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.