By Freddie Best
As the transfer window comes to a close, all LFC fans are doubtless reflecting on the business we’ve done; from the new recruits, to the acrimonious exit of a certain individual who is not a ‘money grabbing twenty year old’. Many saw Sterling’s departure, just a season after Suarez’s Anfield exit, as the damning proof that Liverpool FC are now a selling club. I disagree.
Cynical LFC fans will be queueing up to tell me how wrong I am, but though my opinion’s unpopular, I don’t think it’s too late for LFC. For the pessimist, the list seems endless. Suarez and Mascherano to Barcelona, Alonso and Arbeloa to Real, Torres to Chelsea and the apparent final nail in the coffin: Raheem Sterling to Manchester City.
Admittedly, this list makes pretty grim reading at first glance. But on closer inspection, there is hope for the LFC fans who yearn for a return to the European elite. Let’s look at Alonso and Arbeloa for example, who traded Anfield for the Bernabeu. Losing two of our brightest stars to Real Madrid stings, but it doesn’t mean we’re a selling club. Cristiano Ronaldo, despite having won the Premier League, the Champions League and the Ballon D’Or at Old Trafford, jetted off to the Bernabeu. No-one could say he was not getting silverware at Manchester, nobody could doubt that he was not playing at the highest possible level in European competition. He’d been recognised as the best in the world at Manchester, but yet he still chose to swap Carrington for Castile. Anybody who called Manchester United a selling club at that time would have been denounced as crazy.
So why do players in England choose to join Real and Barca? The answer is simple. Though it may be the better all-round league, the Premier League front-runners simply don’t boast the same glamour and glitz of their Spanish counterparts. Barcelona boast an incredible pedigree, with two treble winning campaigns in recent history. There is an almost mythical aura around the Camp Nou and the team’s ‘more than a club’ reputation is enough to tempt even the most loyal budding superstar. As for Madrid, no-one can boast more ostentation and riches than Los Galacticos. In this respect, England’s elite lag behind; nouveau-riche Chelsea and Manchester City don’t have the reputation and fanbase (that’s what happens when you buy success), Arsenal simply do not win trophies frequently enough and Manchester United, and yes, Liverpool too have endured several below par seasons of late, causing damage to their European reputation.
Nobody resented Luis Suarez for his transfer for Barca. We understood that his fateful altercation with Italy’s Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup would have made his relationship with the British media unbearable. Furthermore, as he documented in his autobiography, Suarez had always dreamed of playing there; even carrying a Barca backpack as a child. The fee we got for him was a good one too, though it was largely wasted by the transfer committee.
The same can be said for Torres and Sterling, although we parted with them far less fondly. We got £50 million for Torres, and he soon plummeted from one of Europe’s best to a much derided and mocked Chelsea outcast. Retrospectively, the deal was good business, if a little fortunate. But again, the money was wasted on Andy Carroll, who was never a good fit for LFC.
Yes, the Sterling transfer stung, we lost an extremely exciting young player to a direct rival, but even by today’s standards of ridiculous transfer fees, we did well to get so much money for someone who had a so-so 2014-15 season. Furthermore, I have no doubts that young Jordon Ibe, who seems to have his feet firmly on the ground, will make us forget Sterling with his performances, if given the chance to shine.
At the beginning of the Raheem Sterling saga, I was at Cobham and sat in a press conference wherein Jose Mourinho explained what he would do with a player who wanted to leave. Using Eden Hazard as an example, Mourinho explained that every player had a price; if put in that position, he would sell, in exchange for a substantial cash offer, plus two of the buyer’s best players. Having heard that Mourinho would sell Hazard if he wanted to go, would anybody call Chelsea a selling club?
The money from the Sterling deal has been primarily re-invested in Christian Benteke, someone who has split opinion amongst Reds everywhere. I’m reserving judgement on the Belgian until he plays a few games, but even excluding the Belgian it seems that the problem at Liverpool isn’t the players who move on, but the players we bring in to replace them.
I won’t go into our woeful transfer dealings recently, I’ll merely mention the names Carroll, Downing, Borini, Balotelli and Lovren to illustrate my point. It’s not the selling that is the problem. Liverpool are in danger of succumbing to a ‘small-club mentality’; we believe that because we cannot currently offer Champions League football, we are unable to attract the best. Manchester United have lured the likes of Depay and di Maria to Old Trafford in similar circumstances, because they remain confident and are prepared to dig deep. That’s what FSG need to do now.
We are not a selling club yet, but if we lose anymore stars and fail to adequately replace them, we will be. Firmino and Clyne both snubbed Manchester to come to Melwood, this proves we can still attract players that also interest our rivals. But this won’t last much longer unless we hold onto our star players and get some kind of continuity and rapport in a squad that is constantly swamped by often below par new signings. I like to think though, we have learned from the mistakes of previous transfer windows, our dealings this time around have been far more smart and savvy than in previous years.
Coming into the new season then, I feel like there is every reason to be optimistic. The murmurs of ‘selling club’ don’t faze me, and I feel like a top four finish would be just the thing to silence all of the doubters. LFC is still attracting quality; we are a top club, and with a bit of luck, we’ll be back amongst Europe’s best in no time.