Category Archives: Football

Cellino chaos has Leeds fans fearing freaky Fridays

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Image – Steve W.

I wrote this for the excellent The72 about the Massimo Cellino saga which has engulfed Leeds United, and is still, at time of writing, yet to be sorted out. Read the original here.

It used to be midweek evenings that Leeds fans feared the most, having gone a full year between November 2011 and November 2012 without a win on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. But now they’ve fallen out of love with Fridays.

And it’s all Massimo Cellino’s fault.

For anyone who’s missed the unfolding spectacle at Elland Road over the last two weeks, or have developed a special sort of tinnitus for news related to Leeds United’s impending financial meltdown, here’s a summary.

Sacking

Leeds fans’ weekends  were first spoilt on Transfer Deadline Day, when, having apparently received a text from current chairman Salah Nooruddin congratulating him on the purchase of the club, Cellino casually dispensed with the services of Brian McDermott as manager. Well, to be accurate, his lawyer, Chris Farnell did. Over the phone.

Scores of pints will have been chugged in Leeds that Friday night to toast the departed McDermott. So imagine how much sore heads throbbed further still on Saturday, when it was revealed that since Cellino didn’t own Leeds United yet, he couldn’t really sack its employees. After much legal wrangling, the absent McDermott missed the club’s 5-1 pasting of Yorkshire ‘rivals’ Huddersfield, but returned to take training on Monday.

Then Farnell was sent packing himself, escorted off the premises by security. There were rumblings that Andrew Flowers, the chief executive of Enterprise Insurance, who it was assumed would be taking over Leeds as part of the Sport Capital consortium before Christmas, had joined forces with Mike Farnan, the ex-Manchester United employee who had fronted another bid to buy the club back in November. This super-consortium made it clear they wanted to complete their own takeover. So far, so confusing – so Leeds.

The majority of Leeds fans were pretty happy about this. Cellino has a spent conviction for fraud and is awaiting trial regarding alleged embezzlement in Italy, and has the happy track record of having employed 36 managers in 20 years as owner of Cagliari.

But current owners GFH Capital seem pretty keen on Cellino, so much so that he’d been given a tour of the training ground weeks before even agreeing a deal. This courtesy was almost extended to Gianluca Festa, the ex-Middlesbrough defender and Cellino associate, being given a seat in the dugout before the game against Ipswich. McDermott refused, which seemed to irk Cellino.

But as last week went on, the chances of Farnan and Flowers brokering a deal faded. Flowers pulled out, and has now issued a winding-up petition against the club.

So Friday came again, and with it more grim tidings. The club announced on their official website that, subject to Football League approval (which – incredibly, he is likely to get), the club was Cellino’s. For fans who gathered in their hundreds outside Elland Road a week previously against a Cellino takeover, this seemed like a hammer blow.

Changing mood

But, incredibly, it seems the mood in Leeds is shifting. Cellino gave an interview to the Sun on Sunday which seems to have stirred the Leeds faithful. ‘If I was running a Fiat 500 in Italy, now I have the chance to run a Ferrari,” he said. He also announced he would buy back Elland Road on his first day in charge of the club.

Some Cagliari fans have emerged on Twitter too to soothe doubts. It has been suggested that Cellino likes to invest in producing young players, and he reportedly was most proud at Cagliari when the club fielded six local players. But, we know that he tried to bring in up to five players on Deadline Day without consulting McDermott (probably because he wanted to sack him).

It is concerning that some Leeds fans are being so fickle. The club needs to own its ground, but Ken Bates also stressed how important it was that he repurchased it when he took over in 2005. Nine years on, the ground is no closer to returning to its rightful owners.  Cellino’s comments about the club mirror Bates too. “I’m delighted to be stepping up to the mantle at such a fantastic football club. I see Leeds as a great club that has fallen on hard times,” said Bates in 2005.

Of course new owners will pay lip service to fans. But Cellino has already tried to sack a popular manager, draft in a complete novice and employ  new players without anyone at the club’s permission. All that before he’s even officially taken charge. It should surely take more than a few cute comments to make up for that.

Cellino and McDermott were expected to meet tonight, when the former jetted in to see his probable new charges play away at Brighton. But it appears Cellino did not attend the game. But both have made reconciliatory noises since that freaky Friday two weeks ago, with McDermott even suggesting they’d chat about their mutual love for playing guitar.

