After taking a year hiatus to write my book “Walking Through the Storm” it finally feels good to be writing short opinion pieces on Liverpool Football Club. The long-awaited month of September has finally arrived and the summer transfer window has been closed shut. As we summarize the ins and outs of the club this summer, the resounding sentiment amongst Liverpool faithful is that we completed “good business” with a net spend profit on the books and the introduction of some exciting talent on the club. But the question I ask myself is what exactly does “good business” mean?
Last season there were 39 players that featured for Liverpool’s first team (including Stephen Caulker on loan from QPR), and another four out on loan that had previously played for the club (Balotelli, Markovic, Wisdom, and Luis Alberto). One clear priority this summer was to shed our surplus to requirements. By the time the window was closed a few days ago, twelve players departed the payroll on permanent deals while another six were shipped back out on loan. Not even considering incoming players we had trimmed the roster to a more manageable 24 players. You could argue that getting rid of Mario Balotelli alone on a permanent deal makes the entire window a success! Certainly that was “good business”!
Forget the payroll savings and the approximate £78m of incoming funds received from these deals. The departure of these eighteen players created room for Klopp to make some needed additions to the squad. Central defense has been upgraded with the addition of Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan, while the addition of Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Marko Grujic greatly improve depth in midfield. We’ve even added quality between the pipes with promising German keeper Loris Karius. But can we still consider this summer’s activity to be “good business”?
While it’s nice to turn a profit, money in the pockets of the owners mean very little to the fans that support the club. I’m happy that the excess waste on the roster has been trimmed significantly, but most people get excited about the new faces on the squad. There have been many positives on display from the new players (Sadio Made anyone?). Despite the significant amount of activity we’ve seen this summer some supporters remain dismayed that we didn’t do more to address the need at left back and defensive midfield. With a net profit on the books realized, the common argument is that money earned on the outgoing players could’ve been used to buy reinforcements at these perceived weaker positions. Having already added six new faces to the squad, I wonder if it was really the right moment to introduce additional unknowns with new players?
Consider the transfer window from two years ago when Liverpool sold Luis Suarez for approximately £65m to Barcelona. That influx of cash was used to fund nine incoming transfers. At the time the move was widely criticized as irresponsible waste, similar to what Spurs had done with the Gareth Bale money they received in 2013. According to Paul Tomkins, only 40% of all incoming transfers will work out for the club in the long run. That’s not to say that the other 60% failed because the players are crap, rather they simply didn’t work out under the specific circumstances for the club at the time. For Liverpool’s 2014 summer transfers it could be argued that four of the nine players have worked out (Adam Lallana, Emre Can, Dejan Lovren, and Divock Origi) and four have not (Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic, Mario Balotelli, and Javier Manquillo). Only Alberto Moreno remains in question, but few would disagree that he still has much to prove for Liverpool. Based on those assessments, you could say that the transfer activity from that summer matched the expected result from Paul Tomkins’ theory. Now let’s consider the summer before when Tottenham sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for £86m. They used that money to acquire seven players, of which only Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen remain on their roster. Clearly that was an unsuccessful window for Spurs and it proves that simply buying talent for the sake of trying to fill perceived needs does not necessarily equate as “good business.”
Applying the same theory to this summer’s activity and we speculate that only three of the six incoming players will work out long term for the club. It’s moot to try and figure out which and that’s not the point. Had the club used the remainder of this net profit to buy two more players, then simple math tells me that we’d be bringing on at least one more player that would not work out for the club. Is that necessarily the right move? We’d have introduced eight new players to the squad in one window. Is that “good business”? To use a golfing analogy, when someone gets a lesson to improve their swing it doesn’t make sense to change too many elements of the swing at the same time. It’s impossible to tell what fixes worked and which didn’t. You can’t expect to get better results, and when you don’t get those results it’s even harder to determine what else needs to change moving forward. Had Liverpool persistently sought two more incoming transfers, suddenly we are at risk of “pulling another Spurs” move with eight new players and recreating the failures of the past. With too many new players inserted into the squad, it would be difficult to accurately identify which players were working and which were not. This isn’t a computer simulated game like FIFA 2017 or Football Manager. You simply can’t overhaul the entire squad at once and expect success. Tottenham tried in 2013-14 and regressed from 5th to 6th while Liverpool dropped from 2nd to 6th in the following season.
Many fans will point to our failed attempts to bring in Ben Chilwell, Christian Pulisic, and Mahmoud Dahoud as indicators that the transfer window was not as successful as it could have been. While Chilwell signed a new deal for Leicester City this summer, both Pulisic and Dahoud remain viable targets next summer. Chilwell was identified as a left back to replace Alberto Moreno, who has already been questioned with his abysmal play in the Arsenal match. Moreno has been rightfully benched for the time being, but many fans don’t think that’s enough. He’ll get another chance to play, and the next time he recklessly challenges an opponent to earn a penalty kick you will surely hear someone cry “why didn’t we get a left back in the summer?” It will be hard to make the argument convincing, but I would claim that there simply wasn’t enough room at the Melwood Inn. Klopp needs time to let these current players gel and get them playing the way he wants. As Tomkins reminds us, some of these new guys most likely will not work out. Long-term success for Liverpool won’t come overnight, or more appropriately, in one season. In his first full season at Borussia Dortmund, Klopp took the club from 13th to 6th in the Bundesliga. The next season he moved them up to 5th. Then he won the league… twice. We need to be patient and let the man do his job.
So back to the original question… have we done “good business” in this transfer window? I think so. We have considerably trimmed the roster and given Klopp a strong nucleus to build around. We have added quality and depth at positions we lacked a year ago. We haven’t broken the bank, and most importantly to me, we haven’t tried to bite off more than we can chew. Where will be in four months? That’s hard to say. We will have sixteen more league games under our belt with hopefully a top four finish still in our grasp. We may also have a League Cup semifinal to be played if things work out the way we all hope. Klopp will surely know more about this current set of players as well as figuring out what changes will need to be made (if any). The scouts will have identified future targets to fit Klopp’s style and discussions to acquire their services may take place. Least importantly and much to my dismay, the January window will open to drive me batshit crazy for 31 days. In all seriousness, it will give Klopp the opportunity to tinker with the squad this season and perhaps take advantage to make the necessary moves to keep us on the right path to glory. It’s not as simple as the computers make us think it is. Let the man do his job. I’m willing to bet that he’s a little better at it than we are. See you all at the pub on September 10 for the home opener against Leicester City!