The summer so far: Liverpool
by Zarif Rasul
To accurately reflect upon Liverpool’s summer so far, one must look back to the summers of 2009 and 2010, as well as the recent January transfer window. In 2009, the reluctance of the cancerous Hicks and Gillett to release funds meant that Rafa Benitez was unable to sufficiently strengthen his title-challenging squad of the previous season. Benitez’s misguided decision to replace Xabi Alonso with an injured Alberto Aquilani (irrespective of the Italian’s undoubted quality) contributed greatly to Liverpool’s abysmal start to 2009/10, a start from which they never fully recovered.
If 2009 harboured the summer of uncertainty and dissatisfaction, 2010 housed one synonymous with mediocrity and exasperation. The perilous state of the club’s finances meant that administration was a terrifyingly realistic prospect, whilst Roy Hodgson’s ill-advised work in the transfer market evoked memories of Gerard Houllier’s infamous summer of 2002. The ageing, underwhelming quartet of Paul Konchesky, Brad Jones, Milan Jovanovic and Christian Poulsen all arrived at Anfield to varying degrees of muted fanfare, whilst one-time ‘coup’ Joe Cole seemingly embarked on a mission to steal Andriy Voronin’s crown of the “worst Bosman buy the world has ever seen”.
After eighteen months of continual disappointment and underachievement, the events of January 2011 seemed to signal a turning point in the Reds’ fortunes. The decision of the new owners to sack Hodgson and reinstate Kenny Dalglish to the managerial throne he vacated almost 20 years previously proved to be a masterstroke, with the 60-year-old achieving instant success in his bid to restore stability and unity to a fractured club.
The transactions which saw Dalglish effectively trade a forlorn Fernando Torres and small change for Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez have thus far proven to be effective bits of business, with the Spaniard struggling to recapture his form of 2007-2009, and Suarez surprising even the most optimistic of Liverpool fans with his unbelievably seamless transition to life in English football. Although injury problems have plagued Carroll’s first seven months in Merseyside, a return of two goals from five Premier League starts suggests that he will have fewer teething problems than the previous occupant of his number nine shirt.
Despite an outlay of approximately £43m and the arrival of four new players, the excitement of this summer’s transfer window almost pales in comparison to the buzz that surrounded January’s transfer activities. After signing Carroll in January, Kenny Dalglish broke his summer transfer duck (and satiated his seemingly unquenchable thirst for players from the North-East) by deciding to splash out a fee believed to be somewhere in the region of (dependant on varying reports) £16-20,000,000 on Sunderland (and lest we forget, England) midfielder Jordan Henderson. The teetotal 21-year-old was soon followed by Blackpool’s talismanic playmaker Charlie Adam, Aston Villa’s Stewart Downing and Brazilian backup goalkeeper Alexander Doni.
At first glance, the signings of Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing appear to be with Steven Gerrard and Andy Carroll in mind. Adam, crudely identified in some quarters as Xabi Alonso Mk II, is seen as the man needed to feed Steven Gerrard and facilitate the captain’s licence to roam in the final third. Downing, the first out-and-out winger to arrive at Anfield since Albert Riera in 2008, has been bought for his crossing and for his ability to solve Liverpool’s long-standing dearth of width.
Discontent has run rife amongst (an admittedly small) minority of Liverpool fans disillusioned by the club’s failure to pursue a so-called “marquee” signing. Whilst the signings that have been made have failed to set pulses racing in the way that the likes of Torres did in the past, they all go a long way to addressing two of Liverpool’s longest-standing problems– those of lack of squad depth and lack of tactical flexibility. Thanks to Dalglish, the days of Liverpool as a “two-man team” are long gone. Adam, Henderson and Downing are all capable of playing in a variety of midfield roles, and they will provide Dalglish with greater scope to tailor his starting line-up and formation to different opponents.
The extravagant purchases of Dalglish have been heavily scrutinised, and with an estimated outlay of £42-46,000,000 on three midfielders who aren’t regulars for their respective national teams, it appears as though reservations and apprehension are more than justifiable. Liverpool’s transfer policy this summer has been compared to the strategies employed by Dalglish when in charge at Blackburn Rovers and Damien Comolli during his spell as Tottenham Hotspur Director of Football, with both men seeming to favour the acquisitions of young, hungry, Premier League-ready players.
When compared to previous windows, Liverpool’s assertiveness in the transfer market this summer has been a welcome and refreshing development. Deals for Henderson, Adam and Downing were completed early on with the minimum of fuss, thus allowing said new arrivals plenty of time to adapt to life with a new team during the pre-season period. Dalglish’s return seems to have prompted a timely return to the Liverpool tradition of conducting all club business in-house.
The news that Steven Gerrard will miss the first three weeks of the new season is undoubtedly damaging, but the diminution of his vitality to the team and the squad’s bloated midfield ranks have certainly helped to soften the blow. The skipper’s extended period on the sidelines seemed to have little impact on the performances of the side during their final nine games of 2010/11; indeed the awe-inspiring displays exhibited in wins over Manchester City, Birmingham City and Fulham led some observers to suggest that the side are capable of playing with greater fluidity in his absence.
Although work has been done to address the side’s inadequacies, Dalglish still needs to trim the club’s wage-bill. The dregs of the Benitez and Hodgson eras still linger like a bad smell, with Paul Konchesky the only senior player to depart the club so far. Questionable decisions to tout Raul Meireles and Alberto Aquilani around Europe have thankfully attracted minimal interest, whilst buyers have yet to be found for the likes of Joe Cole, Nabil El-Zhar, Philipp Degen, Christian Poulsen and David N’Gog.
The work of Comolli and Dalglish thus far has gone a long way towards illustrating how far things have actually changed at Liverpool. Whilst a return to the top four is still a big ask, their dealings have shown that the Liverpool are no longer shopping in the bargain bin, and that the club still possesses immense pulling power. For the first time in aeons, the man in the Anfield hotseat possesses the complete, unequivocal backing of the club’s board and fans. With everyone finally pulling in the right direction, there are certainly reasons to be quietly optimistic as Liverpool prepare to enter 2011/12.
Zarif is a freelance journalist who is about to complete his MA in Print Journalism at the University of Sheffield.
Posted on 01/08/2011, in 6. Summer So Far and tagged Albert Riera, Alberto Aquilani, Alexander Doni, Andriy Voronin, andy carroll, Anfield, Benitez, Bosman, Brad Jones, charlie adam, Christian Pulsen, Damien Comolli, David N'Gog, fernando torres, football, Gerard Houllier, Joe Cole, Jordan Henderson, Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool, Luis Suarez, Milan Jovanovic, Paul Konchesky, premier league, Raul Meireles, Roy Hodgson, Steven Gerrard, Stewart Downing, Xabi Alonso. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.