The decision by Alexis Sanchez to join Arsenal is just the latest example of a top class signing Liverpool have pursued only to be unable to secure the player.
Whilst for each of these potential signings there has been a variety of factors behind us not being able to secure them (Mkhitaryan, Diego Costa & Willian) they all to some degree point to a hard and unpalatable truth: Liverpool at this moment in time are only able to dine at the very top table of European football if there are no serious competitors for the player’s signature a la Sakho (whether we believe he is a top class player his credentials certainly suggest he is).
Now of course to some extent most fans have known and accepted this for several years now but in this instance it became harder for even the proudest Liverpool fan to deny - a player who we were determined to get, who seemed almost the perfect addition to replace Luis Suarez, opted to move to a team who finished two places below us in the league. This appears to have come as a major shock for some Liverpool fans.
I believe this came as a shock as many fans had bought into what I consider to be the myth that the only reason we missed out on the likes of Mkhitaryan was solely because we did not have Champion’s League football. In my opinion this was never the case – obviously if we had Champion’s League football and no Champion’s League teams came in for him he probably would have signed for us. But simply having Champion’s League football doesn’t necessarily swing deals your way when trying to sign players who are also wanted by Champion’s League clubs.
In Mkhitaryan’s case he would have had the choice of a team returning to the Champion’s League after being out of it for years or one that had just took Europe by storm reaching the Champion’s League final in the process (and who looked nailed on to remain in the Champion’s League for the foreseeable future). If you were a footballer and you weren’t an LFC fan who would you choose to sign for in those circumstances?
Footballers tend to have very short memories and care only for the future – understandable when your career is so short. Whilst Liverpool had a wonderfully resurgent season last year, many prospective top signings will probably be waiting to see if this marks a sustained return to the very top of the game or a blip. Also whether we like it or not selling our best player is understandably going to concern some prospective signings initially.
However this position outside the very top rung of clubs (in terms of attractiveness for potential signings) is by no means a fixed position for us and I’d imagine if we continue the progress we made last season and secure Champion’s League football again – particularly in such an exciting style of play - then I believe that the very best players will begin to see us as an increasingly inviting proposition. Continuing this progress – particularly in light of the Suarez move - will be challenging but by no means impossible.
How can we hope to continue this progress when we can’t sign the very best players? I regard the potential Markovic signing – and the earlier signings of Sturridge and Coutinho - as being indicative of the player strategy we are going to employ to help us progress and compete at the very top of the game without being able to secure ready-made, top class signings. If we cannot sign the very best talents – and I am sure we will keep trying as we are still a very attractive club to players just not as attractive as some of the other top clubs currently - we are primarily going to sign extremely talented players who to some extent have lost their way such as Coutinho and Sturridge (both elite young talents who hadn’t fully fulfilled their early potential) and signing the most talented young players before they become the very best players such as Markovic and Origi.
The things we lack that some of our main competitors may currently have – lack of consistent Champion’s League qualification, oil fuelled budget, lack of a big name manager and we lack the London factor – needn’t create an insurmountable challenge. Those factors perhaps give us an opportunity to build in a different way to our competitors. The lack of billionaire finances (we may have billionaire owners but they have always said they won’t deficit spend) and the inability to sign the very best players means that we can offer the best young talents or those top talents who for whatever reason (lack of playing time, loss of confidence etc) have lost their way arguably a unique opportunity. They can get many of the benefits they would get from joining a relatively smaller club whilst actually playing for a massive, historic club.
At Liverpool they will get the chance to play regularly without having an immovable superstar in front of them. Furthermore as we do this and continue to do it we will gain a reputation for giving talented young players/talented players who have lost their way a chance and helping them to develop making it even easier in future to attract these talents.
I believe that Porto are the model for us to follow to some extent. However in my opinion there can be one major difference for us in following the Porto approach – we can be the Blade to their Vampire! Now I am not advocating John Henry hunting down the Porto Chairman – although that would be quite funny and I reckon he would fancy doing it - what I mean is that in the film Blade, his great advantage is that he has all of the Vampire’s strengths but none of their weaknesses.
I believe we can successfully adopt the Porto approach of signing the world’s very best young talents and developing them into superstars (I accept that many players would not be available to us due to work permit issues but there are still many extremely gifted young players available to us) but we can do so without the need to continually sell these players as 1) we don’t have the financial need and 2) the Premier League is a league where more of the top players are happy to stay whereas the Portuguese league tends to be seen more as a stopgap by the most talented players.
Obviously we may still need to sell on occasion like with Suarez – if Real or Barca come strongly for a player they tend to get them irrespective of who they play for - but for us this would only have to be when the player demands it rather than having to sell because of any financial need. Imagine the team Porto could have if they had a significantly larger budget (as we do) and didn’t have to sell their best players most years? We could be that team.
I believe that this approach would have two main benefits it would help us continue to have a young team – offering us a team with massive potential for growth and importantly the time to grow. I believe the time for growth is needed as this approach understandably needs time to work. Moreover young players give you more time to build as in general they are more prepared to be patient as the team develops whereas for older players such as Suarez or Torres (who can see the finish line in sight for their careers) they are more likely to feel that they need to win in the here and now and have little patience for strategies that will take time to come to fruition.
However the main benefit of this strategy for me is that we would be leveraging what I believe to be our main asset – Brendan Rodgers. Whilst we do lack billionaire finance, we do lack a big name manager, we do lack recent European success but what we do have is the most important thing - an outstanding young coach.Employing a strategy that combines securing the best young talents in the world and those extremely talented players who have lost their way with a club that will give them opportunities and a coach who has shown himself to be an absolute master at developing young talent and man management could prove to be an extremely potent and ultimately successful mix.
To paraphrase Shankly I believe that Brendan Rodgers was made for this strategy and this strategy was made for Brendan Rodgers.