Belfast Telegraph

Brendan Rodgers paying the price of Liverpool's diminished status in European game

By Sam Wallace

Jamie Carragher tells a good story about the first player Rafa Benitez signed at Liverpool, the full-back Josemi, whose greatest achievement at the club might well have been getting himself centre stage at the Champions League trophy presentation in Istanbul 10 months later.

In his autobiography, Carragher recalls how Josemi was signed because Benitez had decided that Carragher himself should remain at centre-back. Soon after, Steven Gerrard confided in his old friend that Benitez had told him that Josemi was "like Carra."

Concerned by the comparison, Carragher recalls how he paid close attention to Josemi in their first training session. "How bad does Benitez think I am?" he worried afterwards.

Ten years ago, Josemi cost £2m from Malaga. The second Benitez acquisition, Antonio Nuñez, valued at around £1.5m, joined as part of the deal to sell Michael Owen to Real Madrid. Nuñez was injured immediately and "was not up to scratch even when he was fit", Carragher recalled.

Between them, the Spaniards were two of the most forgettable players in the club's history.

Benitez's next signing was Xabi Alonso, a player who stands comparison with any midfielder in any Liverpool era. The £10.7m signing of Alonso stands out a mile. A brilliant footballer who continues to have a glittering career, he was an example of one of those signings whose value far exceeds his price. How Brendan Rodgers could do with an Alonso-grade signing now.

It is not so much the league position that is wearing away at the Liverpool manager - they are only five points off fourth place - it is the returns on the £117m invested in the summer. On Sky Sports, in the aftermath of defeat to Crystal Palace on Sunday, Carragher, exasperated with his former club, said that Liverpool needed new players.

The greatest misnomer about Liverpool's summer is that they should have signed one or two players to replace the quality lost with Luis Suarez's departure. The brutal truth is that players of Suarez's standing don't sign for clubs like Liverpool.

It would be an absurdity to abandon a manager over a long-term strategy into which the club bought, from the owner down.

The modern transfer market is an unforgiving economy - and you find your place in it pretty soon. At various times over the last two years Liverpool have lost out on signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Willian, Stevan Jovetic and, perhaps most critically, Alexis Sanchez in the last transfer window. In the case of the latter, even the leverage of the Suarez move to Barcelona did not work with Sanchez, who considered Arsenal a bigger club.

It takes years of heavy investment and success, as with the cases of Manchester City and Chelsea, to earn a real upgrade in transfer market status.

The problem in trading just outside the very top of the market, as Liverpool do, is that it is not cheap and can be extremely volatile. A fee of £20m no longer carries a guarantee of success, at least not at the level which signing a Sanchez or an Angel di Maria affords.

That market might yield a high-value return like Suarez, as he was in 2011, or Alonso. Or it might yield Ryan Babel or Iago Aspas.

As ever, the damage is not so much the cost of a player, because no successful signing is ever too expensive. The damage is done by the cost of the players who do not work out - of which there will always be some. Fees are spiralling and, put simply, even the bad'uns are pricey these days.

Even so, Rodgers needs only one or two to emerge for the summer trading to have been a success. If, for instance, Emre Can blossoms and Adam Lallana continues to improve, then that baseline figure will not look so bad.

Liverpool's strategy this summer was to try to reinvest the Suarez money in young players. It may turn out that they signed the wrong young players. It may turn out that only one young player lives up to his billing.

Either way, the notion that they missed a trick by failing to replace Suarez with Toni Kroos or James Rodriguez presumes that they were ever in that market. They never were, and it would be a spiteful club that chucked their manager overboard at the first sign of the agreed strategy failing.

Belfast Telegraph


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