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Liverpool- Transfer Window of Lost Opportunity?

Having done so well to remain in contention for that elusive Champions League spot as on January 1st, as a Liverpool fan, you’d expect the club to bring in reinforcements to add some much-needed quality and depth to a squad that has been described by manager Brendan Rodgers to be ‘as thin as paper’. That, and the fact that it’s the first time in about half a decade that they genuinely stand a chance of achieving Champions League status. Twenty days into the transfer window, however, Liverpool hadn’t signed anyone and didn’t seem to have the urgency to do so either. The fans were still hopeful of a signing or two.

With seven days remaining, Liverpool stepped on the gas in their pursuit of FC Basel winger Mohammad Salah. They had been linked to him for over a month prior to that and at that point, it seemed as though a move to Anfield was imminent. However, the deal fell through in a matter of less than 24 hours. As Mata’s move to Manchester United was almost complete, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho quickly swooped in for the Egyptian as a replacement for the outgoing Spaniard, completing his signing in under 48 hours. It was later revealed by Salah’s agent that Liverpool had in fact been negotiating with his client for about two and a half months, which he quoted as being ‘too long.’

With only four days to go to, Liverpool were linked with another player. This time, it was Ukrainian winger Yevhen Konoplyanka. A lot of reliable journalists suggested that Liverpool Managing Director Ian Ayre was already on his way to Ukraine to finalize a deal with the 24 year old’s employers. As expected, it went right down to the wire. With over 10 hours of the window left, talks between the two clubs appeared to be positive. It was a few hours later that journalists began reporting that the deal may not happen – and surely enough, it didn’t. The reasons for this are still unclear, with both clubs releasing their own versions of the story. Anyway, the bottom line for Liverpool Football Club and its fans is that this transfer window was an utter disaster.  

Here are some of the most apparent reasons that are likely to have caused the debacle, and what the remainder of the season has in store for them.  

 

Lack of Urgency

 For a team looking most likely to win the race to 4th spot after the halfway stage, ahead of the likes of Tottenham, Manchester United and Everton, you’d think they’d show some more urgency and intent in the transfer window. The ‘time’ factor is an important one. It’s difficult as it is to strengthen your squad in the winter, with most clubs reluctant to sell their prized assets – but to let it go right down to the wire in one of the most crucial windows in the club’s recent history? That’s just asinine. Both Salah’s agent (Sascha Empacher) as well as Dnipro’s executive director (Andriy Rusol) highlighted this defect in Liverpool’s functioning during the transfer window, criticizing the club for not being decisive enough in negotiations – thereby, causing significant delay in concluding deals.  

 

Limited Options

 As if this wasn’t bad enough, Liverpool targeted very few players. In fact, Liverpool’s prime (and probably only) target of the window was Mohammad Salah; and once Chelsea agreed a fee for his transfer, the Reds were apparently forced to bring forward their interest in Konoplyanka by 6 months. Thus, effectively, they only had one player on their radar. That is by no means an efficient transfer strategy for a club like Liverpool. The importance of having multiple targets right from the outset, cannot be overstated. Especially when you consider how rigid the club’s structure is (discussed in length below), the possibility of losing out on whatever limited targets they have cannot be ignored.  

 

Misplaced priorities

 It must also be noted that the players Liverpool tried to sign were not really necessities. In Salah and (on failure to sign him) Konoplyanka (both wingers), Rodgers was looking to reinforce the front line when in fact, that area didn’t need strengthening. It can be argued that had they successfully signed either of Salah or Konoplyanka, it would’ve taken a load of pressure off the shoulders of two of their youngsters, Coutinho and Sterling. Surely that’s not sufficient grounds to pursue wingers when the lack of quality and depth in their central midfield and wing back positions is so glaring.

In central midfield, Liverpool have only four players out of which one (Lucas) remains injured. Considering Liverpool have played their best football this season with a three-man central midfield and the fact that they can’t seem to exercise any kind of dominance on the pitch, it’s astonishing that Brendan Rodgers should choose to overlook this concern.

As far as the full-back positions are concerned, both their first choice players (Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique) are out for an ‘indefinite’ period. This leaves Aly Cissokho, signed on loan from Valencia, who’s yet to settle in; Martin Kelly, who’s just returned from injury and is struggling to shake off his rustiness; and Jon Flanagan, one of Liverpool’s revelations this season – however although he’s done well, placing so much responsibility on him could easily backfire.

Taking into account how weak these two areas are for Liverpool, it must be noted that the attacking side of the team is in a much better state. In Sturridge, Suarez, Coutinho and Sterling, they have one of the best attacks in the top flight this season. They also have decent players backing up, such as Luis Alberto, Victor Moses, Iago Aspas and Jordon Ibe. Opting to ‘strengthen’ this area over the others is baffling to say the least.  

