It’s always wrong to think you have won the transfer window; remember Everton in 2017? But looking back, did that even make much sense at the time (other than to Richard Keys), buying three slow no.10s? Had anyone seen Wayne Rooney – once without doubt the best British striker, by then a plodding midfielder – play since 2015?
It’s wrong to pre-judge signings, but what you can do is try to assess the suitability and quality of those players when compared to the requirements, and how they might mitigate any shortcomings. You can’t predict injuries (unless they are recurrences of old ones), nor how players will settle, adapt and learn the language. (Although the climate in England is not an issue right now.) So you can only base it on what you know about the new signings and how you see their potential unfolding, without the aid of a crystal ball.
To me, the benchmark for Liverpool is always 1987, when four key players were signed between January and October, at a 100% hit rate. And not just a 100% hit rate, but where Ray Houghton was a clear success (busy midfielder weighing in goals), John Aldridge scored a ton of goals (albeit a fair few penalties, in the glorious era when Liverpool still won penalties), Peter Beardsley took the team to a new level, and best of all, John Barnes was a generation-defining player in the English game; the kind of player you are lucky to sign or find once every ten years.
I tend to mention 1987 at this time of the year, as I look at the general state of Liverpool’s transfer business, and add the context of the Transfer Price Index that Graeme Riley and I created to convert all transfer fees in the Premier League era to modern day money. Obviously 1987 predates that, but it remains the benchmark on how to do business.
This year has the potential to match 1987; although if you made it an 18-month period, and included Mo Salah and Andy Robertson, it could perhaps be hard to beat in terms of quantity and quality.
(As an aside here, Bob Paisley still remains the master buyer of Liverpool’s history, with an astonishing hit-rate with his signings, almost all of whom were not established world-class players before arriving, and many of whom were aged 19-24. But in some seasons he only used 14 or 15 players, and so mostly it would be one or two signings a year for the first team, and maybe a youngster here and there. Squad sizes are now easily double what they were back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and so logically, you usually need to sign twice as many players these days. Indeed, perhaps even more than that, as a) there’s more freedom of movement for players, ever since the Bosman ruling of 1995, and b) the greater number of foreign players means a more transitory nature – players may try a couple of years in the Premier League before wanting a new challenge, whereas 99% of British players have always stayed within the British game, and therefore, more time would be spent at each club, given fewer opportunities to move.)
You also have to analyse the recent history of the club’s transfers, and how successful they were proving, which may give more cause for optimism (if it shows there’s an actual plan in place in terms of what to do with the players when they arrive); are they exceeding Tomkins’ Law, named by Dan Kennett after I analysed 3,000+ Premier League transfers for the success rate of all those transfers. By my calculations, roughly 50% “succeeded” out of all the deals, using a fairly objective – but not foolproof – set of criteria based on games played and/or resale profit, but even the most expensive deals rise to a success rate of just 60%.
Everyone could see that Virgil van Dijk was, to an impeccable degree, exactly what Liverpool required, although he arrived without having played much football for a year, and there was still the obvious risks involved, in terms of the pressure of playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, and the weight of the fee, neither of which had affected him before. (Celtic are a big club by certain standards, but exist in a small league that is not followed internationally, and they have little European pedigree since 1970.)
Remember, other nailed-on successes have flopped badly; just think back to how it seemed that Chelsea (at least to me) would be unstoppable with Andriy Shevchenko and then later, Fernando Torres. But that was Chelsea buying superstars who could easily have been beyond their peak; megastars whose sharpness was dimming and whose hunger was perhaps not what it once was.
Perhaps big-money signings are generally succeeding more than in the past (although this is something I need to go back and look at in more detail), as clubs have generally wised up to actually integrating those players – even if’s still no guarantee.
In the 2008 book Soccernomics, there’s the story of how Real Madrid made zero effort to help Nicholas Anelka settle back in 1999, having spent a fortune on him; not even assigning him a locker, so that whenever he went to put his stuff in one locker another player came along and asked him to move it. Perhaps clubs now do too much for players, creating man-children who can’t even open a bottle of water for themselves. But they don’t just leave multi-million pound assets to sink or swim. (On this last point, this can of course be character-building. Also, it can lead to drowning.)
In 2018 money, based on Premier League inflation, Anelka cost Real Madrid £210,061,893 (I’ve copied and pasted the figure from the database for this article, so I’m not trying to make a big deal of the accuracy to the last pound). This is the third-highest figure in the entire database, and all three of those figures are for exporting players at a cost higher than the Premier League had ever paid for an individual. (Cristiano Ronaldo £336,568,756; Gareth Bale £241,326,808; Nicolas Anelka £210,061,893.)
Last summer Ronaldo was around the £200m mark, which is also what the world transfer record in actual money ended up being when PSG bought Neymar. British and world records tend to jump more sporadically, sometimes not being broken for a few years; but all the while the average can be rising. Inflation for last season was at over 40%.
At this point it may be worth reminding you that each year with the Transfer Price Index we take the average price of all players signed by Premier League clubs and that forms the index, and this tracks inflation. (Many of you will know all this, but it’s worth including a brief explanation each time I write about it.)
The more a player cost in relation to the overall state of the market in any given season, the greater his fee will seem in 2018 money. In particular, the players bought by Chelsea and Man United c.2002-2004 will always seem astronomical, which is because, on average, the prices of Premier League players were falling, due to the collapse of ITV Digital and the reduced Sky television deal of the time; while Roman Abramovic injected his own considerable personal wealth into the transfer pot.
As the market fell – by 20.53% in 2002/03 and another 17.20% in 2003/04 – Man United and Chelsea were the only two clubs who seemed unaffected. Remember, at this point Liverpool weren’t even able to pay half the British transfer record for their most expensive player (Djibril Cissé).
