Across the country, supporters of Premier League teams are being sold a dream this summer. The prevailing culture in English football is one of ‘neophilia’; the worship of all things new, be it a fresh face in the dugout or a crop of expensively assembled new players. Player recruitment is indeed an important part of any successful team, but the extent to which it is fetishised is bordering on ludicrous.
Too many supporters and pundits view spending money in the transfer not as a means to an end, but as the end in itself. Clubs who splash the cash and make several signings receive a shower of good publicity, while those who are more circumspect are viewed sceptically. Big spending clubs are slapped on the back before a ball has even been kicked, because at least they have ‘had a go’ or ‘shown ambition’.
Call me old fashioned, but I think compliments should be reserved for teams who win games of football, not for merely signing a cheque.
Jurgen Klopp is still new enough in the Liverpool job to harness the freshness and optimism that the ‘honeymoon period’ brings, but he and Liverpool are trying to operate in a slightly counter-cultural fashion in the transfer market. Though the history of the club and Klopp himself remain a major draw for players, Liverpool are not quite operating at Europe’s top-table when it comes to the transfer window.
Clubs without Champions League football typically resort to paying huge wages by means of compensation (see Manchester United), but Liverpool’s hierarchy do not have the same financial capacity. Owners FSG have a clear wage structure in mind and wish to stick to it, with an emphasis on recruiting young players.
One of the reasons Klopp was hired in the first place, and considered such a ‘good fit’ by many, was that he operated under a similar structure at Borussia Dortmund. In his seven seasons at the Westfalenstadion, Dortmund had a net spend on £45.23 million, which is little over £6 million per season. That is impressive work for a club that won two domestic titles and reached a Champions League final during that period.
Shinji Kagawa and Lukasz Piszczek were picked up on free transfers. Key players such as Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, Ilkay Gundogan and Robert Lewandowski were recruited for a combined total of £13.27 million. Klopp’s most expensive purchase was Henrikh Mkhitaryan for £19.25 million, though Dortmund have still managed to turn a profit on him.
The phrase ‘Klopp’s most expensive purchase’ may be a misleading one, because Dortmund’s impressive recruitment has continued since his departure and is very much a collective operation. Liverpool’s ‘transfer committee’ has been the subject of much ridicule; justifiably in many cases, but the idea is to operate in a similar way. When an outstanding recruitment team and an innovative coach combine, the club in question has a winning ticket.
There is enough evidence in Klopp’s fledgling Liverpool tenure that he has the coaching ability to justify his reputation. He got more out of the players than the previous regime and made modest players look much better – the essence of a coach’s job. Individual brilliance is rightly lauded in football, but too often the strength of the collective and the virtue of good coaching goes underestimated – Bournemouth’s rise to the Premier League, Atletico Madrid’s success and Portugal’s triumph in Euro 2016 being just three good examples.
However, he needs Liverpool’s scouts and recruitment staff, the often derided ‘men in air-conditioned offices’, to provide him with the ingredients. Klopp’s coaching quality will take Liverpool far, possibly to the brink of Champions League football, but if Liverpool are to challenge for the title, their recruitment success rate must improvement. It would be most refreshing if they could do so in the Dortmund way, without buying off-the-peg stars for extortionate fees. However, they need to unearth more of the ilk of Gundogan and Lewansowski, rather than selecting those falling into the category of Lazar Markovic and Christian Benteke.
So far this summer, Liverpool have paid sizeable fees for two players who will go straight into their first team – Georgino Wijnaldum and Sadio Mane. Those two combined cost in excess of £50 million, and though they are good players, they are very much middle of the market. Liverpool fans will be hoping they can make great strides under Klopp, and they’ll need them to. Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan are closer to ‘typical Klopp’ signings, being unheralded names from the Bundesliga.
Eventually, possibly by this Christmas, the good feeling that is currently offered to Klopp as a relatively new manager will recede and he will start to be judged by harsher standards. Liverpool’s vision – to achieve success without purchasing readymade stars – is an admirable one and more sustainable than many other clubs. However, it puts their talent finders under immense pressure and puts Klopp at their mercy.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Berita Bola