Liverpool desperate for firepower up front
At last the tour of the USA is over. It was beginning to look as though they'd never come home. What either Brendan Rodgers or Louis van Gaal learned from that rather curious final game would be hard to fathom but I'm sure both clubs' coffers are healthier than before.
There were some plus points from the tour. People seem to like what they've seen of Emre Can and Jordon Ibe got a few chances. The latter showed a few signs of the talent and speed that Raheem Sterling displayed in his very early first-team performances. Sterling and Jordan Henderson seem to have hit the ground running to show that last season's excellent form was no fluke in either case.
There are a few causes for concern, with a burning spotlight shone on the forward positions. Daniel Sturridge returned home early to nurse a small injury, not what you want to see from your new No. 1 striker. Fabio Borini hurt his shoulder and seems insistent on not returning to Sunderland for the time being.
Loic Remy did not make it out to America after a failed fitness test, while Rickie Lambert missed his first penalty since puberty. All in all it was not a great few days for Liverpool's forwards. It meant that one of the Reds' opponents in the U.S., AC Milan's Mario Balotelli, was linked to the club in several reports.
Those who can read between a manager's lines knew full well that Rodgers' praise of the young Italian was bracketed by so many ifs he might even have been insulting the poor guy. Journalists closer to the manager made it very clear there was nothing to any speculation, but speculation there was and so the manager had to come out and clarify what had already seemed to most people as clarity personified.
Perhaps he's being super-clever and throwing everyone off the scent? It's extremely doubtful. This would be a left-field move of Green Monster proportions by the club's Boston-based owners. Having waved goodbye to one tabloid-trouble-magnet in Luis Suarez they were surely not willing to sanction another, one whose performances don't always measure up to the hype anyway. I'm not saying he isn't hilarious, but then a lot of things are funny when they are happening to somebody else.
Suarez was trouble but he was always worth it. The same cannot really be said for "Super" Mario. You can understand the attraction; he's capable of quality moments and the predicted price would suggest he was worth the gamble. You also know that many managers fancy themselves as psychology experts, horse whisperers who can talk down any rambunctious colt into obedient passivity.
They nearly all think they can "do an Eric Cantona" by taking a brash, troubled malcontent off another exasperated manager's hands on the cheap, turn him into a superstar and transform their own club in the process. Generally, they just end up like Stan Collymore; passed on from one club to another before finally realising you were on to a loser from the off despite the ridiculous amount of talent untapped.
You need the player himself to knuckle down first of all. As a Liverpool fan glaring towards Manchester as they and Cantona started to hoover up trophies in the '90s, you would flinch at Sir Alex Ferguson's words about how the Frenchman stayed behind for extra practise after everyone else had left.
- Rodgers: No Balotelli bid
The same could be said about Suarez. Yes, there was always the sound of a bomb ticking, ready to explode, but the one thing never in doubt was the talent and the application combined with the ambition to get better. I simply have never seen that in Balotelli. It's far more likely that Liverpool just want things quiet and normal for a season or two at least, or as quiet and normal as it can be for a club of this size and worldwide importance.
One thing that transfer speculation does indicate is a sense of direction. Ninety percent of all transfer coverage is piffle, manna from heaven for football's version of the chattering classes. What it represents in reality is a firm pointer, from media and fans alike, towards where they think your squad is lacking.
If the sale of Suarez wasn't a big enough clue, the failure of Remy to pass his test and the reluctance of Borini to move on should also have been enough. Sturridge's precautionary return to England may not have been very important but it does remind fans that he missed a couple of months through injury last season and he will be in greater demand this season for Liverpool home and abroad and England in Euro 2016 qualifying.
He always had Suarez to shield him from the excessive demands placed upon the Reds' strikers and though the media's brief focus on Balotelli appeared self-serving -- you can safely predict with Mario that the headlines would write themselves -- it does demonstrate where people think this Liverpool squad is weak.
Sterling has come on in leaps and bounds during 2014, he was quite breath-taking against Manchester City in the States despite another curious offside decision, but surely it is too early for him to step into Suarez's giant shoes? Talk of giving him the fabled No. 7 shirt also is premature, though obviously somebody has to get it. Rumours abound that it was earmarked for Remy, but so much for that.
Rodgers says he is still searching. Whether that's for another unpredictable but gifted striker or a prolific midfielder will be his choice. Whoever it may be, can Liverpool just sign a quiet professional whose baggage is filled with talent and ambition, not eccentricity and trouble? The newspapers can fill their back pages without any extra help from Anfield this year. Suarez gave them enough for a lifetime, surely?