Chelsea, in particular, rewrote the rules, and the importance of factoring in inflation can be seen with how people could now argue – in the age of illogical arguments – that Chelsea’s unique, astronomical and indeed, mind-blowing spending from the time – which must always remain astronomical and mind-blowing within the context of the day – could be written off as fairly unimpressive now; like saying that the brand new Rolls Royce Phantom delivered to Princess Margaret in 1954 was actually cheap because it “only cost £8,500”; when of course it would be well over £200,000 in today’s money. To not use inflation means that a bespoke Rolls Royce limousine for royalty cost 50% less than a current Ford Fiesta. Hence, converting transfer fees to current day money is the only thing to do.
Another reason we created football inflation is because normal economic inflation means prices in our daily lives have only doubled since 1992; but the average price of a footballer is now 27 times what it was 26 years ago. When the index rises as sharply as it has in recent seasons, then there’s even a huge difference between buying a player in 2016 and 2018. (Paul Pogba cost Man United the world record fee in 2016, at £89m rising to £94m. That is therefore more expensive than a player costing £100m in the new inflated market would be.)
At the time they occur, pretty much all big-money signings tend to feel right, and sure to succeed, as the fee relates to how someone is either playing right then – and recency bias makes us judge how “hot” someone is – or had played to that level consistently in the past. There are other factors in play, but it’s rare for big-money signings to be relatively unheard of.
But Angel Di Maria (£149,274,545), Juan Veron (£147,331,401) and Paul Pogba (£132,333,689) are seen as failures at Man United (Pogba still has time to correct that perception), and Andy Carroll (£121,785,131) certainly failed to live up to hopes at Liverpool; although that was an unusual case of his “11th hour” fee being whatever Chelsea paid for Fernando Torres, minus £15m. Either way, it didn’t exactly work out for anyone bar Newcastle.
To further clarify, using our Transfer Price Index, “2018 money” is calculated up to the end of the January 2018 transfer window. So even though it’s 2018 money, it is based on the season, rather than the calendar year.
So anyone bought in 2017/18 has the same value as their actual transfer fee, because it’s still 2017/18 money; and obviously new players retain their actual fee. But at the end of the January 2019 transfer window we will convert 2017/18 players to 2018/19 money (while players bought in 2018/19 are already in 2019 money). So Paul Pogba’s price in 2018 money is £132,333,689, but in 2019 money (this season’s money) it could perhaps be over £150,000,000. As such, £66m on a goalkeeper in 2018/19 isn’t necessarily that expensive.
If there was a 10% rise in the average price of Premier League players this season (which in itself would be way down on last season, but I chose that figure as it makes the maths easier to explain) then van Dijk’s fee will increase to £75m + 10% = £82.5m (and Pogba’s would be £132m + £13.2m). But of course, everyone else’s fee (bar those bought this season) will also increase by the same percentage.
In other words, if football inflation was a nice round 10% every season, then someone bought for £50m would rise to £55m after a full year, then £60.5m, then £67m, and so on, with every passing year. But of course, it usually runs much faster than 10%.
Getting back to some other big buys who failed to deliver, Shevchenko, at £200,079,013, remains the most expensive player bought by a club in the Premier League era, and was a clear flop; while Torres (ranked 6th at £173,978,759) also generally underwhelmed for the Blues. Also, Hernan Crespo (£133,873,214) scored a pretty decent number of goals, but didn’t really fit in beyond that. Shaun Wright-Phillips (£152,940,821) and Adrian Mutu (£125,904,570), both of whom were bought by Chelsea, and Jose Antonio Reyes (Arsenal £140,248,129) complete the list of flops within the top 20 – which Chelsea dominate. (Andy Carroll just misses out – not because he wasn’t a flop, but because his fee is ranked 22nd.)
Adjusted for inflation (which, when done for a team over the course of a league season, we call the £XI), then even the costliest possible team Liverpool could field this coming season would not match the lowest £XI of 13 of the past 14 champions; and that’s ignoring the fact that Liverpool will not be able to field its costliest team all season, as no one ever can.
Leicester were the obvious exception, but otherwise (adjusted for inflation) an £XI of a minimum of almost £600m in 2018 money has won every title bar on since 2004; and Liverpool could top out this season around £550m.
(In order since 2004, the £XIs of the title winners, in order: £778.9m, £916.1m, £683.9m, £689.1m, £635.8m, £749.8m, £608.6m, £703.2m, £655.1m, £744.5m, £623.4m, Leicester = £58.3m!, £585.3m, £753.1m.)
I used to call this basic figure the Title Zone; a mark that needed to be surpassed to win the league. Leicester dented that theory somewhat – although nothing is ever 100% set in concrete in sport – but the Title Zone has only been broken once in 14 years. Liverpool were frequently only halfway towards the Title Zone under Rafa Benítez, Brendan Rodgers and Jürgen Klopp.
But it’s getting closer. This season the Reds could be fielding a team that costs £500m+ after inflation; but the Manchester clubs will both be at £700m+, and maybe even more if they pull out some late big spending. (And if they don’t spend big, they still have all those mega signings in their squads. They don’t have to start with only their youth team this season, do they? Paul Pogba doesn’t becomes cheap because of the Rolls Royce Phantom logic.)
Liverpool are moving in the right direction, achieved by selling a key asset (Philippe Coutinho), reaching two European finals in the past three seasons, expanding Anfield, and generally being a well-run club now. The sale of Coutinho was seen by many as a travesty; a lack of ambition. But it was what it always is when an insane fee is offered: a chance to bring in two or three top-quality (but undervalued) players with the money. It won’t always work (see the sale of Luis Suarez), but the aforementioned apotheosis of transfer dealing – the 1987 rebuilding of an entire attacking team – was funded by the sale of Ian Rush to Juventus.
