Reds' targets hint at intrigue to come
With 12 more weeks to go before the transfer window slams shut, Liverpool are to be thanked for trying to get their business done before the World Cup begins, thus sparing the supporters from three months of excruciating speculation. Sadly, it has not worked out so far.
Southampton and Sevilla appear to be playing hardball. Rickie Lambert and Emre Can were economically wrapped up for a mere 14 million pounds plus add-ons, but there will be plenty of haggling to overcome if the names of Adam Lallana and Alberto Moreno are to be added. Current estimates of the fees involved add up to a bewildering 43 million pounds and even then there is no real guarantee of future success or quality. Not that there ever is of course, but once a player's value creeps towards or exceeds 20 million then fans are entitled to expect something special, surely?
Lambert and Can are in the "little ventured, little risk" category. Every so often such sums are spent on a real gem, but if they only contribute to squad depth they will have served their purpose. Too many of such transfers, however, and they can mount up to a pretty penny: last year's additions of Luis Alberto, Iago Aspas and Tiago Ilori contributed little to what thankfully turned out to be an extraordinary season.
The pursuit of Moreno for what may be a large fee is interesting in that it flies in the face of Liverpool's 21st century policy on transfers. He seems very pricey for a full-back, and from the days of Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez supporters got used to better for a lot cheaper. They have seen the likes of Markus Babbel, Steve Finnan and Alvaro Arbeloa on the right while the left produced varying talents like John Arne Riise, Fabio Aurelio and -- the Lord protect and save us -- Paul Konchesky.
Full-backs are the bass players of football. Every so often you might get a Paul McCartney or even a Sting -- people who can do more than quietly pluck to the beat. Usually, though, they are Bill Wyman, who left the Rolling Stones and nobody even noticed. It does not sit well with fans when their clubs shell out top dollar for a position that is often peripheral.
Historically it has been a curious position for the club. Right-footed left-backs go all the way back to Ronnie Moran's playing days and include such players as note as Steve Nicol, Jamie Carragher during 2001's treble cup triumph and most recently of course young Jon Flanagan, whose performances put him on the verge of the England World Cup squad. The position has always had a makeshift look to it, and even when players have looked like solutions there's always been a problem. Riise and Jose Enrique's predilection for attack at the expense of solidity at the back plus Aurelio's fitness troubles represent just a few of Liverpool's recent problems. The less said about Andrea Dossena, the better.
The temptation to spend big and solve this troublesome position for years to come must therefore be tempting, but it would be unfair to Flanagan, who certainly never let anyone down last season and already suffered a similar setback in 2011 when Kenny Dalglish brought in Enrique and returned Glen Johnson to his normal right-back role. Some Reds would be glad to see the last of Johnson and give Flanagan the vote of confidence he deserves, but all of this is academic if Sevilla cannot be persuaded to part with their player.
The paradox is that if the club does bring off these two signings for the amounts widely reported, that won't end concerns but might merely exacerbate them. Though qualification for the Champions League will certainly boost Liverpool's spending power for this summer, has it done so to the tune of a 60-million-pound net spend? It would, if anything, add to the rumours currently circulating about the future of Luis Suarez, as the Spanish newspaper Marca has already begun its by now annual dance around Real Madrid's current transfer target.
First it reported that Carlo Ancelotti had given the green light to the Uruguayan's purchase -- Liverpool having nothing to do with it, apparently -- and a couple of days later quoted Karim Benzema saying he wasn't unduly worried about this new threat to his place. The figure of 73 million pounds also started to circulate, which seemed a rather precise number. These are the same kind of drip-drip stories that plagued Tottenham Hotspur and Gareth Bale last summer, and everyone knows how that ended.
Another paradox is that, despite getting 84 points last season and nearly winning the title, an unprejudiced scan of Liverpool's squad will identify a number of areas that needed improvement. They rarely perform well in the season immediately after a World Cup -- the last time Liverpool did so was in 1994 when a largely English squad had the summer off during the World Cup in the USA.
You can see sense in trying to get all transfer business completed as soon as possible, but with selling clubs holding onto their prized assets for as long as possible, thus driving up the price, and with Real Madrid's vultures circling around Liverpool's own gem, it does not look as if Brendan Rodgers will have much sense of closure when his squad reconvenes shortly after the World Cup is over. It is an important season for him especially, in order to silence those who regard the club's 2013-14 performance as a flash in the pan. Perhaps a bigger budget will be his reward, not only for last season but for the major cuts in the wage bill he had to endure when he first became manager.
Expectations have risen a great deal because of a fantastic season. It does not look as if Liverpool have secured all their transfer targets yet. It's to be hoped deals have been struck that must for contractual reasons remain private, otherwise more weeks of uncertainty and intrigue lie ahead.