Much has been made of Liverpool’s transfer committee since Fenway Sports Group bought the club in October 2010. The primary grievance is the inability of the committee to procure adequate squad improvements at rational prices, while the secondary fault emerges following the lack of impact made by those signings during the frantic attempt to offload those ailing players. With their desperation to sell palpable, and their negotiating power subsequently weakened, the club often has no option but to settle for a much-reduced fee.
During his three years at the club’s helm, Brendan Rodgers made twenty-six permanent first-team signings. Only two have been irrefutable successes: Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, with the recent form of Roberto Firmino earning him an honourable mention too. Having arrived as young players with undoubted potential, Sturridge and Coutinho have blossomed. Now ranking among the better players in the league, the two would command considerably higher transfer fees if they were sold. They are, as a result, exemplary of the merits of the recruitment strategy implemented by FSG during their stewardship of the club.
Liverpool, however, would be unlikely to recoup the fees expended on many of the remaining twenty signings made during Rodgers’ tenure. Indeed, with a summer clear-out pending, Jürgen Klopp will likely adjudge such expensive signings as Christian Benteke, Mario Balotelli and Joe Allen to be unworthy of a place in his squad for next season, with the futures of Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Lazar Marković also uncertain. Unless there unexpectedly arrives a welcome raid for those six players from the exponential spending of the Chinese Super League, Liverpool will be forced to settle for cut-price transfer fees for players that, having cost a combined £128.5m, have struggled to varying extents in their short Anfield careers.
The pitiful showing of such expensive signings raises serious questions about the lack of quality players secured at reasonable prices. The reality, though, is that this failure is symptomatic of the preference of the committee for players proven in the Premier League. It is baffling that there remain subscribers to the pretence that the superior entertainment factor of the Premier League equates to a player of higher calibre and thus of greater value. The reality is that the £25m spent on Adam Lallana, and the £20m spent on Dejan Lovren, for example, could have bought players of a greater quality elsewhere in Europe. These players were not worth then the enormous sums paid for their transfer, as reflected in the justifiable bemusement of the fans on their arrival, and their values have only decreased since.
More galling is that this business was conducted the summer before Liverpool would again compete in the Champions League. Even with the lure of Europe’s elite competition, the long-sought elixir framed by many as the remedy for Liverpool’s inability to compete with its rivals, the transfer committee continued to sanction the level of spending which ought to introduce leading stars and match-winners of Champions League calibre. Here, there can be no excuse.
To bitterly recount such disappointments with hindsight is ultimately futile, but there is rare cause for optimism nestled among the mass of mediocrity. There is potential in the current crop. Alberto Moreno and Mamadou Sakho have their critics but they, along with Emre Can, Divock Origi, Danny Ings, Nathaniel Clyne and, of course, Roberto Firmino, are capable of emulating Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge in blossoming into vital players at Liverpool.
This transfer policy occasionally delivers such immediately effective bargains as Sturridge and Coutinho, but it also requires patience with talented strugglers simply in need of support and experience. This was the case with Jordan Henderson, for example, who was bought at great expense and, in the fickle world of modern football, was almost offloaded soon after. Instead, he stayed and has become near indispensable at Anfield, gaining the captaincy in the process.
Encouragingly, it is not only the quality of signing that has been enhanced of late. Although injury has blighted the promising starts made by Danny Ings and Divock Origi, their signings contrast positively with those of Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, and even Christian Benteke, in that they fit perfectly the footballing philosophies to which Rodgers and now Klopp subscribe. There is also a fresh approach to transfer dealings through which the club is now often able to eschew the relentless media speculation that accompanies more protracted negotiations. In summer, the club quietly pursued and swiftly confirmed targets such as Nathaniel Clyne, a significant upgrade on his predecessor, and the resplendent Roberto Firmino, who has contributed to more goals than any other Premier League player in 2016.
Moving forward, the committee must seek inspiration in its foremost successes, namely the exemplary signings of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho. Despite being young players in the possession of unquestionable talent, they were naïvely overlooked at Chelsea and Inter Milan respectively. Liverpool proved to be the club that would foster their development, offering the first-team football they sought to enable them to reach their potential.
Embracing the risk, Liverpool handed the pair the platform that had too often been reserved for more experienced players at their former clubs, and they both thrived. Their early careers were marked by inconsistency, and thus limited opportunity in spite of their hints at brilliance. Comparisons can be drawn here with rumoured targets such as Real Madrid’s Jesé, who is predictably overlooked given the vast array of attacking options available to Zinedine Zidane.
Although it will occasionally frustrate, the policy of buying young potential is set to endure. It is, of course, significant to the economic strategy of the club, but it is also indicative of a status-quo in which Liverpool simply cannot compete for many established, quality players. While some signings will impress from the outset, the development of other promising players requires patience. The quality and suitability of those players is, however, much enhanced in recent years. With a renewed approach to transfer negotiations impressing of late, and an inspiring manager under whom such targets ought to be excited to develop, Liverpool can expect to enjoy a more fortuitous transfer window in the summer to come.