In the latest of what is sure to be a summer full of sagas, Gylfi Sigurdsson announced his decision to sign for Tottenham Hotspur rather than Liverpool who had initially seemed the short odds favourite to secure the signature of the 23 year old Icelandic midfielder.
Sigurdsson of course become a known quantity in the Premier League under new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers during his loan spell at Swansea last season after arriving from German club TSG Hoffenheim where, after impressing during his first 6 months at the club, he had lost his place to the Brazilian Roberto Firmimo. Rodgers had known Sigurdsson from their time together at Reading and was well aware of the qualities the young Icelandic midfielder could bring to his team and signed him for Swansea.
Rodgers had agreed a permanent deal with Hoffenheim for the player to join Swansea this summer for £6.8million and terms had been agreed on what was believed to be a four year contract with an average weekly wage of £30k. When Rodgers made the decision to take up Liverpool’s offer and become their new manager, Swansea’s deal for Sigurdsson fell apart.
During Brendan Rodgers initial press conference Sigurdsson’s name was brought up and Rodgers responded positively about the player. In subsequent interviews it became clear that Rodgers was interested in bringing the Icelandic international to Anfield. What wasn’t clear however was whether he was actually Rodgers first choice signing, or whether or not he was just a signing of convenience.
Too much was made of Rodgers interest in the player from the off. Media outlets who had found themselves comically embarrassed during the managerial selection process jumped on Rodgers’ words and decided that he Sigurdsson was Liverpool main target for the summer. Journalists who had found their sources in and around Anfield drying up filed copy proclaiming that Sigurdsson was the man Rodgers was bringing with him to start his Liverpool Revolution.
It was a transfer that made so much sense but one must ask the question, was he a player Rodgers saw as a “must sign” or simply a signing of convenience? Rodgers knows Sigurdsson very well, understood his strengths and weakness, had a good relationship with the player and knew he was available at a good price.
It looked as if the deal was as good as done. Liverpool had agreed a fee and Sigurdsson had been made a contract offer which matched the offer he had agreed to from Swansea. It seemed a formality that he would join Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. Until Tottenham decided to make him a sales pitch. Spurs offered a more lucrative deal to the player and when Liverpool were unwilling to match it, he chose to make the move to the London club.
It can not be denied that Gylfi Sigurdsson is a good player with the potential to be a very good player. He has a lot of talent and a lot of potential, but he should not be confused with a great player at this point. There are better players available who play the same position. Clint Dempsey is a better player, at this moment in time, to name just one currently linked player. As are Gaston Ramirez and Roberto Firmino. Firmino as I stated above is the reason Sigurdsson couldn’t get a game for Hoffenheim last season.
With all due respect to Hoffenheim, if Sigurdsson wasn’t capable of forcing his way back into their team, who’s to say he’d get into the Liverpool team? Surely a player of Sigurdsson supposed quality could have found his way into a mid-table Bundesliga team, even if that meant playing slightly out of position.
As I said, he’s a good player but he’s not a great player and Liverpool are already in possession of two far superior players who can play his position among others. Steven Gerrard is one, Alberto Aquilani is another. With Gerrard and Aquilani on Liverpool’s books it does beg the question of would Sigurdsson have started for Liverpool? Was that a factor in his decision perhaps? Was Brendan Rodgers unwilling to guarantee him a regular starting role in the team as well as unwilling to match Tottenham’s offer?
If Rodgers was unwilling to do either then it would indicate that Sigurdsson was in fact to be a signing of convenience, rather than a prime target. It’s a regular thing for managers taking over at a new club to want to bring in a player they are comfortable with to smooth the transition. That doesn’t mean that player figures to have a key role in the long term future of the team though. Sigurdsson may just have been someone Rodgers saw as a quick fix, someone to tide Liverpool over in the position he calls “The Zola Zone” until he could find his very own Gianfranco Zola.
That the Reds appear to have now switched targets to Clint Dempsey, a player with similar attributes to Sigurdsson, gives me reason to believe that Sigurdsson was not part of Rodgers long terms plans for his starting eleven. The fact that he refused to budge on the offer he believed represented fair market tells me that while he wanted Sigurdsson, he wasn’t prepared to pay over the odds. If he wasn’t prepared to pay over the odds, then Sigurdsson wasn’t a hugely important target. Rodgers has been very clear in the fact that wages will not be an issue for the right player. Liverpool could have offered Sigurdsson more money, a lot more money, but they decided not to. Because he wasn’t the right player.
