‘If you spend more than £100 million, you expect to be challenging for the league.’ Sorry about this Brendan, I know you’ve got enough on your plate at the moment, but you can’t expect to get away with comments like that with Liverpool finishing 25 points off the pace.
Since 2012, Rodgers has bought 24 players, with Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho the only confirmed hits. This year’s crop of Lambert, Lallana, Can, Lovren, Markovic, Manquillo, Moreno and, the crowning glory, Mario Balotelli cost upwards of £105m. Few have managed to set the league alight. Rodgers’ hunt for his first piece of Liverpool silverware continues.
Whilst the apprentice may have struggled to make an effective impact in the transfer market, the master did quite the opposite. Jose Mourinho’s £59m outlay for Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas went a long way to clinching the Premier League title and Capital One cup this season, with 20 goals for the Brazilian (or should that read Spaniard?) alongside 18 assists for Fabregas. Liverpool’s labouring front-line bagged 8 goals between them. A sobering statistic for Scousers.
At the risk of alienating the white half of North London, you need only look at the differences in how Arsenal and Tottenham spent their transfer kitties over the past two seasons to see why it’s so important to effectively utilise your financial resources. Much like Liverpool following the sale of Luis Suarez, Spurs received a phenomenal cash windfall of £86m with the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid in 2013. It was the perfect chance to build a squad that could consistently challenge for a Champions League spot, maybe more. Alas, they blew it. The £30m Erik Lamela and £26m Roberto Soldado were the standout flops, with Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue and Vlad Chiriches not too far behind. Sure, Christian Eriksen strikes a decent free-kick, but overall the club had replaced a world class footballer with a flock of Average Joes. If you need proof, take a look at their achievements since. Nada.
Arsenal on the other hand, invested in two of the best midfielders the game has to offer. Calm down Gooners, we can’t put Francis Coquelin in that bracket quite yet. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil have had great success since joining the club, with the former almost single-handedly taking Arsenal into the top two and retaining the FA Cup. £35m for the diminutive Chilean and £42m for Özil is more than Tottenham spent on any of their acquisitions, but they were players that were better than those already at the club. It was an obvious investment in quality.
The ‘child in a sweet shop’ mentality demonstrated by Liverpool and Tottenham in recent years is not conducive to making waves in the Prem. Having such massive amounts of money at your disposal can lead to overspending on individuals without performing due diligence on how they will slot in into the squad or into the English game. The issue goes deeper than merely classing a player as ‘quality.’
Take Manchester United; the majority of Louis Van Gaal’s signings could be deemed top class. Plenty of cash was laid down for the purchases of Angel Di Maria and Ander Herrera, not to mention the loan of Falcao. As it transpired, the Colombian wilted, with Di Maria also struggling to adapt to the English game. Clubs need to focus on buying players that fit in with club ethos, buying players from which the manager can get the optimum in terms of team shape and performance. The attitude of a player can make as much of a difference as their ability. Had Liverpool and Tottenham spent their cash on two or three great players that fit into the club instead of seven or eight good players that didn’t, they may have been able to push on for a top four position, perhaps even make the latter stages of the Europa League. Maybe it comes down to having money in the wrong hands. Rodgers, AVB, Van Gaal, naïve rookies in terms of the Premier League. Emre Can is a top player, but why buy him if you plan to use him as a centre back as part of a back three? Ok, he may be ‘one for the future,’ but in the modern game, fans, as well as the best players, crave instant success.
The lure of the Champions League is so crucial to the best players these days that without it, it may be impossible for Liverpool and Tottenham to entice the likes of Sanchez and Fabregas. As a result, it’s inevitable a degree of quantity purchase will happen as clubs gamble on the ‘best of the rest,’ with such large squads needed for consistent performance in the Premier League and in Europe. A club needs the ability to attract high class players, as well as subsequently finding the appropriate balance between spending on those that are best suited to club culture and can make an instant impact, and those that may take more of a ‘squad player’ role. It’s the Mourinhos and Wengers of this world that have learned to strike that balance, and who will continue to reap the rewards.