Reds cash injection won't guarantee success
Liverpool fans could be forgiven for feeling optimistic. Not only do they again grace the last eight of Europe's elite club competition, but it's been confirmed work will start on their new stadium in Stanley Park and now the club's new owners have unveiled a £40million war chest.
After 17 years without a league title to follow two decades of almost unbridled success it is the Premiership crown which supporters crave the most. Of course, the Champions League success of 2005 will always be a golden memory but there's nothing the Anfield faithful would like more than compete with Manchester United on more than mere regional rivalry.
In fact, during the long, barren period it's difficult to find a season when Liverpool can truly be considered title contenders. Even when they were second to Arsenal in 2001/02 they finished seven points behind despite winning 13 of their last 15 matches. They were never truly in the hunt.
Many believed that this would be the season Liverpool would emerge from the shadows and become Chelsea's closest rivals for the Premiership crown. Again that challenge has failed to materialise and they have been left to contest third place.
Few predicted Liverpool would be 21 points off the pace with seven games left. That they were only nine points off champions Chelsea last term would suggest they have gone backwards rather than forwards - and they will need to win all their remaining fixtures to even get close to their 82 point haul of 2005/06.
It's away form which has cost them, with just five wins on the road compared to the 11 won by both Manchester United and Chelsea.
Liverpool are a long way off being champions. In fact the gap looks as though it could be widening.
Manager Rafael Bentiez continues to enjoy what seems to be unconditional support from the terraces, even if there was a voice of dissent from the boardroom which led to Noel White resigning. White questioned the Spaniard's leadership and transfer dealings following the dismal 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford and was quickly dispatched from the club.
It's arguable that Benitez has been living off that Champions League final victory, with little progress since.
New owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks have offered their full support after completing the takeover. They've uttered all the right sound bites, 'tradition' being their key buzz word, and have now provided the funding for the new stadium and Bentiez's third summer of rebuilding.
The headlines will grip most Liverpool fans. Seldom have the Reds splashed the cash in chase of the Premiership dream. But £40million does not go very far in modern football, even if the transfer boom is long since over. And when you consider that Benitez has spent £26-£30million each season since taking charge the 'war chest' no longer seem so substantial.
With the untold additional wealth from the Premiership's new broadcasting deal to consider, the American duo hardly seem to be pushing the boat out in comparison to the spending levels under the Moores family.
Benitez's problem in the past is that he has used his cash to buy two or three players, rather than going out and signing the kind of player capable of inspiring a team to the title.
After spending close to £13million on Peter Crouch and Mo Sissoko, and then Jermaine Pennant and Craig Bellamy, would Liverpool not have been better served by signing one true matchwinner each summer?
Perhaps now is the chance to find out, but the fact remains that Chelsea and Manchester United have assembled squads with individual players of huge value and by comparison Liverpool's squad was signed at a snip. Take United: Rio Ferdinand - £30m, Cristiano Ronaldo - £12.25m, Wayne Rooney - £30m, Louis Saha - £13m, Michael Carrick - £18.6m.
Benitez has only come close to spending a similar sum when signing Xabi Alonso from Real Sociedad for £10.8million prior to the start of the 2004/05 season. That Alonso is now considered to be one of the finest midfield talents in the Premiership adds to the suggestion that it is often wise to spend that bit more to get the best.
Liverpool spent just short of £26million in Benitez's first season, followed by £29million last season and £30million this campaign. It's hard to work out exactly where all that cash has gone. Maybe White had a point. If Liverpool only have an extra £10million to spend next season it may not go much further.
Despite spending £9million on Dirk Kuyt last summer, the Dutch forward has not managed to become the prolific marksmen they were hoping for and is currently on a run of eight games without a goal. With nine Premiership goals from 29 appearances his record does not compare well with the like of Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney or Theirry Henry.
The problem Benitez faces is that you can rarely sign a truly great striker for around the £10million mark. He's hotly tipped to dip back into the Spanish market for Valencia striker David Villa, but he's rumoured to be valued at £25million which would blow the majority of the kitty. The link to Barcelona's unsettled Samuel Eto'o is, surely, a spurious one.
It seems far more likely that Benitez will go English again for a striker such as Darren Bent. But is Bent really a striker who is going to score the goals for a Championship-winning team?
Ukraine international Andriy Voronin has already agreed to sign for Liverpool on a Bosman free transfer from Bayer Leverkusen. But the 26-year-old has hardly been as impressive in the Bundesliga as Dimitar Berbatov was for Leverkusen last season. He's bagged eight goals this term whereas Berbatov, such a revelation for Spurs, plundered 21. Voronin is not a marquee player to push the Reds on.
Liverpool also have problems out wide, with Jermaine Pennant consistently inconsistent and Mark Gonzalez proving to be far from worth the wait for his work permit complications. Benfica winger Simao, also tracked by Chelsea, has long been linked with a switch to Anfield and proved to be out of the club's financial reach in August. It seems likely Benitez will be back with his new riches.
FC Sevilla right-back Daniel Alves remains a target too, though the need for cover in the full-back areas is less pressing. And the doubts over Jose Reina could be solved if the manager shows faith in Scott Carson, the England Under-21 goalkeeper who has performed so admirably for troubled Charlton Athletic this season.
Benitez needs to move away from signing good players and look for excellence. Liverpool look more suited to cup football than the rigours of a 38-game league campaign while Benitez's reliance on the squad rotation system can affect a team's consistency and flow.
Liverpool are a good team, of that there is no doubt, yet they are not a great team. And until they sign the best they are destined to remain in the shadow of others. £40million in the coffers may not be enough to change that.