After a disappointing summer of recruitment in 2014, Liverpool have started the 2015 transfer window by signing James Milner from Manchester City and Danny Ings from Burnley, two players with previous Premier League experience. However, is this the right direction to go?
Former players often comment on how it is hard to adapt to the English game and it often takes a season for foreign imports to settle in. This suggests buying proven Premier League players is a sensible strategy and one that should reap rewards for the Reds in the coming months. Liverpool’s recent transfer success appears to suggest differently though.
The 2014 window saw Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, Javier Manquillo, Lazar Markovic and Mario Balotelli head to Merseyside. Two were English players (Lambert and Lallana) having always plied their trade in England whilst two more (Lovren and Balloteli) had previous Premier League experience. Lallana had a steady first season whilst the other three were undoubtedly disappointments. The four who had never previously played in the UK (Can, Moreno, Manquillo and Markovic) were all under 22 so could expect to be given time to adapt. Instead, Can and Moreno were immediately thrust into the limelight, playing 27 and 28 league games respectively throughout the season and arguably being Liverpool’s two most successful signings. It appears that Liverpool transfers just don’t fit the modern trend.
This is not a one season phenomenon for Liverpool either; it is a tendency that has occurred since the turn of the century. During Rafael Benitez’s reign, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Pepe Reina arrived, none of whom had previous Premier League experience, all of whom starred as Liverpool came runners up to Manchester United in 2009, the closet they had come to reclaiming the League title since 1990. In fact, the only members of that 08/09 squad who had been bought from another Premier League club were Javier Mascherano, Yossi Benayoun (both West Ham) and Robbie Keane (Spurs). Mascherano had only played 5 games in an ill-fated 6 month period at West Ham whilst Keane only managed that long at Liverpool.
Roy Hodgson’s signings were all a disaster but Kenny Dalglish payed 22.7m for Luis Suarez, another never to have played in England and 35m for Andy Carroll, someone who had, within days of each other. Carroll lasted 18 months before leaving for West Ham, initially on loan, having had a disrupted Liverpool career. Suarez went on to win the European golden shoe as he came tantalisingly close to helping Liverpool to their first Premier League crown in 2013/2014. Further Dalglish signings such as Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique also struggled to adapt to Liverpool’s way despite playing in England’s top flight prior to their Liverpool move.
2014 wasn’t a new trend under Brendan Rodgers either. The Ulsterman’s most successful signing has been Phillippe Coutinho, arriving from Inter Milan in January 2013 at the tender age of 20 but adapting to the league since. In comparison, the 2014 strugglers have added to a list including Joe Allen and Simon Mignolet who have received heavy criticism on Merseyside despite arriving from Swansea and Sunderland respectively. Fabio Borini had played in the Championship for Swansea under Rodgers and played a handful of games for Chelsea but has struggled to even get a game for Liverpool despite a successful loan spell at Sunderland last season.
The main problem for British players arriving at Liverpool appears to be their mentality. Many have been top performers at a mid-table side, earning their opportunity with one of the country’s big clubs. However, performing well at a mid-table side with limited expectations allows for ‘off-weeks’ and many games where the opposition are expected to win so pressure is reduced. At Liverpool this isn’t the case, every game is seen as winnable and many are games the club are expected to win. Sturridge had a similar experience at Chelsea, so in the past 15 years only Jordan Henderson has been able to come to Liverpool from a lower English club and cement a place in the team on a regular basis.
On the other hand, those coming from abroad may have had the experience of high expectations, even if in a slightly inferior league to the Premiership. Luis Suarez, for example, was used to the pressure of needing to win from Ajax whilst Torres was made Atletico Madrid captain at 19, a huge responsibility. In recent seasons only Lallana has had such expectations having captained Southampton for two seasons suggesting he still could go on to be a success at Liverpool and add his name to a pitifully small list of successful Englishmen at the club since 2000.
In fact Liverpool’s best English players in recent years have been Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard, both of whom have gone through the club’s academy. Comparing incoming players to two Premier League greats may be harsh, but at Liverpool only the best is acceptable. Another English talent shining at Liverpool is Raheem Sterling, or at least until his contract shenanigans of recent months, and is another who has come through the club’s youth system. Whilst Sterling arrived on Merseyside from QPR he had no experience of first team games prior to Liverpool and still matured through the club’s academy. Other young English players including John Flanagan, Andre Wisdom and Jordan Ibe have made good impacts under Rodgers as well, suggesting the youth systems at the club are in a healthy state.
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule. Numerous foreign stars have been brought in and struggled, particularly during Benetiz’s reign, and the first half of Rodgers’. Additionally, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge, when fit, have been two of Liverpool’s best performers in recent seasons. However, there is a strong case to suggest a large majority of Liverpool’s British based signings have been failures at the club whilst overseas imports have seen a much greater hit rate.
Therefore, Liverpool’s transfer policy needs to be addressed and quickly. The last 15 years have shown foreign imports complemented with academy graduates have provided the most successful players and team. Buying British may seem like a safe bet, but for Liverpool, safe doesn’t appear to be successful. Therefore the future looks bleak for Milner and Ings, although the former could draw inspiration from Daniel Sturridge having had experience at a top club by playing for Manchester City.
Rodgers has shown his ability to promote youth players, giving them both the confidence and opportunity to perform. He now needs help from his scouts to find players from around the continent that will push Liverpool onto the next level and challenging for the Champions League places again on a regular basis.
The club need to be ambitious and risk their finances on foreign imports. This may be against Liverpool’s long proud history where a British core has always existed, but football has moved on and Liverpool need to catch up. Although, when big money moves for Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing have failed so spectacularly in recent season, maybe only recruiting from abroad isn’t a risk but the only sensible strategy.
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