It’s worth reiterating how Liverpool are suddenly able to spend money lately – the fact that it has been raised by now being one of the best-run clubs in the world; by progressing on the pitch, and by Klopp improving players to the point where almost all are worth much more money (beyond the simple rise in inflation) than when they were signed.
A tweet attributed to Transfermarkt (or using their data) read: “Since Klopp has taken charge of #LFC the club’s squad value has increased by €557m. At the start of his reign, the squad was worth €356m and it’s now worth €915m. No other club has had a bigger increase in their overall transfer value.”
[Note: these values are nothing to do with our inflation model, but relate to increases in estimated market value; whereas our “current money fees” are essentially what was paid in, say, 2012 or 2017, converted to 2018 money. Obviously the estimated value of players also increases with inflation too – everyone’s value seems to rise when a new transfer record is set – but Mo Salah’s new valuation of £135m on Transfermarkt – which may still be on the light side – relates in part to the market doubling in value in the past year or so, in addition to his outrageous success, minus a small amount for being a year older.]
Obviously part of this increase in LFC’s squad value is from buying players like van Dijk, Alisson and Keita, for fees above £50m. But also, Liverpool have “lost” a £150m asset in 2018, and crucially, have added value to not only a ton of value in reasonable-prized signings like Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané, but turned cheap players like Andrew Robertson and Joe Gomez into far more valuable assets.
The incredible success rate (to date) of Jürgen Klopp and Michael Edwards
Liverpool appear to know what they’re doing now, and much of it relates to the excellent relationship between Jürgen Klopp and Michael Edwards, ably assisted by Mike Gordon.
However, as I said the other day, I don’t think the owners are suddenly changing tack: they put the money raised from transfers back into the team (if not immediately, then when players become available, with Klopp himself often preferring to wait for players than throw money at an inferior solution), and are raising revenues to raise the wage bill, without bowing to superstar culture and crazy demands.
I have defended FSG for this from the outset (if not always some of their decisions, but then judgement calls can always go either way), as it’s the way I think football clubs should be run; a belief predating even my knowledge of FSG, or NESV as they then were.
It just so happens that the wisdom of Liverpool’s transfer “committee” is now tied to an elite world-class manager who works with them, rather than against them. This is doubly beneficial because Klopp is not only a better, higher-profile manager than Brendan Rodgers, but Klopp is also less insecure (and therefore less likely to create egotistical squabbles). Rodgers will feel he had a right to work the way he did, but it was adversarial in terms of the whole transfer team and all that knowledge. By contrast, Klopp taps into that knowledge.
Liverpool are not suddenly trying to “buy the league”, as the money has been raised by progress on the pitch and selling an “unsellable” player. To not then spend that money if the right players can be identified would be perverse. In no way are the Reds just throwing money at it, as I will prove.
Liverpool are doing many of the same things as before, but doing them better because of a shared vision, and also, the increase in quality of performances and players under Klopp has a) raised more money from European adventures, and b) enabled the club to finally compete in the Champions League in a second consecutive season in FSG’s tenure, having finished in the top four at a time when there are six very strong contenders.
This – along with Klopp’s presence – creates a virtuous cycle, whereby it’s easier to attract better players as there’s the Champions League, better team-mates to play alongside, and the attraction of the giant gurning, grinning German, for whom top players want to play. Unlike Rodgers, Klopp – with is stellar reputation and incredible relatability – can talk to top players and suddenly they only want to play for Liverpool.
As before, the squad is not being filled with established world-class talent, a slew of older pros, egos and players on outsized wages – although part of the loss of direction in Rodgers’ final 15 months included buying a melting striker (Rickie Lambert) and the one-man-team-spirit-wrecking-ball that was Mario Balotelli.
FSG and Edwards are still targeting young players with the logical benefit of sell-on values, but perhaps now aged 22-25, rather than 20-22; although this is in part, I think, related to how, even in the last 10 years, life in the Premier League has got harder for 20- and- 21-year-olds, let alone kids even younger than that. There will always be exceptions, but the teenage prodigy has become rarer, and it seems that now most players are only of the sufficient physical and mental maturity at around the age of 22. The faster the Premier League gets, the stronger, and the more high-profile, the tougher it becomes for players at the far edges of the age spectrum.
(Liverpool’s 19-21-year-old signings have proved a mixed bag, as you might expect. Philippe Coutinho was an instant hit, while Jordan Henderson and Emre Can eventually thrived; but Divock Origi, Sebastian Coates, Luis Alberto, Fabio Borini and Lazar Markovic saw their careers stall – although time, and a change of scenery, can often help these players prove themselves later in their careers. Both Dominic Solanke and Marko Grujic are nicely placed to have good careers at Liverpool, but at this point it seems it could go either way for either of them.)
In the same period Liverpool have also obviously had flops in the 23-25 age bracket, as age itself won’t guarantee success. But this narrow band – just 24 months in the age bracket – includes Suarez, Sturridge, Firmino, Mané, Robertson, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Salah, and Alisson and Keita are the latest additions to it (van Dijk was 26 when signed).
Resale value is important because it enables you to do what Liverpool did with the sale of Coutinho: improve several positions, if done well. But Salah and van Dijk will see a dip in their transfer values in the next few years, as they get closer to 30; but if they continue to be as successful on the pitch, and want to stay at the club, the resale value becomes unimportant.
