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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 1 day ago
Read
Jul 31, 2014

Liverpool spend big on depth

ESPN FC's Steve Nicol gives his take on Divock Origi signing with his former club.

Over four years, Liverpool have gone from Moneyball to money men. The guiding philosophy may not be borrowed completely from baseball's new-age thinkers any more. Now the most eye-catching element lies in the numbers. The 75 million pounds they banked for Luis Suarez is the third-highest fee ever received by an English club. Their eventual outlay this transfer window should be a nine-figure sum, making this just the fifth time an English club has spent 100 million pounds in a summer.

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Yet this is a spending spree with a difference. One question is whether Brendan Rodgers has a stronger squad but, shorn of Suarez, a less potent starting XI. Another is whether Liverpool could crash through the 100 million-pound barrier without securing a marquee signing.

Adam Lallana is the most expensive arrival so far. Dejan Lovren is the costliest defender in Anfield history. The third former Saint, Rickie Lambert, provides the most heart-warming tale, of the local lad belatedly returning to his hometown club. Divock Origi had the best World Cup of any. Emre Can, should he break into the Germany team, will be an international colleague of World Cup winners. Lazar Markovic's talent gives him the most potential of all the newcomers. None, however, was supposed to be the flagship buy.

Admittedly, there wasn't one last summer, and that hardly hampered Liverpool's progress. They jumped from seventh to second at startling speed; close-season additions were not the major reason. Yet Alexis Sanchez's decision to join Arsenal was a continuation of the theme of last summer when Diego Costa, Willian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan eluded Liverpool; for different reasons, the slightly lower-profile Loic Remy has joined Yevhen Konoplyanka on the long list of those who got away.

Divock Origi has been signed from Lille for the future.

Remy was due to inherit Suarez's No. 7 shirt. It is impossible to replicate every element of the Uruguayan's contribution, whether the 31 goals and 12 assists, the constant controversy or the status as Liverpool's figurehead. Nevertheless, the burdens on Daniel Sturridge, as scorer, and Steven Gerrard, as skipper, may increase without that headline recruit. Options are beginning to abound, but someone will have to shoulder the burden of becoming a match winner.

It is a sign of the times that a club can part with 90 million pounds without the semblance of a superstar arriving. It is a source of amusement to some and bemusement to others that some 50 million pounds of that has been diverted to Southampton for the trio of Lambert, Lallana and Lovren, a total that could rise if suggestions that Jay Rodriguez is a target become reality.

Given the wholesale importing of Southampton's players, even the lesser lights at St Mary's, such as Steven Davis and Jose Fonte, may be expecting the call from Anfield. The serious point, however, is that besides their individual attributes, Rodgers clearly sees similarities in his style of play and the progressive pressing game Saints deployed under Mauricio Pochettino. It is tempting to note that 2012 brought the arrivals of Joe Allen and Fabio Borini, the Swansea alumni, and 2013 saw the Spanish signings of Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas. Every year has brought a search for those with a similar ethos who can slot seamlessly into the side.

The other common denominator has been a futuristic element to recruitment, the quest for long-term value. The fact that Origi commanded an eight-figure fee and was promptly loaned back to Lille fits in with a broader trend. In one respect, the young Belgian is 2014's answer to Samed Yesil and Alberto. In another, he ought to be a distinct improvement on supposed prodigies who have offered little evidence of why they were bought. What it means, though, is that Rodgers' spending cannot simply be judged over the course of one season. In Origi, Liverpool have probably signed Lambert's long-term replacement before the older man has even made his competitive debut.

If he will be the new Lambert, Liverpool already find themselves described as the new Tottenham. Spurs spent 110 million pounds last season and regressed. While Andre Villas-Boas and Franco Baldini were guilty of some poor buys, it is also pertinent that Tottenham actually broke even. As a result of the Rafa Benitez years, Liverpool are wearily familiar with debate about spend and net spend. Their current incomings could swell towards the 100 million-pound mark, not least because they now have three left-sided centre-backs. Bringing in Lovren surely means that Daniel Agger can go out. Forward Borini, too, could go.

It means there are two categories among the clubs who spent a tenth of a billion in a few months: those who, broadly speaking, balanced the books, and those who made no attempt to do so. Chelsea were the pioneers, paying out 110 million pounds in an otherwise deflated transfer market in 2003. Manchester City followed suit in successive summers, forking out around 140 million pounds in 2010 and 130 million pounds in 2011.

There is the potential for Chelsea to top 100 million again this summer -- the deals for Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Filipe Luis have taken them 80 percent of the way there -- or for Manchester United to join the club. It will be a mark of football's inflated economics if, after there were only four 100 million-pound summers in England's history, there were three additions to the ranks of the extravagant spenders in a few short months.

The past proves that spending, even when funded by sales, confers pressure. Liverpool know as much. Their transfer outgoings over 2011's two windows amounted to 115 million. They only finished eighth the subsequent season, leading to Kenny Dalglish's sacking and Rodgers' appointment. Money creates opportunities and fosters expectations alike.

Richard Jolly

Richard Jolly is a football writer for ESPN, The Guardian, The National, The Observer, the Straits Times and the Sunday Express.