Liverpool’s Striker Conundrum is a Matter of Sporting Ethics

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 by @mkjchrystal

The media has hounded Liverpool, and Brendan Rodgers in particular, ever since the sale of Luis Suarez was confirmed. Media speculation has now reached feverish proportions whose temperature is fueled by the assumption that Liverpool must buy a like-for-like replacement before the end of August. All of which is despite the following statement made by Rodgers in late July:

“Maybe for the media there is guessing how we spend the money but you only spend the money if the players are there. What we can’t do is spend for the sake of it.”

So, while there may be considerable pressure and fervor for Liverpool to sign a big name replacement in the next few weeks, a replacement signing should not be taken as a forgone conclusion. Liverpool’s title rivals would surely delight in any failure in this regard, but Liverpool don’t have the resources of some and cannot afford to misspend the Suarez funds in pursuit of a quick solution. One only needs to possess a cursory understanding of the whole Torres-Carroll affair to know the truth of this. In fact, Liverpool’s learning from a hard school has come not only through this poorly considered decision, but also through two decades of similar decision-making errors. It now appears that they are pursuing a more considered and long-term approach to their thinking. Where a player’s mentality, beyond his playing proficiency, has become a key component of any recruiting decisions. During the tour of the USA, Rodgers supported this point by saying:

“The character is important. It is not just about the player, but the right type of person. I want players that are committed to the cause to make Liverpool the best we can be. I want players resting when they should be resting, training hard and working hard and focusing on their life as footballers. We have brought in those types. It is footballing qualities and human qualities we want.”

It is curious therefore that players such as Balotelli, and even Cavani and Falcao, are being mentioned, in connection with Liverpool, so often in the media. It is indeed possible that Liverpool might defer a long-term investment decision, if a suitable candidate is not immediately available, through a one-year loan acquisition for one of these types of high-profile players. But, their ‘human qualities’, and frankly avaricious tendencies, seem incongruous with the profile of player’s Rodgers and the Fenway Sports Group is clearly seeking as the basis of a longer-term investment in the team. If in fact such a discerning recruitment method is the root behind the lack of progress to date, it comes in stark contrast to the pursuits of many of Liverpool’s main rivals. Yet, this does not mean that those alternate pursuits are preferable the long- or short-term.

Consider Real Madrid’s seemingly unquenchable appetite for paying over the odds for any player whose name becomes big enough to warrant high-levels of media attention. Or the use of oil and gas money to finance wanton spending sprees by mid-table teams suddenly possessed by the need for global, let alone national, domination. While such practices have spawned additional ethical scrutiny, FIFA and the FA have been slow and inefficient in their response. The fact is that the cat is out of the bag on such dubious investment practices. The response from many individuals in those governing bodies has been to lap up some of the extra milk and cheese coming into the sport and become fat cat’s themselves rather than truly addressing concerns of financial fair play.

While such unrestrained investment is not an option for Liverpool, this may not be such a bad thing. It seems that world football is at a moral and ethical precipice where its competitive essence is being undermined by the widening gap between the David’s and Goliath’s. Any further widening is sure to be insurmountable for some fans that may see little point in supporting their local team of David’s, ultimately causing them to lose interest in the sport all together. Such a potential outcome is eventually going to result in FIFA and the FA emerging from their slumber to impose draconian financial controls, similar to those imposed in the NFL, as a means of over-correcting for their lack of pro-action. What is also likely is that more hardy fans of the sport, especially those without birthplace and family affiliations, will increasingly choose to support team’s who pursue success through their efforts on the pitch and not through the efforts of their financiers. It is, after all, human nature to root against those with indomitable power.

While the fervor continues about how much money Liverpool is going to spend, and which big-name replacement they may or may not be pursuing, it is important to remember the broader context and spirit behind the sport. It is not the pursuit of victory at all costs. It is victory within the confines of fair competition and by those who display the most sporting prowess that ultimately underpins its renown as ‘the beautiful game’. This was also the Shankly way, the Paisley way; through these great leaders it became synonymous with the Liverpool way. So, if Liverpool opts for a more financially controlled and considered path as a means of competing with those that would choose otherwise, it should not be met with derision. Suggesting it should be met with applause could be stretching the matter. Yet, this path is preferable for the ethical integrity of what it means to support Liverpool, and the sport of football for that matter. Any fruits harvested by such efforts would surely be twice as sweet as well, and once reaped would move the victors into a pantheon of higher standing and respect than any oil and gas conglomerate could buy.