That said, when you don’t want is for your whole team to all hit their 30s at the same time, so that the entire team will start to melt, and little money can be recouped to rebuild the side. Of course, some clubs are still willing to pay what seem silly amounts for players as old as 33. But if Liverpool have a core of 4-5 players so successful that major honours are won in the next 3-4 years, then losing some transfer value will be offset by the rewards of success, and success allows for a steady reinvestment in fresh players in other positions. And again, if Liverpool have a core of 4-5 players so successful that major honours are won in the next 3-4 years, and then those players can move to Spain or Italy at the age of 29 or 30 for a reasonable fee, then that’s another win-win.
(The full list of older players – aged 27+ – who have been signed since 2010, albeit with four of them arriving before FSG took over, reads as: Meireles, Bogdan, Cole, Konchesky, Jovanovic, Milner, Poulsen, Klavan, Doni, Bellamy, Toure, Lambert and Manninger. Bar a couple of exceptions, that’s a big OUCH! Not a lot lost in transfer fees, admittedly, but that’s a ton of wage expenditure right there.)
Value For Money
Since Klopp arrived, the only clear non-successes (or yet-to-have-made-it-youngsters) have cost less £6m or less (or £11m if adjusting the pre-2017/18 signings for inflation).
These are Marko Grujic (bought for the future, maturing nicely without yet breaking through); Dominic Solanke (bought for the future, played well last season in general terms, and remains a top prospect, but failed to score headline-grabbing goals); Alex Manninger (very old 3rd-choice keeper on a free for a year); Loris Karius (poor first season, but much better second season until Kiev, but only 38% of league games started since arriving, and now consigned to no.2, at best); and on loan, Steven Caulker.
But if we were to base it on minutes played in relation to fee, Solanke would be a hit, and he would also be a hit – if not a runaway smash – in my judgement of his playing style, even if it’s still a little rough around the edges; it’s just that, subjectively, people don’t yet understand his value. So I won’t argue that he’s been a hit, yet.
You could also argue that Joel Matip, on a free, and Ragnar Klavan (£6,244,961 after inflation) are not exactly successes, but they’ve played a decent amount of football for almost no transfer fees (Matip featuring in 64.5% of league games, Klavan 40.8%), and both have had really good spells, as well as some ordinary ones. Again, minutes played in relation to fee would have both down as successful transfers, but it could be that they are Liverpool’s 3rd and 4th choice centre-backs this season, with Joe Gomez perhaps challenging for that role,..
This detailed examination of our squad came in response to our article ‘Who Do The Reds Still Need To Sign This Summer?’. It was described as “a Tour de force”, “a brilliant post” and “a proper piece of TTT thinking” .
To me the issue isn’t who we need to sign or even who we want to sign, but whether we can free up a squad space for another signing in the first place.
I’ve posted something similar before the transfer window opened, but it bears repeating: far from having the “small” squad that some fans see, we are actually way over the limit for players and really shouldn’t be considering any further purchases until the squad is thinned out.
To clarify, the squad rules of the European competitions state that the team needs to comply with the following:
Four players classed as “Club-Grown” i.e. have trained for 3+ years with Liverpool before the age of 21
A total of eight players classed as “Home-Grown” i.e. have trained for 3+ years with any English team before the age of 21. This includes the Club-Grown players above, so to meet the minimum requirements we need four other English players
A total squad size of 25 including the Home-Grown/Club-Grown players i.e. no more than 17 foreign players
This week’s posts selected by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes.
The idea of this round-up is to give you all some idea of the range of debate on the site. If you’d like to be part of our troll-free community, there’s a ‘Subscribe’ tab at the very bottom of the page.
1 – Slick Mud appeals for some context after Lovren’s apprehending of the on-field protest during the Final:
Best moment of the final: Kylian Mbappe high-fiving Pussy Riot’s protest against klepto-dictator Putin.
Worst: Dejan Lovren aggressive behavior towards the activists.
Come on man. Cut Dejan some slack. Please.
M’bappe was only happy to see them because if I am not mistaken France was leading. Any interruptions might be a welcome.
Lovren was definitely incensed because his team is behind. In. A. World. Cup. Final.
Some understanding and context please. After all the wars, migration and reintegration etc that Lovren had to go through, reaching the World Cup Final is the last thing he has had to dream of.
2 – Mark Cohen on Liverpool’s growth in the transfer market:
There is something truly big-time about FSG’s behaviour over the last season and a bit in respect of transfers.
This Allison thing wouldn’t surprise me at all, given how we’ve moved in market over last year:
Keita – Big time Transfer
VVD – Massive transfer
Fabinho – Under the radar big-time too
Fekir – Under the radar and only halted by the club for good reason.
It would appear FSG had a basic but transparent financial blueprint:
Stabilize the club financially
Grow Revenues in accordance with global stature
Once revenues in line with size of club – act accordingly
What I mean is, many Liverpool fans still exist in this state-of-mind that, whilst we are a big club, we are not a huge club considering the likes of City and Chelsea (and that’s before we consider mega-giants United), but this is no longer fact.
Yes, we are a little ways behind Chelsea and quite some way behind City, but we are going forward with our squad building whereas Chelsea are likely to lose two of their most valuable assets.
Bottom line is, when your squad is valued at 850m euro, and you are still likely to buy a little more – you are an absolute giant, in any sense of the word.
Its taken some time, but FSG really have placed the club in a long term position to challenge for the biggest prizes year in and year out. The icing on top is that they have one of the world’s great managers in charge to oversee this – match made in heaven.
3 – MikeH talking about the Fekir situation:
With Fekir, negligence has to cover 2 aspects. Firstly, negligently overpaying when you’re aware of a serious injury. That could obviously be remedied through a change in price/structure etc.
The second is more serious. Paying up for a player key to your strategy knowing he has a serious issue and then seeing his knee blow up a week later. That is terrible decision making and not remedied at all by payment terms in any way.