 

Change in Personnel?

 The man in charge of negotiating transfers with other clubs is Managing Director, Ian Ayre. Formerly the club’s Commercial Director, Ayre was appointed as Managing Director by the current owners to fill the vacancy left behind by Christian Purslow, who stepped down from his position when FSG completed their multi-million dollar takeover of the club. While he was Commercial Director, Ayre was responsible for securing multiple commercial deals for the club, the most notable being the shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered, which was considered to be one of the most lucrative commercial deals in world football at the time.

Obviously, as his position in the club changed, his role and responsibilities did too. He’s now in charge of negotiating transfer fees with clubs and the terms of the players’ contracts with their agents – both of which are much more different and complicated than what Ayre is best suited to do.

A possible solution to this problem could lie in replacing Ian Ayre with a Director of Football. A director of football is generally a person that boasts a wide knowledge of football, its business, the market, players, etc. Seeing as Liverpool have struggled to compete for players owing to their unwillingness to pay over and above their valuation of said players (E.g Willian, Costa, Mkhitaryan, etc), a Director of Football would be quite useful as he’d possess 1) the sense of judgment to know whether or not to spend additional money on a certain player, and 2) knowledge of the benefits/risks of overpaying. A strong argument against this is that the Director of Football and the manager may not necessarily see eye to eye in the matter of transfers, as was apparent in the case of Spurs, when certain players were forced upon their former manager Andre Villas Boas by Director of Football, Franco Baldini.

Alternatively, the manager could be given absolute control over transfers and budgets, but that could presumably lead to him desperately spending whatever it takes to get whoever he wants. While Ayre may not be helping Liverpool sign players in his capacity as the chief negotiator as he’s expected to, I’m not convinced that he is the root of this problem. Ayre has been criticised for his alleged incompetence in finalizing deals efficiently. However, fans tend to overlook his impressive role in the transfers of both Sturridge and Coutinho last year. The problem, I believe stems from the club’s extremely rigid transfer policy.  

Transfer Policy

Liverpool’s transfer policy is fairly complex when compared to other clubs. After losing a lot of money over players that weren’t worth it (Carroll and Downing), the owners revamped the transfer structure by appointing a committee. The committee consists of 4 members – Brendan Rodgers (Manager), Dave Fallows (Head of Recruitment), Michael Edwards (Head of Performance and Analysis), and of course, Ian Ayre (Managing Director). Considered to be experts in their own rights, these members collectively perform the role of a Director of Football. Liverpool’s transfer policy comprises of a systematic process wherein,

  • The manager (Brendan) informs the committee about the positions he wishes to strengthen.
  •  The committee begins scouting players in those positions, at the end of which a list of players is created, based on both the players’ performances as well as their abilities.
  •  The committee gives each player a value parameter and submits the list to Rodgers.
  • Rodgers chooses his preferences based on priority and submits them to Ayre, who then prepares to negotiate with the clubs and the players’ agents. Needless to say, the negotiations are restricted to the parameters placed on the players by the rest of the committee.

It appears to be a very efficient system on the face of it, but practically speaking, the formula used to place the value parameters on players is very rigid. It means that this system won’t stand a chance in a competitive market, where rival clubs would bid whatever it takes to secure the services of a world class player. In such cases, Liverpool will be restricted by the parameters set on said player. In other words, the club will always be forced to sign young talent with bright futures that are relatively unheard of in world football (whilst hoping that other clubs do not compete) and run the risk of these players not realizing their full potential. It must be stated that in order to prevent future debacles such as this, the owners must focus on each of the above-mentioned factors, and not any one of them.

Looking ahead…

 

All that being said, Liverpool fans should not be disheartened by the fact that they failed to reinforce the squad in January. The club is doing well with respect to the league table, where they occupy 4th place with a two point lead over Everton. They are still in pole position to secure the final Champions League spot.

The failure to strengthen in January also means that should Liverpool secure the Champions League berth, they will have enough money to spend in the summer window, thanks to the financial benefits of Champions League football, the funds carried over from this window as well as the revenues from all the lucrative commercial deals signed by them over the past few weeks.

Lastly, Liverpool have a number of key players on the injury list who will resume first team action in the coming weeks, including Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, Lucas Leiva, Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique. With firepower like that set to make its way back to the lineup, there is no doubt that their return will bolster the team’s morale and confidence by adding a substantial amount of quality and depth to the squad.

Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool must now focus on getting the job done in the remaining fixtures in order to return to where they belong  – among Europe’s elite, after a four year gap.

Do you think Liverpool missed a trick by not strengthening in January? Should they be reviewing their transfer strategy? Have your say on a disappointing Liverpool transfer window by leaving a comment below.

Arjun Krishnan

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