But it seems an uneasy truce. Even though McDermott has said he would be happy to have Festa on his coaching staff, he is very much Cellino’s man. A couple of defeats, or anything close to resembling the 6-0 humiliation to Sheffield Wednesday, and McDermott will surely be sent on his way again. A Ferrari isn’t much use without a driver at the wheel.

Top 10 (ish) January buys: from Dugarry to Suarez

Christophe Dugarry - fleeting but brilliant.

Image – Wikimedia

A piece I wrote for Footyplace about the very best of the last 10 years of the January transfer window. Take a look at the original here.

Christophe Dugarry, Bordeaux to Birmingham (loan) – 2003

The Premier League tried to resist the imposition of a Europe-wide transfer window, which came into effect during the 2002-03 season after pressure from the European Commission. In fact, it was a bit of a volte-face after being broadly supportive of the idea during the 1990s. British authorities hand-wringing over a perceived loss of sovereignty to European technocrats – why does that ring a bell?

Any fears Birmingham City fans might have had were quashed just two days into the new system, when they drafted in World Cup-winning striker Christophe Dugarry on loan from Bordeaux.

Dugarry was a player of rare talents, but had only really shone in his native France. Spells at AC Milan and Barcelona were short-lived failures. So although it might have looked a no-brainer for a side flirting with relegation, Dugarry initially struggled here too, particularly with the over-physicality of English defences, and didn’t score his first goal until his 11th league game. But that strike signalled a run of five in four games, in which the Blues took maximum points to drag them to safety.

A permanent move followed, but Dugarry sought an early termination of his contact half-way through the next season. Although his spell in the Midlands was short, it was ever so sweet for the Bluenoses.

Nemanja Vidic, Spartak Moscow to Man Utd (£7m)/Patrice Evra, Monaco to Man Utd (£5.5m) – 2006

It would now seem peculiar to label the signing of 50% of a defence which provided the backbone for a side which has since won five Premier League titles, three League Cups and the Champions League as panicky, but that is how it appeared when Manchester United brought in Vidic and Evra back in 2006.

Evra’s first game particularly was a horror show, pulled off at half-time during an embarrassing 3-1 defeat to rivals Manchester City. This window fell In the middle of what turned out to be United’s third season without the title, and many United fans worried that Ferguson’s era of dominance was over.

His side’s defensive woes had reached a nadir in October of that season in a woeful 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough which saw Phil Bardsley and then Kieran Richardson deployed at the back.

But it was a fear which proved to be unfounded. Vidic and Evra were gradually eased into the side which won eight games on the bounce during the second half of the season, and went on to win three consecutive titles.

Vidic became club captain, and, even at 32, there are few better left-backs around than Evra, which may look even more apparent if David Moyes is forced to give Everton another massive transfer fee for Leighton Baines.

Theo Walcott, Southampton to Arsenal (£12m) – 2006

Walcott’s crocked knee joins the confused mind of Fabio Capello in reasons why the Arsenal winger may never make an appearance at a World Cup. The closest he may ever get was his bizarre inclusion in Sven Goran Eriksson’s 2006 squad as a 17-year-old, without ever having made a top flight appearance.

That would be a sad but oddly fitting footnote to a career from which so much was expected from such a precocious youngster. Walcott has blossomed into a perfectly fine winger of growing intelligence, which, paired with frightening pace makes him one of the Arsenal’s most dangerous outlets.

But when Arsene Wenger took the 16-year-old Walcott from Southampton back in 2006, he was touted as the natural heir to Thierry Henry. He has shown fitful genius since then, but in truth it was an unfair burden to place on such a young man, who has since had to endure the frustration of Arsenal and England fans who expected so much.

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Henrik Larsson, Helsingborg to Man Utd (loan) – 2007

Before David Moyes made the short-term mid-season loan move passé with his yearly call to Landon Donovan, Alex Ferguson sprung a real surprise in 2007 when he announced that the great Henrik Larsson would be joining Manchester United from Helsingborg during their winter break.

In fact, his record at Old Trafford wasn’t all that spectacular, scoring just three goals in 13 games before returning to Sweden in March. The club even had to apply for special dispensation for Larsson to pick up a Premier League winner’s medal as he didn’t make enough appearances.

But whilst his impact on the pitch was fairly inconsequential, Ferguson believed he had a much more lasting effect on the rest of his squad. “He’s been fantastic for us, his professionalism, his attitude, everything he’s done has been excellent,” he explained back in 2007.

His admiration hasn’t faded over time either. In his autobiography, released late last year, he described Larsson as a “great football aristocrat”.

Peter Whittingham, Aston Villa to Cardiff (£350,000) – 2007

Whittingham is blessed with a cultured wand of a left foot, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor. Part of a generation of Villa youngsters who had to move clubs to find success, Whittingham has been a Cardiff City mainstay since he moved back in 2007.

In each subsequent season the Bluebirds threatened promotion, with Whittingham playing a key role. His best campaign came in 2009-10 when he grabbed 20 goals, a quite impressive feat considering his natural position wide in midfield.

They finally clambered out of the murky Championship pit last season, and Whittingham has fitted in comfortably at a higher level. At just £350,000, he stands out as one of Cardiff’s best ever signings.

Rory Delap, Sunderland to Stoke (Free) – 2007

I don’t know if Tony Pulis was aware of the full violent potential of Rory Delap’s throw-ins when he took him on a free transfer from Sunderland back in 2007 after a short loan spell. Frankly I don’t want to know. The fact that they were joined together, the perfect unity of manager, player and philosophy is enough. The rest, as they say, is history.

Asmir Begovic, Portsmouth to Stoke (£3.25m) – 2010

Probably the best goalkeeper in the Premier League, Begovic now looks a steal after moving from Portsmouth for a smidge over £3million back in 2010. His ever-more impressive displays mean it has escalated from quite surprising to downright shocking that a top Premier League side has not moved to bring in the Bosnian.

After the World Cup in which he is bound to shine for Bosnia, his value is sure to increase. He’s even scored a goal this season – what more can he do?

Luis Suarez, Ajax to Liverpool (£22.8m) – 2011

When Liverpool splurged the proceeds of the sale of Fernando Torres on Suarez and er, Andy Carroll in 2011 they could never have imagined the impact that the Uruguayan at least would have.

Bought on the back of a stunning 2009-10 campaign for Ajax in which he scored 35 goals in 33 league games, Suarez was an instant hit at Anfield. Dispelling that tired old myth about useless strikers from Eredivisie, Suarez was the scourge of Manchester United in a 3-1 league win in March of the same year.

Carroll proved to be a whopping great £35million distraction, allowing Suarez to settle without the expectation of having to replace Torres on his own. Though you sense that he would have quite enjoyed that, having claimed the club’s famous number seven shirt as soon as he arrived.

Despite gaining an early reputation for wasting opportunities in front of goal, Suarez grabbed 11 league goals in his first full season and 23 last year. He’s started this season in electrifying form, and is rightly thought of as probably the Premier League’s best player.

His time in England has been overshadowed though by the racial abuse of Patrice Evra, and the way he and Liverpool dealt with that incident will always leave a sour taste. For such a fantastic talent, that’s a real shame.

Jason Roberts, Blackburn to Reading (Undisclosed) – 2012/Ricardo Vaz Te (Undisclosed), Barnsley to West Ham – 2012

If you looked at the hashtag of any Championship club during the January transfer window, you’d find the same shouty arguments being made by their fans. Their club needs players – better players, any players really.

They should be careful what they wish for. Managers of Championship clubs, particularly after the toil of the festive games, are attracted by the opportunity to bolster their squad. But too often this results in a short-term move for an out of favour and barely interested Premier League player, or leads to wasting precious cash on an in-form player from a club of smaller stature, who then wilts at a bigger club.

Well, Reading and West Ham did both in the winter of 2012 and got promoted, so go figure. Brian McDermott, then Reading boss, credited Roberts for inspiring the self-belief that propelled his side to 15 wins from their last 19 games.

Vaz Te was signed by West Ham after netting 10 goals for Barnsley in the first half of the season. It was a surprising leap of faith shown by Sam Allardyce, after Vaz Te had spent many fruitless years at Bolton. His trust paid off, though, as Vaz Te continued his rich goal-scoring form for the Hammers, culminating in the winning goal in the playoff final at Wembley against Blackpool.

Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea to Bolton (loan) – 2011, to Liverpool (£12m) – 2013

It’s now part of common football parlance that January is a bad time to do business. Clubs don’t want to sell halfway through a season, and players want to wait until the summer to assess their options. Well, Sturridge has always been a bit of a maverick, and has had the gall to make two hugely successful winter moves.

His deadline day move to Bolton in 2011 reaped immediate dividends when he grabbed an injury time winner against Wolves in his first game. Eight strikes in 11 games were key to ensuring Bolton weren’t dragged into a relegation battle. It seemed he was finally fulfilling the potential that he knew he had.

But life remained a struggle at Chelsea. Despite a promising 2011-12 season, he was told by Andre Villas Boas that his future at Chelsea would be purely as a wide player, and was allowed to move on to Liverpool.

Brendan Rodgers’ tactical flexibility has suited Sturridge, and he’s flourished as part of a front two or three. Since his move, he’s netted 19 Premier League goals, with the promise of more to come after his return from injury.

Dave Jones ready for ‘hard fight’ as sorry Wednesday lose again

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Sheffield Wednesday boss Dave Jones was defiant about his future after a dreadful performance from his side in a 2-1 home defeat to Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town left them rooted in 22nd place in the Championship.

“I’ve said many times before I don’t see why I should keep bringing up what I’ve done and my record. You can’t shoot at it.

“This season is a hard fight, it’s not a nice situation to be in.

“Are you gonna give it up and walk away? Of course you’re not, I’m made of sterner stuff than that.”

The result condemned the Owls to a second consecutive league defeat and means they have now won only once in 15 outings.

Chairman Milan Mandaric has come out with his support for Jones, saying that he still wants to give him more time to improve results.

Mandaric told Sky Sports: “I just want a bit more patience; give the manager support and hopefully he’ll pull us out of this trouble. It’s got to stop.”

But with their next three fixtures against sides in the Championship’s top half, it’s difficult to see where their next points are going to come from.

Huddersfield controlled the game from the outset, benefiting from an extra man in the centre of midfield which allowed them to dominate possession and dictate the tempo of the game.

 

But even Huddersfield’s tactical superiority couldn’t account for their first goal after ten minutes. Following a throw-in, Wednesday’s backline inexplicably stepped up, allowing Adam Clayton to pick out Martin Paterson, who, despite suspicions of offside, was unmarked and slotted home easily.

Town’s second came 20 minutes into the second half after a spell of decent Wednesday pressure, their only such spell of the game. James Vaughan won a cheap corner when he appeared to have little support deep in the right corner of the pitch, and a clever Huddersfield routine saw the ball fall to Clayton to pick his spot through a crowded penalty area.

Jones was keen to stress it was these individual mistakes made by his players which made the difference, highlighting a perceived mental block which was inhibiting his players when playing in front of the Hillsborough crowd.

“The last time we played here we were outstanding, and then we’re not. And that must be frustrating for everybody, the chairman, the fans, me, the coaches, maybe even one or two of the players.

“I think they need to take more responsibility and stand up and be counted, just as much as I will and my staff will.”

A Connor Wickham free-kick deep into injury time brought the game back to 2-1, but by then it was too late for Wednesday to threaten for an equaliser.

It would have been undeserved after such an insipid performance. After Huddersfield’s second goal, audible chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning” echoed around Hillsborough.

When questioned about whether the club would be wrong to let him go after the game, Jones grew tetchy.

“Why should I have to answer that? Why should I get embroiled in things like that? I think you already know the answer to that.

“We want to get it right. But you’ve also got to remember that I didn’t kick a ball today and I didn’t make a pass.

“I have a responsibility because I pick the team but then I expect them to go out and perform and that’s what you have to rely on.”

Sheffield United 3-1 Crewe Alexandra: Blades era under Clough off to best possible start

Sheffield United badge

I went and saw how Nigel Clough got on in his first game as Sheffield United boss for Forge Sport

A pair of headers for Harry Maguire and a Ryan Flynn solo effort gave Nigel Clough the dream start to life as Sheffield United manager, as the Blades ran out comfortable 3-1 winners against Crewe at Bramall Lane.

18,784 spectators, this season’s highest at home, gave Clough a rousing reception before kick-off, and the new manager must have soon wondered how his new club find themselves in such a precarious league position.

United had the worst goal-scoring record in League One prior to kick-off, but it took just 17 minutes for the first goal of Clough’s reign. Midfielder Stephen McGinn chased down a loose clearance and won a free-kick deep on the left hand side after a heavy challenge. After recovering well enough to take it, his cross was met by centre half Harry Maguire, who found himself unmarked and stooped low to head in.

It was exactly what the home crowd needed. There had been a distinct tension around the ground in the early stages as Crewe settled well.

Suddenly, United had confidence to attack with greater freedom, and it paid off on the half hour. In an action replay of the first goal, a McGinn corner from the left reached Maguire, who again unmarked, nodded in at the far post to give the Blades a well-deserved two goal lead at the interval.

The second half started with a scare for United, when Crewe’s Anthony Grant got into a good position down the left and crossed for Byron Moore, who skied over when he should have scored despite taking the ball on the volley.

If that was a let-off for United, then they really rubbed Crewe’s nose in it just two minutes later. Ryan Flynn, who looked dangerous down United’s right all afternoon, collected the ball 35 yards from goal and drove at the Crewe defence, before beating Crewe keeper Steve Phillips with a low shot at his near post.

United looked likely to add more goals when Taylor, King and Collins all went close.

But it was the introduction of Chuks Aneke and Max Clayton for the visitors which brought them back into the game. After heading against the bar a minute earlier, the bright Aneke then fed Clayton who ran in behind the United back four and slotted home with 15 minutes remaining.

The Blades spent the last part of the game penned in their own half as Crewe pushed for another, but the new boss was able to breathe a sigh of relief as the Blades picked up a valuable three points.

University of Sheffield 1sts 4-0 University of Leeds 1sts

My first match report on university football for Forge Press. It was cold…

Three goals in the last ten minutes saw Sheffield run out comfortable 4-0 winners against University of Leeds and pick up their first three points of the new campaign.

After gaining promotion last season by dropping just two points at home, Sheffield went into the game with confidence despite suffering a 3-1 defeat at Manchester last week. But the home side were noticeably relieved when midfielder Tom Bland smashed home an 82nd minute penalty to put them 2-0 up after a disjointed game, hindered by some questionable refereeing decisions.

With the play stretched and Leeds deflated, the tireless Tam Kitgrave twice broke in behind Leeds’ defence to add another two late goals. Having won the earlier penalty through sheer force of will after chasing down what seemed a lost cause, it was the least his endeavour deserved.

In truth, it was the piece of play that epitomised Sheffield’s performance. After dominating the first 15 minutes, Sheffield had to work hard to keep Leeds’ pacey front three at bay, who constantly threatened to break in behind the Sheffield defence.

The teams had seemed destined to go into half-time at a stalemate, before Sheffield took the lead on 40 minutes. A whipped corner from the impressive Eric Wedge Bull landed perfectly on the forehead of centre back Patrick Howard who made no mistake from five yards out.

Leeds enjoyed their best spell early in the second half, when Sheffield tucked their wingers Kitgrave and James Shields back into midfield to protect their lead, leaving striker Josh Thompson isolated. But Sheffield defended resolutely and restricted Leeds to only half chances.

The game grew increasingly fraught as Leeds searched for an equaliser, and much of their ire was directed at the referee. His display was best described as inconsistent, after bringing the play back for seemingly minor infringements but taking no action after several crunching challenges.

The angrier the Leeds players became, the less effective their attacks seemed to be. Sending their vocal centre back Jason Pilkington further forward left gaping holes which Kitgrave gleefully exploited in the closing stages.

Without ever really dominating, Sheffield gained a handsome victory through their doggedness and determination. Going into next week’s home game against Liverpool John Moores, they will feel confident they can make their mark at a higher level.

Di Canio has failed to address Sunderland problems

A more recent piece I wrote about the not so surprising authoritarian management style of PDC…

Despite their similar records as Sunderland manager, Martin O’Neill winning two of his last 11 league games in charge, and Paolo Di Canio two in his first 10, there is a great, fist-pumping knee-slide at St James’ Park worth of difference which separates their affections in Mackem hearts.

Any initial doubts about Di Canio’s tempestuousness and dubious political views were set aside after a rollicking 3-0 victory at rivals Newcastle in only his second game in charge. Despite an indifferent end to the season, this result alone had earned the fans’ faith, and Di Canio assured fans that he would lead an overhaul of the squad over the summer.

Areas in need of improvement were obvious; an over-reliance on the goals of Steven Fletcher, a lack of quality full-backs and a same-y, one paced midfield. Di Canio called for players with better temperament, after spending much of his first months in charge lambasting the squad he inherited for laziness, ill-discipline and a lack of commitment.

Di Canio’s words soon led to action off the pitch. The appointment of Roberto de Fanti as director of football and Valentino Angeloni as chief scout heralded a complete transformation in the club’s scouting network, with only one member of staff remaining from the old set-up. A change of recruitment policy was sensible; neighbours Newcastle have proven the need for mid-sized Premier League clubs to look further afield for additional quality and value.

The new set-up worked quickly to bring in players early in the summer, with nine new faces drafted in before August, including the surprise coup of Emanuele Giaccherini from Juventus and the highly-rated Cabral and Mobido Diakite.

The weak areas of the squad were addressed, Sunderland paying £6million for striker Jozy Altidore from AZ Alkmaar, who, despite enduring a torrid spell at Hull City in the 2009-10 season, impressed in Eredivisie. Young recruits were bought in the form of Duncan Watmore, David Moberg Karlsson and most notably El-Hadji Ba, who arrived highly rated and coveted by bigger Premier League clubs.

So far so good, and although only one point from games against Fulham and Southampton wasn’t what Di Canio would have hoped for, he stressed that, once his new players adapted to the specific demands of the Premier League, results would improve, although the lack of imagination in his side’s play must have been a concern.

But then came a close scare in the Capital One Cup against MK Dons, and, last weekend, a horror-show performance against Crystal Palace, characterised by sloppy, misplaced passes and individual errors. Perhaps most concerning of all was the re-emergence of the same old Sunderland frailties, a meek forward line dependent on a half-fit Steven Fletcher, slow, ponderous build-up play and a failure to get the most from key players such as Giaccherini and Adam Johnson.

And it doesn’t feel like the revolution off the pitch is being backed up by the manager. Already known for his passionate outbursts against his own players, Di Canio seems to have ramped it up another notch this season, whether effectively labelling Ji Dong Won a coward only days after underlining his importance to the squad, or deriding captain John O’Shea for giving away a penalty at Selhurst Park.

He seems to be constantly exasperated, as though powerless to do anything to “change the heart” of his players. He frequently bemoans a perceived lack of desire and professionalism, but we still have no clear idea how he wants his side to play, and he has failed to identify tactical, or even general footballing reasons why his side haven’t played well.

His style of management seems to most marked by inconsistencies. Like how he refuses a causal link to be drawn between his stiff-alarmed salutes and Dux tattoo and an admiration for Italian fascism, he seems unable to recognise that his authoritarian, hectoring style of management may be leading to a poorly motivated squad.

Even though so much emphasis has been placed on discipline, this week Phil Bardsley has been brought back into the squad, despite being lambasted last season for a late-night casino visit and for mocking his side’s defeat on the opening day on Instagram.

After the display against Crystal Palace he spoke of a need for more new players to be brought in, and the arrivals of Ki, Fabio Borini and Andrea Dossena since that game do give him more options, and bring the number of summer arrivals to 14.

The sheer amount of players signed point to a success in the transfer window, but Sunderland still don’t have a massive squad, and it’s known that the likes of David Vaughan and Conor Wickham were touted around clubs as the window closed. Both will now have a role to play this season despite knowing the manager wanted them gone.

Ellis Short has clearly put his faith into Di Canio, whether its entrusting a relative novice with securing top-flight status, or allowing him the scope and budget to shape a new squad. Although changes in the club’s scouting approach are welcome and will pay long-term dividends, this is all dependent on Sunderland remaining in the Premier League.

Beyond banning ketchup, the club’s manager has so far done little to show how he is going to deliver that goal.

Read the original piece at Footyplace. 

Liverpool: Have They Done Enough So Far?

A piece I wrote back in July about how Liverpool were shaping up for the new season. Not too badly, as it transpired…

If ‘doing your business early’ in the transfer window is the key to success, Liverpool started the summer in the right way.  It’s now widely agreed that top sides who ‘leave their business late’ have suffered the pitfalls; unwanted panicky purchases and squads disjointed and lacking the time to gel. Whilst this is a simplistic way of viewing transfer strategy, it is underpinned by some truth. Failure to capture your primary targets quickly frustrates fans and managers.

Roberto Mancini wasn’t shy of frequently voicing his displeasure at missing out on Robin Van Persie last summer, believing him to be the key difference in the title race. When Arsenal endured a poor start to the 2011/12 season, Arsene Wenger felt compelled to bring in new faces on Deadline Day. Whilst Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker have fitted in well, few Gunners fans will want to remember the Arsenal careers of Park Chu-Young, Yossi Benayoun or the hapless Andre Santos.

Liverpool too have a recent history of window-induced panic. When Fernando Torres moved to Chelsea in January 2011, Kenny Dalglish spent a now barely believable £35m on Andy Carroll to attempt to replace him. Although not a last day scramble, the transfer strategy of Dalglish the following summer was similarly slapdash, with upwards of £40m splurged on Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam.

Brendan Rodgers was appointed last summer with a view to building long-term, sustainable success at the club, of which a different transfer strategy was central. Despite some initial wasteful spending on Joe Allen and Fabio Borini, Rodgers has settled and begun to recruit well, with Coutinho particularly looking a snip at £8.5m in January of this year.

Rodgers quickly identified the positions he needed to strengthen this summer; goalkeeper, an experienced centre-half, and some additional creativity and firepower in the final third. In have come Simon Mignolet from Sunderland, allowing Pepe Reina and his colossal wage packet to be moved on, and Kolo Toure from Manchester City. The hugely promising Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas were signed from Sevilla and Celta Vigo respectively, and when the club seemed poised to capture creative midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Shakhtar Donetsk at the end of June, it seemed the majority of Liverpool’s business would be done a couple of months before the new season started. Instead, the deal for Mkhitaryan stalled and Dortmund pounced, and growing disquiet from Luis Suarez has grown to a din amid interest from Real Madrid and other Premier League sides, most notably Arsenal.

It is a worrying sign for the Liverpool fans as Arsenal have returned with a cheeky £40,000,001 bid for Suarez. Not only has his contribution over the last couple of seasons carried Liverpool, but it would reveal a worrying lack of ambition. Although Arsenal are once again in the Champions League, and thought to have a sizeable transfer budget this summer, they don’t sit amongst Europe’s elite. A move to Madrid would be regrettable but understandable, but a switch to North London would really rankle. The club have been linked with Roberto Soldado in recent days, and that would be the calibre of player needed to replace Suarez and calm the growing tensions.

Although there will be disappointment that the club failed to complete the deal for Mkhitaryan, this shouldn’t be as big a concern. Rodgers has options to play at the front of his midfield, whether that’s the newly signed Alberto or Aspas, Coutinho or the improving Jordan Henderson. He has also sensibly reaffirmed his faith in Raheem Sterling, whose blistering early season form tailed off last year. Although less can be expected of Steven Gerrard as each new season approaches, Rodgers will hope that Allen begins to repay some of the faith he has shown in him this season. If that happens, he may find that he has a midfield for all occasions.

The fight over Suarez will cast a shadow over the rest of Liverpool’s pre-season, but that shouldn’t worry Liverpool fans too much. By quietly doing much of his transfer business early in the summer, Rodgers has given himself time to focus on the one area which requires attention, whether that’s a replacement for Suarez or a quality striker to compliment him. It’s a huge priority and so important that it’s done correctly.

In fact, Liverpool’s business will be even more important this summer than most. Watching new Manchester United boss David Moyes scrabble around for a defining, world-class purchase to stamp his authority on his new club, and Arsene Wenger fail to attract anyone to the Emirates to the rage of impatient Gunners fans underlines this. Rodgers and Liverpool simply look better prepared than the teams they are trying to catch. This year, when the inevitable force of Deadline Day comes around, Brendon Rodgers will hope he and Liverpool are watching on contentedly, rather than taking a starring role.

Read the original piece at SoccerSouls here.