Just my opinion but if we retain an interest then we’re likely to wait a year. We’d buy someone else now and revisit Fekir as a squad option in a years time. Spending a lot less on a squad option that could be brilliant makes more sense than making a suspect player a key part of our attacking play. Imagine the meltdown if it went wrong quickly.
Its really tough. I’d imagine Klopp and the player are gutted. Klopp clearly invests emotionally in players we want, its why we are attracting top players. As a business decision though there isn’t really much to think about.
4 – Daniel Rhodes on Alisson and Karius:
Going back over Alisson’s games since January, and then comparing to Karius – the Brazilian made more mistakes. Not necessarily just on the ball errors, but also dropped crosses and fumbled shots that went straight to the opposition (vs Barcelona); and then against us was he suspect on the Wijnaldum header in the second leg? Plus I counted another couple in the first leg at Anfield. However, for context, he also made seven saves in that game, and seven versus Barcelona, and then ELEVEN according to Wyscout when Roma played Napoli (and lost 4-2).
I hope folk don’t expect zero errors!
Crucially though, he’s an upgrade on the ball, saving shots at a pretty incredible rate and I’d say similar to Karius on crosses.
And considering the German only made those recorded errors after being elbowed and later being diagnosed with concussion, it’s very harsh to judge him for the CL final performance. My guess is Klopp was looking to upgrade all along?!
5 – Jeff on Liverpool’s changed transfer market operations in recent times:
I have no idea if in fact Alisson does comes to Liverpool but it does seem almost certain nor today can I say if he comes he will be a success. What pleases me about not only the possibility that Alisson will be coming to Liverpool but also the arrivals of any number of players starting with Mane and going to the present with Fabinho is that there has been a sea change in Liverpool. First, the talent scouts and talent evalutors and the transfer committee are identifying top end talent. Second, Jurgen Klopp makes it clear that Liverpool will only bring in players that he rates even if in the case of Salah they are a fourth choice. Third, the club in finding the money to bring in the players the talent people rate and Klopp wants. Fourth, Klopp and the coaches know how to coach up the players that Liverpool bring in from the transfer world. Fifth, the players that Liverpool are bringing in are better players for Liverpool than they were from their previous clubs. To me no reasonable person can ask more and every Liverpool supporter should be pleased with how Liverpool are operating in the transfer market. Simply put, we are returning to the Liverpool of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley.
6 – Mobykidz on the new “old” Liverpool:
WELCOME back to the new “old” Liverpool FC. A self-confident, aggressive and decisive organisation both on and off the pitch. Whilst its behaviour is more in keeping with that of a “galactico” club its core values of respect, honesty, integrity and much more reflect a path that is not at odds with FSG’s attempt to buy what it takes to get to the Premier League summit. I read this morning some football watchers were bemoaning Klopp’s huge outlay, like its coming out of their own pocket! They claim he is like every other “cheque book manager” out there. Well firstly football clubs deal with reality unlike these rent-a-quid pundits, the worst to be found working for Ne*s Corp. But as much as they are entitled to air their views, often in mediums that lack usual sensibilities, we know differently based on analysis and common sense. Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester Utd each have an identity forged on recent success. Only the latter can compete with us on sharing the deliciousness of a past passage rich in triumphs, even if we have won it five times. But the idea FSG and Klopp are betraying this false principle on spending money is a media invention.
The issue is the current hierarchy of media darlings is about to get a rude awakening. Chelsea, Man Utd, Man City and Tottenham all sit snuggly within the Ne*s Corp family. You may have noticed a pattern pre-season in two or three narratives currently doing the rounds. The first in on Shaqiri’s departure from Stoke – the Neville brothers’ criticisms, Charlie Adams on TalkSp*rt yesterday and numerous others. Now I’d be the first one to criticise the Swiss international but the level of vitriol is verging on abusive. Adams didn’t exactly cover himself in glory last season – no one at Stoke did. But statistics point to the fact Shaqiri did indeed try and to say he ‘should have kept Stoke up last season’ is a lazy man’s excuse so not to focus on the feeble efforts of two British Managers – Mark Hughes and latterly Paul Lambert in keeping them up.
The second narrative, as mentioned, is Klopp becoming a big spender and betraying some lofty principle. The reason is simple – Liverpool are not Ne*s Corp’s friendly in the same way the Manchester and some London clubs are. We NEVER will be. That is not compatible with their business model, which is a frightening prospect – to have a Liverpool FC coming up the rails with speed and money ready to undermine that model. I would carefully watch how Ne*s Corps competitors start to court us. Imagine Liverpool winning the title and Ne*s Corps “leading” title not at that press conference. You will have also noticed the deluge of BBC Salford stories on Manchester Utd – in fact yesterday their top story (on their international version) was an interview with Zlatan talking up Paul Pogba. The day before it was Mourinho headlining on Pogba again. Our pursuit of Alisson was relegated much further down – until Roma’s transfer supremo defended the sale. Again, there are plenty of organisations heavily invested in the status quo – in particular in BBC Salford. [Who doesn’t love a good conspiracy theory!]
As a LFC fan of 35 plus years it’s been more pain than joy. If we are to be successful our huge investment in human capital is necessary. We need the tools to make our ascent to the summit stick. We are not betraying any principles. We are respecting the mountain in front of us and the climb richer clubs have made. That does not imply we have become them. Because at the core of this magnificent club, behind all those trophies, is knowing the fabric that makes up our own rich tapestry. At a club like Liverpool you have to learn to succeed – which without a Russian oligarch, Oil-rich Gulf state or being saddled with massive debt – it is a far more difficult and painful journey. But that is exactly how this club and city has been built and rebuilt in the past, present and likely the future. Through a difficult journey built on hope and hard work that has generated enough revenue to invest in big players. In relative terms we’re paying transfer fees that are close to yesteryear – the difference is the strategic intent behind that. Klopp is not a cheque book manager. He is merely spending the profit of the club’s and his hard work in the past several years and not the oil, gas or debt revenue of oligarchs. In my footballing soul success matters – but it’s a sweeter success if built in the Liverpool way. For me that “way” is like a passage of rites we needed to go through.
