The winds of change are circling around Anfield as Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool’s brain trust – also known as the transfer committee – set about the monumental task of rebuilding what is, in truth, a distinctly mediocre midtable squad and turning it into a top four calibre squad from which they can attempt to relaunch Liverpool back into the elite of European football and make an assault on the Premier League title in the years to follow.
Liverpool have not had a truly title-calibre squad since the 1980s truth be told. A combination of poor management, poor transfer strategy and a lack of funding has meant that even when the Reds had a strong first 11, like they had under Rafa Benitez in 08/09, there was no real quality depth behind the starters other than two or three exceptions.
Rodgers inherited an unmitigated mess from Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli. A squad lacking in quality – only Luis Suarez and Daniel Agger could be considered to be world-class players while Steven Gerrard was still capable of world-class performances but hadn’t performed well for three consecutive seasons due to injuries and unsuitable tactics.
It wasn’t solely down to Dalglish of course. Benitez’s last summer in charge was baffling and Hodgson’s time at Liverpool was just a disaster but Dalglish and Comolli did most of the damage. £113million was spent on Luis Suarez, an overpriced Jordan Henderson (£16mil on an £8mil player) and a collection of dross by the names of Carroll, Downing, Adam and Enrique.
Liverpool’s often maligned American owners, Fenway Sports Group sanctioned the type of spending that should not only have gotten the Reds back into the top four, but in the right hands would likely have built a title-calibre team. What was brought in was instead a group of mid-table calibre players out of their depth at a club the size of Liverpool. Many Liverpool fans seemed somewhat shocked by an 8th place finish but the truth is, when you buy mid-table players you finish in mid-table.
Rodgers was limited in what he could do during his first summer in charge, and took the safe route of bringing in players he knew very well. Joe Allen and Fabio Borini were the big signings as Rodgers looked to reshape the playing style of the club, if not the playing staff.
After the transfer window closed Liverpool put together their transfer committee which immediately got to work identifying targets for the January window and this summer. January saw a marked improvement on previous Liverpool transfer windows as two legitimately exciting talents, Daniel Sturridge and Phillippe Coutinho, arrived on Merseyside and immediately transformed Liverpool into one of the most potent attacking sides in the country.
Having set the bar pretty high with their first transfer window working together the committee – made up of Rodgers, managing director Ian Ayre, Head of Recruitment Dave Fallows, Chief Scout Barry Hunter and Michael Edwards, the club’s Head of Performance and Analysis department – have a lot to live up to this summer. And not just when comes to bringing players into the club.
Liverpool will be operating on a budget this summer, so if Rodgers wants to bring in 4, 5 or 6 players of genuine quality who can improve the squad, he will have part company with a number of players. In an ideal world, the Reds would just rid themselves of the deadwood element of the squad and keep the players of decent quality. Unfortunately this isn’t an ideal world so Liverpool will have to say goodbye to some quality players and in some cases, it will be a little heart wrenching. In some others we will all wave goodbye with wide smiles. With that in mind, let’s have a look at players who Liverpool should consider selling.
Starting with the most high-profile, and likely the most contentious, possible departure of the summer it looks like Pepe Reina may have played his last game for Liverpool.
Reina arrived at Liverpool in the summer of 2005 and immediately established himself as the clubs number one goalkeeper. It’s a position he has held, with distinction, ever since. For his first five seasons at the club he displayed the form of one of the world’s best goalkeepers and became a fan favourite. Unfortunately for Reina, and of course for Liverpool, his form dipped drastically following the departure of Rafa Benitez and perhaps more specifically Xavi Valero, the goalkeeping coach who had done great work with Reina.
Reina did begin to find better form in the second half of last season but it was still some way off his Rafa-era performances. Over the course of last season Reina made six mistakes, four of which lead to goals conceded. His save percentage against clear cut chances was an extremely poor 28%, the fourth worse in the league last season. His overall save percentage of shots taken within his box also ranked among the very worst in the league, at 55% over the last two years compared to the league average of 61%.
Those numbers don’t make pretty reading but they are cold hard facts. Liverpool fans can often be guilty of still seeing Reina as the goalkeeper he was from 2005 to 2010 but unfortunately he’s not that keeper anymore. The question is not, should Liverpool sell the 08/09 vintage of Reina, it’s whether or not they should sell the current version.
While Reina’s ability with his feet is an important aspect to consider, the fact that he has been below the Premier League average for saves inside the area, among the worst in the league for errors, save percentage inside the box and clear cut chances saved mean that he has, unfortunately, been a weak link in the team.
Reina wants to go to Barcelona, that’s not a secret and shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. His heart seems to have left Liverpool, even if his body remains contracted to the club. With the Reds seemingly close to securing the signing of Simon Mignolet, Reina’s time as number one seems to be over and although Victor Valdes has said he will stay at Barcelona for another year, it does appear that Reina will be departing Anfield. Possible to reunite with Rafa Benitez at Napoli, or join the revolution taking place at Monaco.
It’s a move that will upset and annoy many fans but when you boil it down to performance, he simply hasn’t been delivering even average performances for the last few seasons. He’s been below average. There are reasons for that; staleness, perhaps the lack of a quality goalkeeping coach, perhaps simply not wanting to play for a mid-table club. But whatever the reason, the time has probably come to say goodbye to Reina and move on.
Moving into the centre of defense, it’s clear that Liverpool need some surgery in the role. The 2011/12 fans player of the year Martin Skrtel had an extremely poor season under Rodgers and made the decisions to turn down a massive offer for him last summer and hand him a new contract look like poor moves. Skrtel has never really been a top class player and was seen by many as a liability prior to the 11/12 season. It’s worth noting that his massive upturn in form and consistency came in the first season where Daniel Agger was able to stay fit for largely the majority of the season. Agger has shown in the past that he can greatly improve the quality of the person playing next to him and with the Dane suffering through a slump in form last season, Skrtel turned in a number of shocking performances.
