Thursday, 28 April 2011

Why Liverpool’s Summer Transfer Activity Will Be A Challenge, But Should Not Consist Of Total Overhaul

If you have ever suffered from an addiction to Football Manager (or Championship Manager if you were a child of the nineties), you will understand the situation that Kenny Dalglish will find himself in this summer.

Having taken over as manager of the club, you peruse the squad and identify some areas that require strengthening. Within 12 months, you’ve attained a ‘wheeler-dealer’ status that would make Harry Redknapp fume and your squad is unrecognisable.

Although Dalglish and Comolli will have significant financial backing, they should avoid a complete overhaul of this Liverpool squad.

The Europa League acted as a clear indicator of the areas in which Liverpool’s squad is lacking. Although victories over Chelsea and Manchester United have shown that the strongest eleven is not as weak as many would have you believe, the defeat to Braga has exposed the limitations of the squad as a whole.

Foremost, the two fixtures against Braga highlighted the severe lack of pace within the squad. Without the injured Steven Gerrard and the ineligible Luis Suarez, the only attacking outlet with any pace was Glen Johnson. Whilst Meireles, Kuyt and Lucas all have a role to play in Liverpool’s future, they are players that need to be surrounded by pace. Endeavour, technique and cunning are all vital components in a Premier League footballer, but the trait that defenders fear the most is pace.

Everything in football works best when it happens quickly. Taking Barcelona as the model for a successful team, everything happens at pace. They move the ball quickly to stretch defences, they press the ball quickly to recover lost possession and any runs they make happen at full pace. A lack of pace will not ultimately limit one player’s career, but it can limit an entire team.

Luis Suarez is doing a fine job of proving the point. The Uruguayan international is making key contributions in each game he plays due to his pace, trickery and footwork. It isn’t easy to find players of Suarez’s quality but Liverpool desperately need players with similar attributes to support him. If Suarez were to be injured, Liverpool’s attacking impetus would be severely reduced.

An accusation frequently aimed in Liverpool’s direction is that this squad doesn’t have any depth. Although Jay Spearing’s performance against Sunderland has put a significant grain of doubt into the minds of those who thought he was a Championship level player (admittedly, myself included), the area between the first eleven and the developing youngsters in the reserves is still not populated by players of the necessary quality.

During his time at the club, Rafa Benitez repeatedly tried to plug this gap with affordable players who could act as back-up to the first team. By the end of his reign, the sum total invested in poor squad players would have been enough to buy at least one top quality player. Although Dalglish is expected to have more funds than Benitez did at the end of his spell as manager, he must adopt a different strategy for strengthening the depth of the squad.

Rather than shopping for players to act as back-up, Dalglish must target players who are better than those who are already in the first eleven. As players are displaced, the subs bench and squad roles will be filled by those who Dalglish knows can hold their own in the first eleven at this moment in time. This is the way that managers create depth to their squad.

There is plenty of dead wood to be shifted from the squad and some of it receives an unfeasibly high wage in proportion to their contribution. If Dalglish can build an impressive eighteen man match-day squad, players with no long-term potential can be sold rather than acting as substitutes. These players are an obstruction to the progression of talented youngsters and also soak up money that would be better invested in other areas.

The key question for this summer will be whether Dalglish can attract the necessary quality to Liverpool. At this moment in time, European football looks unlikely, although not impossible. Whilst many will believe that the reduction in fixtures could benefit next season’s domestic campaign, the impact on the willingness of players to join the club is yet to be seen.

Damien Comolli believes that the Liverpool name still acts as a major attraction to top players. Although accepting that the club should be involved in European competition, Comolli was confident that a failure to qualify for Europe would not hamper the long-term strategy. It is difficult to speculate on the individual demands of players, but if Liverpool need a manager to sell the club to prospective signings, there is nobody better than Kenny Dalglish.

A further obstacle in the transfer window will be other clubs, each of whom will have European competition as a selling point. If Liverpool are in for the top talents in European football as has been suggested, there will undeniably be competitors.

I recently asked Liverpool fans for the names of the players they expected to sign in the summer. It was interesting to see the calibre of player that was mentioned. For each of the names mentioned, whether it be Eden Hazard, Alexis Sanchez, Ashley Young, Gary Cahill or Yann M’Vila, there will be other clubs chasing their signature. Whilst fans will cite the signing of Suarez as proof that Liverpool can sign the best players on offer, it is important to remember that business was conducted in the January transfer market. Very few clubs have £20 million available mid-season and as such, Liverpool’s only opposition was Ajax’s demands over the transfer fee. Deals in the summer will be more difficult with selling clubs keen to spark bidding wars and a lengthy period in which to hold out for offers.

One response emphasised the significance of the age of targets, stressing that they didn’t believe a player over the age of 27 would join the club in the summer. Buying for the future is a major part of the long-term club’s strategy. However, Europe’s top clubs have scouts scouring the leagues for the top young talent due to the benefits of buying young. Players who are still developing are easily moulded into a team’s playing style and can be acquired for a sum significantly less than their potential will eventually lead them to be worth. Like any of Liverpool’s targets, these will not be straightforward deals. It is vitally important that FSG, Dalglish and Comolli act quickly and concisely if they are to secure targets of the quality desired.

Despite a lengthy list of potential targets, Dalglish should be wary of a total overhaul of his squad. As Manchester City’s have shown, all the money in the world can not buy you guaranteed success and importantly, the necessary team spirit and understanding to succeed. Dalglish’s Liverpool have developed a formidable spirit in recent weeks and thanks to Steve Clarke, have also become a well organised unit. Rather than tearing this squad apart, Dalglish must attempt to add quality in the areas that have been identified and remove the players that do not form a part of the club’s long-term future, whilst maintaining the core of the squad.

Nobody believes that this summer is going to be easy but it will certainly be a hugely important transfer window in regard to Liverpool’s future. The first step in the rebuilding process must be finishing in the top four next season. If Dalglish is successful in the transfer market, there is nothing to suggest that Liverpool can not mount a challenge for a Champions League place, at the very least. Having seen the manner in which Dalglish has conducted himself thus far, there is little doubt that he has everything under control.

No comments: