After the Liverpool loss to Manchester United on Sunday, I was in a bit of a mood. I didn’t want to get up from my bar stool. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to do anything. I was upset. A loss always hurts, but when you lose to United, it’s much, much worse. As I watched Arsenal lose to City, I started to reflect on the last few months, and I couldn’t help but feel conflicted when evaluating where we are right now compared to where we were on 1 September 2012.
This was always going to be a rebuilding year for LFC. The majority of us accepted that after the massive Deadline Day fuck-up on 31 August, when Andy Carroll left and no new striker came in, leaving LFC very, very barren at the striker position for the next four months. Brendan Rodgers had been preaching for patience with him for months beforehand, but after Deadline Day, the certainty of a rough season was etched into stone.
What hurt was the fact that every Liverpool fan knew that they needed to add a striker in this window, and it was really the worst-kept secret in the Premiership that Brendan Rodgers didn’t wanna keep Andy Carroll, so two strikers would need to come in for the club to stand a chance. It didn’t really matter to me that LFC had signed Joe Allen, Fabio Borini, Oussama Assaidi, and Samed Yesil. It didn’t really matter that Nuri Sahin, a year removed from being Bundesliga Player of the Season in 2010-11, was coming in for a season on loan. As far as I was concerned, the club had just taken this season and flushed it down the drain.
Now, over four months have passed since the deadline day fuck-up. This season has been, for lack of a better term, a disappointment by Liverpool standards. As things stand right now, LFC is in 8th place, which is where they finished last season in spite of having a net spend of £20m during the summer. LFC have yet to beat a team in the top half of the table (however, it should be noted that Suarez’s Merseyside Derby winner wrongly disallowed at Goodison Park). LFC are out of the League Cup after losing to Swansea City at Anfield. They advanced to the knockout stages of the Europa League, but if Di Natale converts that last chance in Italy, they been knocked out in the group stage. To top it all off, LFC lost to Aston Villa 3-1 at home, a young side that has been getting demolished by clubs since our encounter with them.
Almost all signs on the pitch have pointed to this being a season of everlasting disappointment. And yet, I’m still optimistic. Why, you ask, would I still be optimistic about this club in spite of everything that has gone wrong? It’s because I believe that this squad is finally starting to come together as a unit, and we’re seeing improvement.
Suarez has had a tremendous campaign so far this season. He carried the load after Carroll had left and Borini went down. Keeping that in mind, Daniel Sturridge has come in from Chelsea for £12m. He’s looked solid in his first couple of appearances, scoring two goals. Borini has come back as well. Brendan Rodgers now have multiple attacking options up front to play with for the last half of the season. Imagine what’ll happen if Suarez can finally have a rest at some point this season!
In addition, the youth players that have come into the team are doing well, getting first team experience, and showing improvement. The likes of Andre Wisdom, Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey, and Suso have all stepped in and done well for LFC in the last four and a half months. All are under the age of 21, part of the LFC Academy, and have contributed for the first team during the season. Because of the fact that these players have gotten games this season, the club will benefit in the long-term. Yes, this LFC side does need experience, and from an outsider’s perspective, have put a very large emphasis on buying young players, but the fact that LFC is putting in a foundation for the future is something that should be admired and not derided by the fans.
To top it all off, the wage bill can still be thinned out, and when the last stage of wage bill slimming occurs, it will enable this club to make major moves in the transfer window and help us move forward. Before you all start on how John Henry, Tom Werner, and FSG are a bunch of cheap, useless piece-of-shit owners who don’t care about the club or its fans, I want you to keep an open mind when I lay out these facts:
- In the last two seasons, Liverpool have averaged a net spend in transfer fees of £33,825,000. This season hasn’t even ended, and LFC can still increase that average.
- Compare that to other clubs that aren’t in the Champions League: Tottenham have averaged a net profit of £13,500,000 in transfer dealings the last couple of seasons, Newcastle £5,000,000; etc. Nobody outside the Champions League Top Four comes close to LFC the last two seasons. The club’s current position suggest that it hasn’t been money well spent, but that’s not ownership’s fault.
