Signing ‘The Right Player’

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By @_James_Nelson_

It’s fair to say that Liverpool haven’t done the business in the transfer market that a lot of people were hoping for and expecting. Missing out on Mohamed Salah to Chelsea only emphasised this, but even if we had concluded a deal for the Egyptian, there would still be gaping holes in our squad that should have been addressed this window.

We have put ourselves in a fantastic position to achieve a top four finish, but Brendan Rodgers himself admits that the squad is far too thin, and recent injuries have hit us hard.

January can be a tricky time to do business, but our acquisitions this time last year proved that there can be bargains to be found. The manager claims that our position is to simply wait and see if the right player becomes available. If this is our stance on things, it raises questions about how serious we are about strengthening our squad and filling these gaps. We aren’t yet in a situation of enough luxury to merely wait and see how the market pans out, and dip into it if we see fit. We needed to be proactive and make things happen. Signings were seemingly essential, but with time running out, they are looking less and less likely.

The deal that never materialised with Salah was a strange one as, by all accounts, he wanted to come here, we wanted to sign him, and clearly Basel were willing to sell him at what they valued him at. But there is a big difference between signing ‘the right player,’ and signing ‘the right player for the right price.’ Our stubbornness over the transfer fee for Salah implies that for a certain amount of money, we felt he was the right player for us. But for a slightly higher price, he wasn’t.

If the reason for this was that we had other targets we could get for a lower price, or that spending too much on Salah would take away from the budget that would go towards other players, then maybe we could accept that. But with no signings imminent, it was just a case of us not wanting to pay the required fee for the player we had identified as a transfer target.

If we are basing our transfer targets around how much they cost and looking only for the right player at the right price, as opposed to just the right player, we aren’t going to make the necessary improvements as a team. What we need to do is find players we are certain will significantly add to our squad, then do everything we can to acquire them. This isn’t saying we shouldn’t negotiate over fees, or that we should allow ourselves to be held to ransom over transfers, but that we should find players who are worth paying that bit extra for if push comes to shove. We spent over two months trying to tie up a deal for Salah, but in the end we didn’t rate him enough to pay the fee that one of our rival teams did. We all know that we don’t have a bottomless pit of money, but if we felt that this was the player to take us to the next level and give us a better chance of finishing in the top four, then surely the extra cost would have been nullified by the income from qualifying for the Champions League. A gamble, maybe. But it’s also a gamble to not take advantage of the transfer market at all while the teams around us are doing so.

Look at the signing of Iago Aspas in the summer. He was blatantly a player who we signed to fill a gap, but only went with him because he was available at a price we thought was fair. If his price tag had been a million or two higher, perhaps we would have a different number nine right now. It doesn’t scream to me that Brendan Rodgers identified him as a player to significantly improve us and who we must sign at any cost. He was more of an impulse buy, who we brought in just because he became available.

Since his arrival he has only scored one goal and struggled to establish himself in the side. So that’s seven million pounds spent on a player who has offered very little, because we thought he would be an astute acquisition to fill a gap in the squad with a small distribution of our budget. But if the quality isn’t there in the player, then they aren’t serving us any purpose. And if we do this with multiple players, the fees we looked at as relatively small begin to tot up, and you’re looking at a big sum of money that could have been spent on a player who would drastically improve our starting 11.

Of course, we have seen the other side of this coin in the not too distant past; where we identified the likes of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam as the players who we thought would take us to the next level, and spent large sums of money on them to ensure they became Liverpool players. They all flopped and were sold at a significant loss, having contributed very little to our team.

We are now further forward as a team and as a club, and I trust that we have the staff in place to target more suitable players. The consensus even at that time was that we had overspent on players that weren’t good enough for us. Our recent transfer targets have been of a much higher standard, and have been players who few people would have any qualms about spending a lot of money to acquire.

Having said all of this, I wasn’t actually too downhearted at Salah’s move to Chelsea. We have to prioritise other positions anyway, and there are other wingers we could look at who are at least as good as he is. Nor do I think he will improve on what Chelsea already have, and will likely just be taking Juan Mata’s place on their bench. Ideally we would move on to target a central midfielder if indeed we are to do any business in the next few days, and I would rather the bulk of our budget be spent there where we do need considerable improvement.

We can be certain though, that if we make no signings this transfer window and then fail to finish in the top four, some serious questions will be asked. We have fought so hard for the first half of this season to be where we are, but we need to keep progressing, and have to anticipate that the worst could happen and we pick up more injuries, hit a dip in form, or see a rival kick on and overtake us. This window is the chance we get to regroup and ensure we are thoroughly prepared for every possibility, and I’d hate for us to see it pass us by.