When Liverpool were purchased by Fenway Sports Group (or as they were then New England Sports ventures) we were continuously told by them and numerous respected judges that their intention was 'to do things smarter'. A key part of this was their drive to ensure that Liverpool – who whilst relatively wealthy were not bankrolled by a billionaire with money to burn - had a coherent transfer strategy that strives for maximum value in the transfer market.
John Henry himself said we will “buy prudently and cleverly and never again waste resources on inflated transfer fees and unrealistic wages. We have no fear of spending and competing with the very best but we will not overpay for players.” It was this eminently sensible desire for value that initially led them to employ Damien Comolli and ultimately underpinned their creation of a transfer committee.
Where has this desire for a coherent transfer strategy and striving to secure what John Henry called “maximum value for what is spent so that we can build quality and depth" got Liverpool? It has taken them after 4 years and hundreds of millions of pounds spent to a position where it appears that an injury to one player can at best significantly damage our hopes and at worst torpedo our entire season.
How can this be when we have Brendan Rodgers – in my opinion an excellent young coach – and a transfer committee made up of some of the most respected football analysts in the country? For me the answer is simple: FSG have not shown the courage in their own convictions.
I believe that they had the right idea in wanting to have a transfer committee as in an era when bad buys on big money can set a club back years it is foolish to put that responsibility completely in any one man’s hands. However whilst they had the right idea they undermined it by failing to implement it correctly.
* Warning the rest of this article will contain speculation (hopefully educated speculation but speculation all the same).
The best transfer committees (such as Bayern Munich’s for example) will only sign a player if every member of the committee – including the manager – is in complete agreement on the player and the valuation of the player. Whilst this system by its very nature can initially be slow moving – perhaps missing out if a player comes available at short notice for example - and at times it will mean missing out on
players through failure to pay above the committee’s agreed valuation it does have the massive benefit of increasing the likelihood that the players signed are of the necessary quality – and in the correct value range - as it is unlikely that all would get their judgment of the same player significantly wrong.
In contrast to this system we appear to have implemented a strategy that sees some players signed by the committee, some by the manager and some by a combination of the two.
There are a couple of major potential problems with our approach:
Some players will suit the committee but not the manager. (Comolli said that when this happens you may as well throw the money in the bin as the player won’t get used or won’t get used properly). Sakho is a prime example of this as a French international centre half with a reputation as a natural leader yet the manager clearly doesn’t rate him as a player or a leader and as such rarely plays him and sought to replace him with a similarly expensive player at the first opportunity (creating an imbalance in the squad make up).
Another significant example of this occurring is with the signing of Mignolet who may have been deemed a good keeper by the committee but clearly is a million miles away from the profile of keeper that Rodgers has always advocated. So when players suit the committee but not the manager you run the risk of the player being signed and becoming a wasted asset that is hardly used and depreciates both in value to the team and economically or a player who does get utilized but underperforms as he is ill suited to the manager’s style of play.
On the other hand some players will suit the manager but not the committee. If the manager’s judgment is off you can be left with a player who whilst initially to the manager’s approval may not be up to the standard that the club need to succeed. Borini is perhaps a good example of this with Rodgers lavishing praise on him in the build up to his signing yet from the moment he signed it has become increasingly clear to everyone (including Rodgers ultimately) that he isn’t Liverpool quality (I know the committee wasn’t technically in place when he was signed but Fallows and Hunter were on gardening leave from City and Michael Edwards was already there - and I would be extremely shocked if FSG didn’t run their potential signings past them prior to moving forward with these purchases).
Lovren looks like another classic example of this with the manager clearly a massive fan of his – and for all we know the committee may rate him too – but I would be extremely shocked if they valued him anywhere as highly as Rodgers. So if the manager gets it wrong – as all managers do – you can end up with players who not only aren’t good enough but who may be significantly overpriced. Now of course an efficient transfer committee with the manager fully integrated into it and completely on-board with it could still make mistakes like this but the checks and balances should ensure that the likelihood of them occurring are significantly reduced.
Of course sometimes a quasi-transfer committee, quasi-manager led transfer policy like ours can work – like for example in the signings of Sturridge and Coutinho where apparently Rodgers had doubts but acquiesced and agreed to their signings - and this piece isn’t to say that it is doomed to failure as I don’t think it necessarily is but it definitely isn’t the type of smart “prudent” approach that FSG advocated.
Now of course every club’s transfer system will be flawed in some way and they will all have their own individual strengths and weaknesses but our set up was created in the hope of being more efficient, to maximize strengths and reduce weaknesses. The reality is that FSG have created a committee system that in its present guise has all of a transfer committee’s weaknesses and none of its strengths. Our transfer committee hasn’t reduced transfer mistakes or ensured we get greater value in the transfer market and in fact if anything the opposite has occurred.
For me FSG had the right idea in terms of wanting to create a transfer committee they just failed to ensure that it was properly implemented.