It is vitally important to understand what Rodgers has said since the deal collapsed. His statements about his intentions in the transfer market, his statements about wages and the message that he’s putting across in those statements. While fans have taken to their usual platforms of twitter and fan forums to state their annoyance against either the player for taking the better contract offer (“He’s not good enough”, “He’s just a money grabber”, blah blah blah) or the manager and club for not being willing to overspend (“We’re broke”, “We can’t compete”, The world is going to end blah blah blah), they seem to be missing the point. The lesson which Brendan Rodgers is trying to educate people with.
There’s a trend in football that when a big club becomes interested in a player, the price for that player automatically goes up. It would appear that Liverpool are attempting to buck that trend by refusing to pay over the odds for players, and to players. This may of course mean that Liverpool will lose out on the odd target or two but if players aren’t willing to play for Liverpool for a fair price, or if the selling club aren’t willing to do business then Liverpool, then so be it.
Liverpool’s unwillingness to overspend on what they believed the players’ market value was represented a change in practice for a club who have allowed themselves to be taken advantage of when it comes to transfers far too often in recent years. One need only look at the fees paid for Carroll, Downing and Henderson, or the wages handed to Joe Cole or Milan Jovanovic, to see examples of this. Time and again over the past twenty years Liverpool have overpaid clubs and players for their services.
Kenny Dalglish overspent hugely on players with limited talent. Roy Hodgson overspent by the mere fact he exchanged money for Paul Konchesky. Rafa Benitez was far more savvy than the two men that followed him but he made some errors in the transfer market such as overpaying for Aquilani and Johnson, and the Robbie Keane saga. Gerard Houllier’s Diao and Diouf extravaganza of dross is well noted. Roy Evans has Stan Collymore all to himself and Graeme Souness……well, the less said about Paul Stewart, Neil Ruddock, Nigel Clough and Julian Dicks, the better. Actually, pause for a moment and consider that Liverpool once fielded a team featured Neil Ruddock and Julian Dicks in their defence. Are you having nightmares yet? Good. Then I’ll continue.
Rodgers has come out and said that Liverpool do not have “wheelbarrows” full of money. It’s a very clever statement on his part. It immediately gets the media and opposition clubs into the mindset that Liverpool are working on a tight budget and can’t/won’t pay over the odds for players. It gives Liverpool a little bit more power when they go to the negotiating table. Clubs can’t attempt to milk money from the Reds if it’s not there, or if they don’t believe it’s there. But who’s to say it’s not?
Instead of a “wheelbarrows” full of money perhaps Liverpool just have a few buckets full of it. In truth, only Manchester City and Chelsea have wheelbarrows full of money in the English game. FSG have always said that they’ll address each transfer individually and won’t operate on “budgets”. Talk of £20mil, £30mil, £40mil is all baseless garbage. While FSG may not have been willing to back Dalgish and Comolli after their poor transfer business, I have no doubt that they will back Rodgers. They won’t hand him £100million but a net spend of £40million is certainly not out of the question. With Andy Carroll among others on their way out, Rodgers could find himself with a gross budget of close to £70million (I’m speculating here but so is everyone who claims £20/30mil plus sales) to spend this summer.
That brings me back to the reason Rodgers downplaying Liverpool’s financial capabilities is so smart. £70million in his hands could very well be worth twice that in the hands of Comolli and Dalglish as he seems to have a far clearer vision of what he wants to do with Liverpool. Dalglish and Comolli seemed to be going around in circles after whatever initial plans were blown out when Torres demanded to leave.
It has been said that Dalglish and Comolli invested £35million in Andy Carroll to replace Fernando Torres as “a statement of intent”. That’s all well and good, but to whom were they making this statement?
Any fan who believed Andy Carroll to be worth close to that sort of money clearly hadn’t seen much of him outside of Match of the Day. I’ve yet to come across anyone who truly believes he was worth half what Liverpool paid for him. Signing Carroll was not a bad idea, but signing him for that type of money was disastrous.
Had he been signed for £10-12million which is closer to what he was worth at the time then it would have been a good signing, one for the future. A player who could grow and develop slowly as a squad player. But that’s not what he was bought for. He was bought to start. He was bought to replace Fernando Torres. If Liverpool were making a statement of intent to their fans by replacing Torres with Carroll that statement was one that roughly translated to “we are actively looking to make this team worse”.
What their statement of intent actually did was alert other clubs to the fact that Liverpool could be strong-armed. £20million worth of talent in Downing and Henderson cost a combined £36million as Liverpool were given the business version of a prostate exam.
Rodgers has made his own statement of intent early on. His statement says to fans, other clubs and players alike that Liverpool will not be strong-armed. Liverpool will not overpay for players and they most certainly will not overpay the player himself. If players want to come to Liverpool, they will come on Liverpool’s terms. His statement also says that for the right player, Liverpool are prepared to pay what it takes to make the deal happen.
I know whose statement of intent I’m more impressed by, and it’s not the one made by the gentlemen who are no longer at the club.