enough to turn even some of the most ardent Liverpool fans against our under-pressure boss – but he deserves the summer transfer window to try and put things right.
And, if the current rumours are to be believed, some lessons have been learned from last summer.
Let’s look at the players we signed last summer: Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Dejan Lovren, Divock Origi, Alberto Moreno, Mario Balotelli, Javi Manquillo. The success of these players, or lack there of, has been blown somewhat out of proportion.
Yes, we spent £117m, but we also made back almost £90m of that in player sales. We made Luis Suarez one of the most expensive footballers on the planet and picked up some useful bonuses by getting rid of Oussama Assaidi, Pepe Reina and Daniel Agger.
Of those nine players, five were bought with the future firmly in mind. Can has surpassed expectations, while Moreno and Manquillo have probably been about as good as we could have expected. Markovic has taken a bit more time to adapt but there were flashes of quality, and Origi has been out on loan. None of these players are older than 22 and we need to be more realistic in our expectations.
Lallana and Lovren endured difficult starts, and for the money we paid that was a disappointment. However, those that watch the Reds on a regular basis will have started to notice their improvements towards the end of the campaign. In the last 15 games that Lovren played, we conceded just ten goals. And Lallana, who was cruelly held back by fitness issues in the first-half of our campaign, has arguably been our best player this month.
Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli were brought in to compliment Sturridge, rather than replace him, and the fact that they’ve rarely had the chance to play alongside our main man has stopped us from seeing them at their best. Lambert, who was brought in on the cheap, has done a decent enough job with the limited amount of time he’s had on the pitch, and while Balotelli has been poor, he’s started just ten league games. Can we really judge someone so quickly?
Last summer was frustrating. We could have had Alexis Sanchez (via the Daily Star) – and I think if we had we’d be in a very different position right now. The players we brought in weren’t bad but they weren’t the answer to losing Suarez and Sturridge. This year, with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson on the way out, there are two things that we’re craving – experience and quality.
How many of you would be happy with this set of signings? – Christian Benteke, Danny Ings, James Milner, Mateo Kovacic, Nathaniel Clyne and a goalkeeper, to challenge Simon Mignolet for the number one spot.
Baring in mind the fact that we have to be realistic with our transfer targets, we’d be pretty happy with this – Ings and Milner are out of contract this summer and available on frees, although we will have to pay a small compensation fee for the former (via the Daily Mirror).
Clyne only has one year remaining on his deal and appears to be available for around £15m (via the Liverpool Echo), while Inter Milan are willing to let Kovacic leave for a similar fee in order to pursue Manchester City’s Yaya Toure (via Caliciomercato).
Benteke looks set to cost us more in the region of £30m – according to reports on Sky Sports – but that could be a fee worth paying for a player who has netted 49 goals in 99 games for a Villa side who have been battling relegation and struggling to score regularly during his time at the club. For those who question his ability to ‘fit into our system’, let’s not forget that this guy is the first choice striker for Belgium – a passing team, with the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne in their ranks. He is their focal point and he could be ours as well.
What’s particularly encouraging is that – if these reports are to be believed – steady progress has been made already with each of these deals. We don’t want to be in the same position we were in last summer, scrambling around looking for a last-minute replacement for Suarez and being rushed into panic buys. These targets have clearly been picked out a long time ago and if we can get these deals done early then we have the opportunity to get the squad together well ahead of the start of next season and start building towards our endgame.
If we can combine the experience and quality of these players with the promise and potential of those we signed last summer, then we might just be looking at a brighter future than the one we might have been imagining at the Britannia last weekend.