Liverpool have made Kyriakos Papadopolous a key target this summer and it does seem that Skrtel’s Liverpool career is over. Some will protest that his 11/12 season proves he’s a top class defender but that’s one season in the six he’s spent at the club. And with Rodgers employing a completely different defensive system to the one Dalglish and Steve Clarke used, playing well in a deep line is pretty irrelevant when it comes to a high-line with split central defenders. Skrtel is ill-suited to the way Liverpool are likely to defend next season so it’s probably best to send him on his way and use the money on a better, more suited player like Papadopolous.
Likely to be joining Skrtel on the bus out of town is Seb Coates. The young Uruguayan is a very talented defender but is dreadfully slow and hasn’t really had a chance to prove himself at Liverpool. With Tiago Ilori seemingly the target to replace him, and being regarded as far more suited to Liverpool’s style due to his pace and ability on the ball, there seems no real reason to keep Coates when the money from his sale could be used to secure Ilori.
Moving from the defense into midfield, the first person who may well find themselves on the way out is Jay Spearing. Spearing is an extremely limited player who really shouldn’t have been at a club like Liverpool beyond his 21st birthday, but due to a disastrous transfer strategy adopted by Dalgish and Comolli, somehow became a regular starter in the second half of 10/11 and after Lucas’ injury in 11/12. Spearing will surely have some Championship clubs interested in taking him on. Hopefully it’s concluded soon and he can go on to have a career worthy of his talents.
Another midfielder believed to be for sale is JonJo Shelvey. Shelvey’s departure will certainly lead to some dispute as there are many that rate him highly. The biggest issue for Shelvey, who’s best is the central attacking midfield role, is that the likes of Phillippe Coutinho, Suso, Joao Teixeira and the soon to be signed Luis Alberto, are all players who operate in similar positions and are all superior talents more suited to Rodgers’ style of play. Some have suggested a loan deal for Shelvey but there’s no real benefit in that in my view. Selling Shelvey will give Rodgers funds to strengthen in other areas. Perhaps it would be a good idea to include a buy-back clause in case Shelvey does someday find a way to unlock his talent and become a legitimately quality player.
From the centre of midfield, to the wings. Liverpool may well be saying goodbye to two wide players this summer in the shape of Oussama Assaidi and Stewart Downing. Assaidi has made no impact at the club, despite having some obvious qualities and may have been the unfortunate victim of a small power battle between Rodgers and Ayre, who’s been credited with signing Assaidi in conjunction with Edwards. Assaidi could offer something to the squad if given the chance but if Rodgers doesn’t want him then it’s best for all parties to move on.
Stewart Downing is a player who splits opinion. Some say he’s not good for Liverpool, while others claim he’s utter garbage. Regardless of which camp you are in, nobody could ever argue that he is or was worth the £20million Liverpool spent on him. His first season at the club resulted in a startling 0 goals/0 assists return in league matches. His second season was an improvement and he became more of a contributor but his lack of quality still stood out on too many occasions. The debate for keeping Downing is that he’s a versatile hard worker who can play multiple positions. The debate against is that Liverpool could get around £8mil for him and replace him with someone who’s more of a game changer. His 70k per week wages are also something the club would probably rather be rid of.
Upfront there’s Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll to assess. The Suarez case is too complex to sum up in a few paragraphs and I’ll have an article on that matter next week. For now, let me just say that there are strong debates for keeping the Uruguayan and for selling him. I can see the logic in both arguments but have yet to make up my mind on whether or not he should be sold. So for now, we’ll move on to the big Geordie who has just completed his move to West Ham.
Signed from Newcastle for a frankly ridiculous fee of £35mil, Andy Carroll seemed to be the focal point of whatever it was Kenny Dalglish was trying to build at Liverpool as Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam were clearly brought in to provide service for the big Geordie. With Carroll’s failure to display anything that would suggest he was worth £15mil, let alone £35mil, both Adam and Downing’s presence at Liverpool became slightly pointless. Adam was moved on last summer, and Downing is likely to be sold this summer. Rodgers made it clear, soon after arriving, that he had no interest in keeping Carroll and loaned him out to West Ham.
Some complained that this was unfair on Carroll but in truth he’d done nothing to suggest he should be kept around. His 5% chance conversion and 54% passing success rate under Dalglish showed how extremely limited he was. He lacks pace, movement, anything resembling a first touch with his feet and work-rate. He put in minimal effort until he was laughed off the pitch at St. James’ Park and obviously decided to make a bit more of an effort. His winning goal in the FA Cup Semi-Final is his biggest contribution to Liverpool Football Club, but despite what some claimed, it didn’t really go much of a way towards repaying his fee.
He’s been shipped off the West Ham where Allardyce’s long ball style of play will suited him and hide his limitations. West Ham fans seem to believe they’ve gotten themselves a bargain. In truth they’ve been ripped off. Not as badly as Newcastle ripped Liverpool off, but badly enough to put a smile on the faces of some Reds who were sick of thinking about Carroll.
There are one or two others that Rodgers could possibly consider selling, like Jose Enrique and perhaps Glen Johnson given his worrying collapse in form at the end of last season, but those two are almost certain to remain at the club with Johnson likely to remain first choice at one of the two fullback positions.
Oh, Peter Gulacsi has already left as well. Just so you know.
Reina stats courtesy of the twitter timeline of Dan Kennett