Saturday, 22 June 2013

Out with the old bunch- Is Rodgers Creating a new Core?

When we look back on the Rafa era, we automatically think of a core group of players who were integral to our success. Stalwarts and club legends such as Gerrard, Carragher and Alonso are inextricably linked with Rafa’s time at the helm, in which Liverpool Football Club enjoyed great success. With Carragher retiring at the end of last season and Pepe Reina, who was signed by Benitez in 2005, looking likely to leave, the core members of Rafa’s elite squad are exiting Liverpool in their droves. Were Reina to leave the club, Gerrard would be the only remaining member of the team who won the 2006 FA Cup Final in such dramatic fashion. The question is, can Rodgers create his own ‘golden group’ of players?

Since arriving at Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers has shown a clear preference towards signing young talent. He has brought in Fabio Borini (22), Philippe Coutinho (who recently turned 21), Daniel Sturridge (23), and most recently Iago Aspas (25) and Simon Mignolet (24). He has also nurtured the talents of younger players in the team, most notably England under 21’s captain Jordan Henderson, who this season became a regular in the starting 11. As well as this, he is rumoured to be after Tiago Ilori (20) and Kyriakos Papadopolous (21). Combined, these players cover a wide range of positions, and are good enough to either make the first team already, or else break into it in the near future. Along with academy players that are slowly being introduced to the starting 11, such as Jordan Ibe and Raheem Sterling, it is clear that Rodgers is building a team for the future.

Steven Gerrard is still going strong, and was arguably one of our best players last season. He is also a great role model to the younger players, fiercely loyal and committed to Liverpool. However, his illustrious career will at some point have to come to an end, and if Rodgers is to build an elite band of players that remains largely unchanged for long periods of time, he will need someone else to step up to the plate, and fill the role of leader. Seemingly the perfect candidate for this is Daniel Agger. At 28 years of age, he probably still has a lot of playing time left in him, and he has shown passion for the club since the moment he joined. Despite lots of interest from Champions League clubs, he has chosen to stay at the club he loves. He even has ‘YNWA’ tattooed on his knuckles. Agger has the potential to be the leader that all of Rodgers’ promising youngsters look to. If they rally around him in the same way the players of Rafa’s heyday rallied around Gerrard, the new generation of Liverpool starlets could well go on to achieve great things.

There has been a lot of worry in recent times that Liverpool are no longer able to attract ‘big names’ to the club. Although this is frustrating in some ways, it is also in some aspects a good thing for us. In a way, it allows us to start afresh, as Rodgers is forced to look to the young talent pool, rather than to those who have already established themselves as greats in the footballing world. Because of this, we aren’t simply replacing players if and when they leave or retire, we are building a whole new generation of players. This safeguards our clubs future, and allows us to build a squad that could potentially remain a tightly-knit unit for years to come. Obviously transfers sometimes have to be made, but as a general rule a team that remains largely unchanged will work better as a unit, and consequently play better football. Players such as Coutinho, Sturridge, Mignolet and Aspas, if all goes well, could remain at the club for years to come, and be the defining players of the Rodgers era.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Saturday, 8 June 2013

BR’s Transfer Tactics- Are Foreign Signings the Right Approach?

This summer transfer window, Brendan Rodgers has got to work quickly.  Kolo Toure has already been signed (he officially joins the club on July 1st), the deal between Iego Aspas and Liverpool looks to be effectively complete, and we also appear to be closing in on signing Tiago Ilori. Aspas is an exciting young Spanish talent who plays in the wide forward role for Celta Vigo, whilst Kolo Toure (Man City) and Tiago Ilori (Sporting) are both central defenders. They all look to be good acquisitions, but should Rodgers be searching closer to home for new players?

Kolo Toure is by no means an inspiring signing, but he is a sensible one. He came to Liverpool on a free, having run out of contract at Manchester City. It is unlikely he will get regular first team action, but he is a very experienced centre-back, and his presence in the squad should put pressure on the likes of Martin Skrtel (and potentially Tiago Ilori if he joins) to perform well in order to fight for their place in the team. The only issue with the deal is Toure’s relatively large wage demands, believed to be about 70k a week, which is a lot to be forking out to a player who isn’t even getting first team action. He will have a positive impact on the club, even if it is just giving the other centre-backs a metaphorical kick up the backside, but the money we’re spending on his wages could have been better invested elsewhere, possibly on a young, homegrown talent with lots of potential.

However, there is a problem with ‘buying British’ in the football world. English players that have really made a name for themselves tend to be hideously overpriced, and an equivalent overseas talent cam often be acquired for half the fee. Brendan Rodgers appears to have taken this into account, and we know he is good at spotting up-and-coming foreign talents based on Coutinho’s instant success at the club. This means that the only feasible way of signing English players is taking a gamble, and buying a player who has gone relatively un-noticed by pundits, potentially someone from the lower end of the football league. A prime example of this tactic paying off is Norwich’s signing of full-back Russell Martin. He started his career at Wycombe (where I watched him a lot, as I used to have a season ticket there), then moved to Peterborough. Norwich then took him on loan for a season, as a sort of trial run. He impressed them, and they then proceeded to buy him the following season. He is now a regular in the Norwich first team, and is one of their better players. It’s a risky tactic, but buying young players who have slipped under the pundits’ radar can prove very effective.

With Aspas and Ilori, the situation is slightly different. They are both young and upcoming talents, and Ilori in particular is not very renowned. Aspas has attracted a large amount of praise and attention from Spanish pundits, but until very recently was practically unknown in England. In these cases, it is pointless to try and buy an equivalent British player. Aspas is going to cost approximately 9 million, and for a player who has attracted so much attention in the top division of Spanish football that is very cheap. An English wide striker who had shown a lot of talent in the Premier League would most likely set you back at least double that. It’s the same story with Ilori. He is relatively unknown, but has still been capped 4 times this year for the Portugal under-20’s. The rumoured fee is around three-and-a-half million. Swansea signed Danny Graham for that sum in 2011, even though the forward had only scored 38 goals in almost 100 appearances for Watford in the Championship. This goes to show that unless you are looking to make a gamble on a really obscure talent, it’s not worth buying English players. As a general rule, those who have managed to make a name for themselves are massively overvalued by their club (looking at you, Tom Ince and Blackpool), forcing Premier League clubs to look to the foreign market. It’s sad in a way, as the top division of English football is now swamped with foreign talent, which isn’t how it should be. However, the Premier League clubs can’t be blamed for looking abroad in order to get better players for cheaper prices, and so far in this transfer window Liverpool appear to be doing so very effectively.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013