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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Is Bojan Krkic the perfect player for Gary Rowett to build Stoke City around?
The 27-year-old has been an outcast at the Bet365 Stadium.
As Gary Rowett continues to rebuild the Stoke City squad over the summer there will be plenty of speculation regarding who will be arriving and departing the Bet365 Stadium.
The Potters have already dipped into the transfer market by signing Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Benik Afobe whilst Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi was sold to Huddersfield Town last week.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who is currently representing Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia, has confirmed that he will be leaving the club whilst, in contrast, Joe Allen has signed a new long-term contract to remain.
There are still plenty of question marks over current players. The likes of Jack Butland and Badou Ndiaye are expected to attract interest from Premier League clubs whilst the expensive pairing of Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula may not fit into Rowett’s plans but will be short of offers.
But what about Bojan Krkic?
The diminutive Spaniard was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.
He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.
Bojan has certainly made an impact at the Bet365 Stadium, particularly during his first two-and-a-half years with the club, but he fell out of favour under Mark Hughes and has spent the last eighteen months on loan in Germany and Spain.
At his best, the 27-year-old was a magician who produced moments of sublime skill and was a central creative influence in the team.
He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.
Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.
For anyone who requires a reminder of what the forward can do, simply look up his solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur form 2014.
Much has been made of his injury in January 2015. The Spaniard suffered severe knee damage in an FA Cup tie at Rochdale that meant that he was out of action for the remainder of the season and the common narrative is that he was never the same upon his return.
However, this storyline is incorrect. In fact, Bojan was at his peak over the Christmas period in 2015 when he was the centre of Stoke’s attacking trident which also included Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.
Such was the effectiveness of the trio that The Potters picked up the nickname of ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to their attacking brand of football.
So where did it all go wrong for him?
He fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and, after being dropped from the starting line-up, was never able to regain his position as Stoke City’s creative hub.
The Spaniard subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.
In many respects, Bojan’s stock has never been lower. He has fallen off the radar somewhat in the past year and it appears that any hopes that he may have had of returning to a prominent European club are all but over.
However, this opens up a potential return to Stoke despite their relegation to The Championship.
Last season The Potters were desperately short of creativity and goals – something that Bojan can provide.
The Spaniard man be the perfect figure for Gary Rowett to build his new look team around.
Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo will provide defensive security and energy in the centre of midfield whilst Benik Afobe will make be the focal point in the final third.
Bojan could be the perfect link player if deployed as a number ten and you would imagine that he would be more than capable of causing chaos amongst defences in The Championship.
There is, of course, the question of whether the 27-year-old would be prepared to play in the second tier of English football, although Allen’s decision to sign a new contract and remain at Stoke would suggest that Rowett is capable of being persuasive.
If Stoke are serious about challenging for promotion, then keeping Bojan and reigniting his career at the Bet365 Stadium would be a serious statement of intent.
Jack Wilshere is West Ham’s most realistic midfield target this summer
The 26-year-old seems the best option for Manuel Pellegrini at the moment.
Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly put signing a new midfielder high on his list of priorities this summer, having been linked with some stellar names, but is Jack Wilshere (Sky Sports) his most realistic target?
The Chilean has expressed his desire to get the Hammers playing attacking and progressive football again next term, and views a quality midfield addition as vital in achieving this.
Initially, the suggestion was made that Pellegrini would attempt to move for two-time Premier League winner Yaya Toure (the Telegraph), before stories broke claiming his interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore (Sky Sports).
However, talks for both have stalled, with Toure’s preference to join a top-six side (Sport 24) and Pastore’s reported wage demands of £190,000-a-week (Sky Sports) to leave the French capital, with it now looking more likely Roma will land the 29-year-old’s signature.
Wilshere would employ the tactics Pellegrini is after and would instantly inject technical quality into the current functional midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang. His ability to carry the ball past defensive counterparts and to spot a final pass would add extra dimensions to the Hammers’ play, and at the age of 26 he could still have his best years ahead.
The ex-Bournemouth man has revealed he will not sign a contract extension at Arsenal with his contract set to expire imminently, meaning Pellegrini could land his signature on a free.
Tottenham should elevate reported interest in Leicester City protege Demari Gray
The 21-year-old could become a superstar if nurtured properly.
Tottenham Hotspur were reportedly interested in the possibility of signing Leicester City‘s attacking protege Demari Gray a few months back, according to reports from ESPN. And after a fruitless period in the search for attacking reinforcements, Mauricio Pochettino should revive his interest in sorting a deal.
Gray contributed four goals and three assists in 30 Premier League appearances last term, and is currently the captain of the England U21 squad. But he is likely to evaluate his future with the Foxes this summer, due to his lack of regular game-time. And Tottenham seems a great fit for the winger.
Spurs have pursued multiple attacking targets since the window commenced, without gathering any real traction on any of their targets, and it seems Pochettino – for once – is more concerned with making a marquee signing, than bringing in a player with the scope to develop and grow into a top player at White Hart Lane.
Talks for Anthony Martial, Christian Pulisic and Ivan Perisic have all stalled in recent times, and a move for the Leicester City man could be just the ticket for Spurs. He brings all the attributes they’re currently looking for; blistering pace, exceptional balance, end product, a cool head and notably the ability to hit an absolute cracker if awarded space.
If he reaches his peak under the guidance of Pochettino, which is more likely than not given his immense talent, the player could double in market-value and could become a key player for the Lilywhites for years to come.