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Jul 7, 2008

Summer of frustration for cash-strapped Rafa

A left-footed footballer and a long-term target finally became a Liverpool player on Friday. It was not Gareth Barry, however, but the Udinese full-back Andrea Dossena. In a summer where frustration appears the underlying emotion for Rafa Benitez, nothing is completed quickly. If the choice of the replacement for the Roma-bound John Arne Riise appeared made some time ago - and in May, Dossena expressed his willingness to move to Merseyside - the move was only completed in July.

Meanwhile, the offers for Barry are increased incrementally; to judge by Aston Villa's response, they go up by about 25p a time and according to Liverpool, by around £1 million. Four bids have been rejected and while the England midfielder appears to have reached the point of no return at Villa Park, it is unlikely he will become a Liverpool player until the valuation of £18 million is met.

Besides the interminable delay, it is all the more galling for Liverpool as they had hoped to acquire Barry comparatively cheaply, presuming a small cash outlay plus some combination of Peter Crouch, Scott Carson and Steve Finnan would have sufficed. Instead, the whole of the proceeds of Xabi Alonso's probable move to Juventus still won't finance Barry's arrival; those who watched the Spaniard's superlative display against Greece in Euro 2008 may wonder if, accomplished passer and steadying influence as Barry is, Liverpool will actually acquire a superior player.

But when Martin O'Neill referred to 'a mish-mash' of players offered in part-exchange for Barry, he inadvertently revealed the major factor undermining Liverpool's transfer dealings: a shortage of actual cash. Tom Hicks and George Gillett may insist their relationship has been at least partially repaired, and the global credit crunch may be responsible, but Liverpool's finances have taken a turn for the worse.

Last summer's £50 million outlay will not be repeated unless the vast majority of it is recouped in player sales. Hence the sight of Liverpool, their historic grandeur notwithstanding, resembling second-hand car salesmen, forever negotiating a part-exchange. Hence the excessive values placed on their own players, such as the suggestion that Crouch, with one year left on his contract, should command a fee of £15 million, in the hope of boosting Benitez's transfer fund; now Portsmouth's more realistic bid of £10 million looks enough to result in his departure. Hence suggestions of a deal for James Milner, even though the Newcastle winger was far from the Spaniard's top target: Liverpool merely believed they could use makeweights to affect a swap.

And consequently the hope that friendship with Benitez's players - Steven Gerrard in Barry's case - can convince them to come to Anfield, or that being a lifelong Liverpool fan, as Robbie Keane is, will prove decisive. Once again, the prospect of a part-exchange, again with Crouch, seems to have prompted Liverpool's interest. In the process, they may recruit their best striker since Michael Owen, with the exception of a certain Spaniard.

Yet that also risks disrupting a successful formula, removing Gerrard from his role as Fernando Torres' support act and prompter and granting him a return to his unfavoured terrain of the right flank. In turn, it also reduces the logic of signing Barry, whose understanding with the Liverpool captain has been apparent in a central role for England.

But then Liverpool's transfer policy is not being dictated by normal criteria. The requirement to raise money can distort priorities and deflect from targets. Despite a requirement for greater invention on the flanks, talk of wingers such as David Bentley has dissipated, bar the odd mention of Stuart Downing or James Milner.

Instead, the low esteem in which Jermaine Pennant is held by Benitez's peers - there are no takers for the right winger, even as a makeweight in a deal - suggests he will be at Anfield again. But it also means that Yossi Benayoun may represent the only credible alternative to Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel, either of whom may have to be pressed into service in attack if Crouch goes and Torres is injured.

At least Philipp Degen represented that rarity for Liverpool, a simple signing conducted without an inflated fee. That the Borussia Dortmund right-back, recruited on a Bosman, was on the bench in Euro 2008 may not bode well. Nor does the failure of Liverpool's last free arrival from Germany, Andriy Voronin.

But while Benitez's record in the transfer market remains mixed, the spectacular success of Torres has quietened some of his critics. Moreover, the manager merits sympathy now. Expectations are a fact of life at Liverpool; talk of the title abounds every season, regardless of the context.

Next season will be no different, even if Benitez is reduced to offering Joan the tea lady in part-exchange in attempt to facilitate another arrival. And while he was allowed funds to recruit Javier Mascherano and Martin Skrtel earlier in the year, it will be instructive to analyse the Premier League's net spending when the transfer window shuts.

Chelsea seem certain to have paid most; Manchester United's outlay rather depends on the Cristiano Ronaldo situation; Tottenham and Manchester City have already shown a fondness for the costliest players; Newcastle may yet do likewise. In the spending league, Liverpool may only rank a place in mid-table.

Not for the first time, Liverpool's manager and supporters may be regretting the change of ownership that was supposed to propel them into the rich list and a 21st-century stadium. But if Andrea Dossena finds himself granted a rapturous reception at Anfield, it might be because, Torres' exploits in Euro 2008 aside, Liverpool have had little else to cheer so far this summer.

Email newsdesk@soccernet.com with your thoughts.

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