Ultimately our motivations revolve around future successes. Klopp’s work is to deliver the quality to make that happen. He does not want to spend any more time acclimatising at Premier League’s base camp. He has had three seasons watching clubs reach the summit. His philosophy is about winning not enduring. With FSG there was never a “Robin Hood” principle behind our succeeding. Who wants to be a one season wonder where our XI or squad could never sustain a climb again and again without favourable conditions. The Alisson transfer is the culmination of that hard work. And massive credit must go to the management side of the club. We’ve not won anything yet. But unlike Manchester Utd, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea we look like pace setters now. And hopefully that will translate itself into our pursuit of Manchester City next season.
The start of next season is the intersecting point of many journeys. FSG. Michael Edwards. Klopp. Players. Coaches. Systems. Staff. Stadium, LFC Family, etc. Buying Alisson has been a difficult process for most LFC fans. I wrote a while back Klopp never faced such a quandary at Dortmund, inheriting Roman Weidenfeller. His loyalty to Mignolet and Karius was commendable but sometimes you have to take a risk the other way. When Klopp was in Germany he said the following:
We have a bow and arrow. The problem is Bayern have a bazooka – but then Robin Hood was successful.”
The problem is Klopp is facing three clubs bigger than Bayern and two like Dortmund in his pursuit of success. Ranieri was a modern-day Robin Hood. Klopp is not. Alisson’s signing is the culmination of the German’s own transition from Bow to Bazooka. But that’s not the real story here. It’s finding a way to come first. And for the first time in nearly 30 years I feel this really might…sorry…will be our year.
Some excited ramblings from the sub-continent…
Articles published on The Tomkins Times this week:
Around the turn of the year Liverpool’s goalkeeping situation was a bit of mess: Mignolet failed to continue with the form he’d shown at the end of the 2016/17 season – and Karius was only being used in the cup games. During the January window the Reds were linked repeatedly with AS Roma’s Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker, so much so on The Tomkins Times we discovered he was from the Rio Grande in this scouting report. Worth the subscription alone, surely? The stats in that piece – as well as those in this by Andrew Beasley earlier this week – suggest he was world class last season.
Rather than look at the data, in this article we are going to focus purely on the video, looking at Alisson’s saves, claims, catches and distribution.
While he isn’t yet confirmed (and let’s hope his knees are in better shape than Nabil Fekir’s), it seems that Alisson Becker is to become Liverpool’s new goalkeeper, in what is a world record in un-inflated terms, but with the vital addition of inflation, only a third of what Juventus paid for Gianluigi Buffon 17 years ago.
This has been the summer of the goalkeeping howler. In case anyone thinks Loris Karius is some kind of blundering freak, he is guilty of just part of a bizarre and apparently ceaseless litany of goalkeeping errors that, to me, seem to date back to Bayern Munich’s Sven Ulreich, who made a remarkably unusual gaffe against Real Madrid (oh how Zinedine Zidane’s men benefited last season, eh?!), before Karius got in on the act, and then pretty much every top-class keeper at the World Cup suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (and/or brain farts).
Hugo Lloris is just the latest, trying to dribble past a player almost in his own 6-yard-box in a World Cup final, and escaping a panning by virtue of his side winning, in part due to very generous refereeing that allowed them to establish a 1st-half lead (oh how the admittedly immense Raphael Varane benefited last season, eh?!); following on from David de Gea letting in a really lame Cristiano Ronaldo shot (hit much less surely than the one from Gareth Bale that Karius fumbled) shortly before Spain crashed out; Manuel Neuer trying to dribble the ball (badly) down the wing; Fernando Muslera (with over 100 caps for Uruguay) losing the flight of a shot; and Willy Caballero kicking the ball straight to an opponent yards from goal.
Jürgen Klopp and his staff have noted how goalkeepers in England are never allowed to escape their mistakes, and how players, once judged, are often never reappraised. Players in all positions miskick the ball, get deceived by the flight or fail to see an opponent either creep up on them or steal in to intercept a pass. They all mishit shots at goal, and even the surest of players can miscontrol a ball or slip over (yawn). But if a keeper does it there’s a kind of extra hysteria around it. Obviously it becomes an issue when a keeper is making too many mistakes, but does this apply to Karius?
Klopp was right; Karius is a very good keeper who was getting better and better until the biggest game of his life. But the baggage around the young German appears to be weighing him down. Karius is nowhere near as bad as people make out, but he was not (yet) an elite keeper, and his road to becoming an elite keeper was made tougher by events in Kiev.
Mistakes can (and often do) make us stronger in life, but as I noted in a recent piece, this is the era of the snide put-down, and of irate blame culture; and in the internet age, no one can escape their mistakes.
Now more than ever we are defined by our mistakes, and yet mistakes are the key factor in learning and improvement. However, the timing of the mistakes, the public nature of them and the cost of them can damn you; if the only time you crash your car is at 70mph into a wall, then you may not get the chance to ever learn from it.
But some psychologists and theorists say that what you are is gone; you are a different person in every single moment, always changing, and never as constant as you think you are. The past has gone – it no longer exists. But memories do. And digital video is around to show that even something in the past can forever be made present.
You can be an ex-alcoholic or an ex-criminal, but not an ex-murderer or an ex-rapist, even once you’ve served your time. Once no longer a virgin you can never be a virgin again. Some labels stick for life. Karius is not merely the sum of what happened in Kiev, but he will be defined by it. People will use it to make his life hell.