- The only Premier League clubs that have spent more than LFC in transfer fees the last couple of seasons are in the Champions League.
Yes, the wage bill slimming is a valid point when it comes to the finances of the club’s fees being offset by the big transfer fees. Yes, the bad buys under Dalglish and Comolli also have to be factored in. But the fact of the matter is that there’s no non-Champions League club in England that comes close to LFC’s spending on players in the last two seasons, and that still doesn’t include the new contracts handed out to Suarez, Agger, Skrtel, Suso, and Sterling, all done to keep the poachers further up the table from snatching the club’s brightest talent. LFC are not a selling club anymore, and they’re not afraid to be ambitious in the transfer market when the right targets are in line.
As far as the wage bill right now is concerned, things can still be improved. Joe Cole was sold to West Ham, offloading approximately £45,000 per week from the wage bill after his £3m pay-off. Sahin’s loan move was terminated on Friday, freeing up £60,000 per week for the next six months, which is reported to be exactly the wages that Daniel Sturridge is on.
Keep in mind that there are still moves that can be made to thin the wage bill. Carragher may retire at season’s end, and his £50,000 per week wages could go off the wage bill. Doni’s contract also expires at the end of this season, and he reportedly makes €4 million per season in wages. Coates is reportedly being allowed to leave by Brendan Rodgers, and Danny Wilson, who has gone missing since being signed from Rangers in the summer 0f 2010, is probably going to leave pretty soon as well. Dani Pacheco is also reportedly being allowed to leave. Downing could leave if LFC get a bid of £8million for him, which will also offload £80,000 per week (or probably £60,000 cause LFC have to give him a pay-off). Last but not least, West Ham are obligated to buy Andy Carroll for £17 million if they stay up, which seems very likely right now. Whether or not they try to decrease the fee is a different matter, but bottom line is that he probably will not return.
All of these moves would free up funds for Liverpool FC to use next summer, some moves more than others. With all of this in mind, should these moves occur and Rodgers is given the usual £30,000,000-plus to spend next season, the club will be a lot more flexible with who it can buy than it was in the last few seasons. This is rather exceptional when you consider the fact that LFC is a club currently in its third year without Champions League football, going on a fourth (but hey, there’s got a shot at that, right? No? Okay then).
If Rodgers uses the funds that he is given wisely, injecting the necessary experience into the squad that would go in conjunction with the young core he currently has in place, LFC can make a serious push at 4th place next season. But he needs to improve the squad next summer, and he has to start getting results on the pitch. If he doesn’t use the money wisely and signs the wrong players, then Liverpool FC is going to be resigned to mid-table mediocrity for the next five years.
As much as I love Suarez and truly believe that he loves Liverpool, he is a ticking time-bomb, much like Torres was. He will probably leave after next season if improvement isn’t clearly visible. While we’ll get a huge sum for him as a result of that transfer, his presence is something that LFC won’t be able to replace. There are more who can and will leave after next season as well. Pepe Reina could also leave if things don’t improve, and if he doesn’t, he’ll still be going on 32 years old at the end of next season.
All of the aforementioned moves are based around the fact that Liverpool FC, a club that prides itself on and sells itself to players and fans around the world as being one of the biggest and most successful clubs in Europe, has been out of Europe’s top competition for the last three seasons, going on four. If LFC fail to make the Champions League in 2013-14, it will mean half a decade out of the Champions League. It doesn’t matter how big a club you are, how many trophies you’ve won or how big a stadium you aspire to have: if you’re out of the Champions League for five seasons, it is something that very, very few clubs can successfully recover from.
That is why the summer of 2013 is so important. LFC need to build this squad up and start showing improvement when it comes to results in the Premier League. If LFC fail to do that next season, when the wage bill will be at a very low point and the club will be incredibly flexible with how much it can spend on players, they’ll will be set back irreparably as a result. Liverpool FC is not in as terrible a shape right now as some fans will lead you to believe. But results have to start coming next season, or LFC is gonna feel the consequences of it for years to come.
Follow Greg Visone on Twitter @njny