Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Nobody could possibly have predicted Fabinho would drop off to the extent he has. Few would have foreseen November arriving without a single Trent Alexander-Arnold assist. Even our rivals accepted Virgil van Dijk was as close to a flawless centre-back as has ever been…
So the decision, at the time, to award these players, as well as the likes of Alisson, Andy Robertson and Jordan Henderson bumper new contracts, was never considered controversial, or even a risk.
In fact, the club would have been castigated by fans and the media if they let these contracts run down and if any of the above names left in their so-called peak.
So Liverpool signed them all onto big deals that will run well into their thirties.
Based on this season’s performances, it might have been a mistake to renew their deals unilaterally instead of picking and choosing…
We can all agree that getting Mo Salah to put pen to paper was smart. But what will a 33-year-old Fabinho look like if the current 29-year-old version looks like he’s running in cement? Will a 32-year-old Andy Robertson will be able to sprint up and down the left flank three times per week? What will Jordan Henderson really be offering us at 35, given his current limitations…?
Have Liverpool put their eggs into the baskets of the brilliant players who did so well, simply assuming they could carry on… forever?
Liverpool might have lost to the team placed 20th in the Premier League on consecutive weekends, but the players haven’t become bad overnight. They’re simply physically and mentally fried. These same lads were two games away from a quadruple last season, remember. They’ve given everything for Liverpool, but they need some help. When you combine these factors with injuries, poor finishing, woeful defending and a newfound belief from every side Liverpool come up against that we can be got at, you get what’s happened this season.
It’s no coincidence that the players in Liverpool’s squad who look (when fit) capable of injecting dynamism and excitement into proceedings are the ones who haven’t been toiling for us for five years – as they’re recent signings…
Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz, Ibou Konate. These three are aged between 23 and 25. They have legs left for running. In Klopp’s pressing system, a player’s peak is likely a little earlier than the imagined 27/28, but if you go through the squad, we have hardly any players in the 23-26 bracket.
Konate, Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Diaz, Jota, Darwin Nunez and Kostas Tsimikas. That’s just seven players out of a 27-man squad in the right age-bracket. There are nine players over 30, though.
The succession planning has been poor. After we won the Champions League in 2019, we signed Sepp van den Berg, Harvey Elliott and Adrian. In 2020, we did a little better, with Thiago, Tsimikas and Jota. In 2021, two more in Diaz and Konate, over two windows.
Time will tell if Nunez and Fabio Carvalho will come good based on 2022’s additions.
The players we’ve signed have been good, but there hasn’t been very many of them given we’ve also been losing squad players in each of these windows, and notably only one midfielder in Thiago. (The injured, on-loan, panic-deal Arthur Melo doesn’t count.)
Now Liverpool’s issue is that our previously sellable assets are much less highly-valued because of their age and poor form. FSG are tight with the transfer purse-strings, meaning the kind of rebuild required, with a new centre-back, fullbacks and at least three central midfielders, might be unaffordable, especially given what we’re already spending on contracts.
Ideally we’ll find some bargain deals, but good value now is still £30m-plus, like we spent on Konate for example. There’s no way we’re spending £8m like we did on Andy Robertson and realising six months later we have one of the best in the world for his position.
If it were up to me, I’d cash in on Fabinho and Gomez. I’m not sure they’re up to scratch anymore, despite being brilliant at times previously, and would still command decent fees. We need to back Alisson (always brilliant anyway), van Dijk and Trent to be with us for years to come – as their pedigree is incredible. Thiago is a luxury in midfield and no plans should be made around him given his availability.
We can always hope FSG will embark on an enormous spending spree and arm Klopp with the weapons he needs, but transfers fees have rocketed due to the influence of petro-states buying in the same market. We might be in a bit of trouble.