Promising keepers have seen their careers sidetracked by one major gaffe, although these keepers can often work their way back up in a lower-pressure environment. England perhaps has a greater obsession with goalkeeping mistakes, possibly tied to our need to pull others down and revel in their despair; American culture, while sometimes seen as nauseating, doesn’t seem to obsess about bringing stars down to earth, whether they merit it or not.
Karius had the spotlight of the world on him, and even when it was pointed out that he may have been suffering a concussion he was roundly ridiculed. An unseen medical ailment was somehow no excuse (which I can relate to, with an “invisible” illness), and yet a broken bone in his foot or hand or 37 stitches stapled into his head would have seen him labelled a hero had he carried on. (Although that leads to the issue of whether players should soldier on or leave the field if they don’t feel 100%, but obviously he didn’t realise he was concussed, if he was concussed, but concussions are complex.)
When he made mistakes in preseason, there were the japes about “is he concussed again?!”, but that doesn’t alter the fact that he’d had a good season until that possible concussion (and that a concussion could, and would, have affected his performance in the final), but that his confidence may have been hollowed out by being the man blamed for Liverpool losing in Kiev (when Sergio Ramos was the true villain of the piece, with vindictive acts of endangerment). He could have been concussed in Kiev, and now, as a result of the global scorn, reduced to a bag of nerves.
Remember, Karius made no mistakes leading to a goal (or even a shot at goal!) last season until just mere minutes after Ramos elbowed him in the temple; where the second error was also, in part, a consequence of the first. That suggests that the doctors may know what they’re talking about (but smartarses on Twitter obviously know more).
But let’s be clear: Alisson Becker – Brazil’s goalkeeper since the age of 22 – appears to have a better pedigree; already with 50% more international caps than Simon Mignolet and Karius combined (all three born in countries that are now major international sides). With Pepe Reina having grown stale and restless (and a little overweight) at Liverpool, perhaps the first prime-years elite keeper that John Achterberg has worked with. (More later on how I think Achterberg actually improved aspects of Mignolet and Karius’ games, but how errors can still happen. A coach can encourage confidence, but he cannot guarantee it. For example, in moments when greatest pressure is on, the best fielders in cricket can drop a simple catch.)
And with Becker, Liverpool are spending pretty big, but let’s not mistake this with the silly “buying the league” stuff I’ve been seeing. Liverpool still aren’t remotely close to having the cost of squads seen in Manchester; simply starting to close the gap a little.
Liverpool are now spending in line with increasing turnover and player sales; using the money received from the sale of Philippe Coutinho to attract top players. (Remember, in order for Liverpool to improve this summer it needed the loss of a world-class talent. If Man City want to sell Kevin de Bruyne or United sell de Gea, then they wouldn’t be buying success if they simply reinvested that money. It’s not financial doping in the way that Chelsea once did under Roman Abramovic.)
Liverpool’s squad cost and the best XI is still a long way behind the two Manchester clubs, albeit closing in fast on Chelsea’s, which used to be way ahead of the Reds’. Indeed, Chelsea appear to have lost out on Becker, as they try to fit within FFP and have to face life outside the Champions League yet again.
There’s a good chance that Liverpool will have the 3rd-highest £XI – the average cost of all 38 lineups adjusted for football inflation – in the league next season, and that hasn’t happened since 2008/09, just before Man City usurped the Reds. (And the Reds have been ranked 5th for quite a while now.) The higher your £XI, the greater your chances of a) finishing in the top four, and b) winning the title.
These were the £XIs last season:
– Man City: £753.1m
– Man Utd: £693.3m
– Chelsea: £494.7m
– Arsenal: £366.6m
– Liverpool: £347.4m
– Spurs: £295.4m
As you can see, Liverpool’s was only around half that of the Manchester clubs, and two-thirds of Chelsea’s.
To add Becker, Naby Keita and Fabinho to Liverpool’s XI would clearly make the £XI significantly more expensive next season; and also, Virgil van Dijk only played in about a third of the league games last season, so his £75m didn’t impact the average too highly. But of course, three players with transfer values would also need to be removed from the XI to accommodate them; and, in addition, the £XI, at the end of the season, is a reflection of who was fit and available, with cheap squad players often reducing the £XI.
There’s virtually no way Liverpool will end the season with an £XI of £500m+, because there’s almost no way all of the most expensive players will play all of the league games.
Liverpool have invested massively in the XI, relative to some other clubs; whereas other clubs have spent on hugely expensive 24-man squads.
Liverpool’s “best” team has an £XI of £518.2m, but that’s not the costliest possible team. Adam Lallana’s inflated fee is £63m, so he’s £10m-£20m more expensive in 2018 money than Fabinho or Keita. Andy Robertson is £10m, but if Moreno plays, his inflated transfer fee works out at £30m.
Conversely, if Joel Matip or Joe Gomez play at centre-back instead of Dejan Lovren that instantly takes c.£50m out of the £XI, and if James Milner plays in midfield it takes out £40m-£67m depending on whom he replaces (£67m being Jordan Henderson’s 2011 fee adjusted for inflation. And as an aside on Henderson, remember how much £20m seemed in 2011? All the ridicule for that spending? While £67m in today’s money is not at all cheap, his value can be seen as he improves with age, leads the team, and looks set to reach 400 games for the Reds if he stays fit and at the club until the age of 31; at which point his fee will seem a veritable bargain, if it doesn’t already).
But where Liverpool still fall short is in the non-XI spending. This normal; Liverpool’s turnover is a fraction of Manchester United’s, so compromises must occur. Spending a lot on the XI, as Liverpool are doing, makes sense, but obviously leaves less spent on the squad (but where youngsters and bargains can be cannily deployed).
If you add together the 2018-money cost of the rest of the squad (players number 12-27), having listed the best XI, then it only totals 58% of the cost of the XI. Take out Simon Mignolet and Danny Ings, who seem set to leave, and it drops to 50%. And Alex Oxlade Chamberlain almost certainly won’t play this season, so it’s down to 45%. So while Liverpool have some excellent squad players, the spending has mostly gone into the XI; to spend more on squad players would have meant spending less on the XI, and that’s always a balancing act.
My guess is that the £XI will average out at about £450m this coming season, a jump of about £100m on last season’s £XI when converted to 2018 money. Anyway, here are some charts and tables showing those figures, below which the article continues.
Right now there are six very appealing teams to lure top players to the Premier League (if not the elite “superstar” players, but that’s another issue. England is hoovering up a lot of the elite talent before it goes supernova, and tends to steer clear of the megastars).
Even Man City, with their league title, Champions League spot and Pep Guardiola have lost out with two of their last three major targets, with Alexis Sanchez going to Man United for the money (and maybe the greater global cachet) and Jorginho joining his mentor at Chelsea. Had this happened to Liverpool then everyone would go mad about the owners, or a lack of ambition, but it’s a fact that each player has a dozen or so main issues to weigh up when choosing a club.
Each club has a slightly different pull with the appeal of its manager, the players who can become teammates, the location (which can be important to some imports), the participation in the Champions League, the wages it can pay, and so on.
And right now, Liverpool can offer: the Champions League (for the cachet, and also allows for higher wages to be offered); world-class manager; world-class players (in particular, Mo Salah, in terms of current global icons); a thrilling brand of football that looks great fun to be part of; and, as usual, a famous stadium in which to play and a place in history as one of the most special clubs.
These latter points are fairly constant, although perceptions can change, and most current footballers weren’t even alive for the halcyon days of the club and the Kop. However, a certain mythology does prevail, which gets reinvigorated whenever the big European nights return.
You can add a special recent European pedigree (two finals in Klopp’s three seasons) to the sense of a club going places, that players must pick up on. Someone like Alisson will have felt the power of the Kop at its best.
However, let’s not pretend that Liverpool are now super-rich, and/or that FSG have just decided to become interested only now; not least when, relatively speaking, more was spent on players the season they took over, in a valiant effort to take the club back into the top four (having inherited a side near the foot of the table) but it didn’t work out. The intention was there, but while Luis Suarez and Jordan Henderson represented fantastic value for money, the huge fees spent on Andy Carroll (£121,785,131 in today’s money!) and Stewart Downing (£83,923,792), plus others, where a load of money was largely wasted, meant the improvement was only marginal.
FSG were not tightwads before, and they’re not super-generous now. They are doing what they said they’d do: make the club more profitable and put those profits back into the team, whilst improving the infrastructure where possible; all while working with the rules of FFP and sensible wages/turnover ratios. (Main Stand rebuild, further Anfield regeneration plans, and now the green light to build a state-of-the-art training complex at Kirkby.)
This summer is the result of steady building for three seasons under Jürgen Klopp and Michael Edwards, with the first reappearance in the Champions League for a second consecutive season in a decade, the first back-to-back 75+ points finishes in the league in a decade, and only the second time since 1985 that the Reds have made two European finals in three years. (I haven’t seen the latest UEFA coefficients, but Klopp must be getting it back up towards the days of Rafa Benítez, which can only help in terms of seeding.)
All this – along with the redevelopment of the Main Stand and more tellingly, the mega profit on Coutinho and the run to the 2018 Champions League final – is enabling a slow but undeniable return to the feel of Liverpool being a massive club on all fronts. (Even if there’s a long way to go to match the financial might of Man United, Man City, Bayern Munich, PSG, Barcelona and Real Madrid.)
For Liverpool to break the world record for two different positions in seven months says more about these three things than of any sudden super-wealth or “buying the league”: 1) inflation is not taken into account with such statements, given that Gianluigi Buffon would have cost Juventus £227m* in today’s money when inflation is taken into account, and using our Transfer Price Index football inflation, Rio Ferdinand cost Leeds £125.9m and Man United £197.9m**; 2) the positions Liverpool have struggled most with in the past few years (prior to 2018) were centre-back and goalkeeper, and so it’s worthy of paying a premium; and 3) most clubs spend too little on goalkeepers, in particular.
You can also add that Liverpool clearly underspent – due to smart buying – on Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané, so that in itself frees up money to spend in other areas.
And adjusted for inflation, Becker will rank only 3rd in the Premier League era for goalkeepers, with de Gea at £79.3m and Petr Cech at £67.7m, albeit both bought in their very early 20s and both superb value for money even at those prices.
Indeed, I don’t necessarily expect Becker to be as good as that pair have proved to be as signings for Man United and Chelsea respectively, but he doesn’t need to be; he just needs to be very, very good (and reliable), and not exceptional, to elevate this side to a new level.
(* Using only the inflation of the Premier League, and Italian inflation would have been different; ** Remember, these were either actual British transfer records, or close, and not too far away from the world records of the time. Alisson and Virgil van Dijk both cost about a third of what Neymar cost PSG last summer, and half of what Liverpool recouped for Coutinho. These are big buys, but the transfer market essentially doubled last summer with the big rise in the Premier League television income and the Neymar dick-swinging signing by PSG. Which is why inflation is so important to factor in, as the markets can change rapidly within just a few months. A few seasons ago £66m was an astronomical fee; now it’s merely medium-high.)
Okay, but why are goalkeepers so undervalued in financial terms? And what will Alisson bring Liverpool that his predecessors could not?
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