Where Swansea get it so right, Liverpool keep going wrong

When it comes to discussing the value and effectiveness of transfers in the Premier League, it seems that there is far more focus on the clubs and players who fail miserably than those who get it spot on. Naturally, those teams challenging for the title or a top four finish will attract further scrutiny than those lower down the table, all the more so when the amounts spent are so vast. There is another side to this coin, though, one where a club can rack up a very shrewd, cost-effective record in the transfer market.

Over the last five years, it is hard to think of any Premier League club who have consistently got it so right quite as much as Swansea. The Welsh club has impressed in each of its four seasons at this level, with Brendan Rodgers masterminding a mid-table finish first time around, Michael Laudrup securing the Capital One Cup and Garry Monk guiding them to eighth last term in his first full season in charge. In all of that time, the Swans have never had a player who has been widely acknowledged as top class, and yet they have never been in serious relegation trouble at any stage since promotion in 2011. Like Stoke, they have been a model of consistency and, unlike the Potters, they have won and kept many admirers for their continuation of attractive, free-flowing football.

Ahead of their Premier League bow, Rodgers kept faith with the bulk of the squad that got them up in the first place. Three of his summer signings, though, made a lasting impression. Wayne Routledge has been consistent throughout his time with Swansea, where he remains. Michel Vorm was superb in goal prior to a move to Tottenham last year. Danny Graham hit the net 12 times that season for the Swans, although his career has gone downhill since then. The loan additions of Steven Caulker and Gylfi Sigurdsson also worked a treat, meaning Swansea brought in five players who made a positive difference to the team for the total of £5million. Relegation fodder? They came 11th, just three places behind a massively disappointing Liverpool.

In the summer of 2012, with Laudrup succeeding Rodgers in the dugout, in came eight players (two on loan) for a combined £15.7million. That was only £700k more than they reaped for selling Joe Allen, who to say the least hasn’t lived up to his ‘Welsh Xavi’ billing at Anfield. They also received £6million for Scott Sinclair, who went backwards at Man City and is only now rediscovering his best form with Aston Villa, while an out of sorts Graham was let go to Sunderland for £5million, representing a £1.5million profit. Ahead of their second Premier League season, Swansea spent £2million on Michu, scorer of 18 league goals as they finished ninth, and £5.5million on Ki Sung-yeung, who has flourished in the Premier League. Pablo Hernandez brought some invaluable experience from Valencia for £5.2million, too, while Jonathan de Guzman made a good impression upon his arrival on loan.

With the arrival of Europa League football at the Liberty Stadium in 2013/14, Laudrup went for quantity in the market in order to bulk up his squad. Quite a few of his signings made very little impact – Jordi Amat, Jose Canas and Alejandro Pozuelo spring to mind – but two were resounding successes. Wilfried Bony signed for £12million while Jonjo Shelvey came in for just £5million. Both have more than repaid those fees since then, while even the unsuccessful signings were free transfers or low-cost arrivals. The Swans dropped to 12th that term and Laudrup was dismissed midway through the season, but player-cum-coach Garry Monk steadied the ship after his predecessor managed to get Swansea into the Europa League knockout rounds.

Summer 2014 was a busy one for Monk and Swansea, with no shortage of comings and goings. Among those brought in on free transfers were Lukasz Fabianski and Bafetimbi Gomis, both of whom have starred for the club. Sigurdsson returned, having been a letdown at Tottenham in the meantime, and had a cracking season, as did Ki, who had been on loan to Sunderland the year before. The in-form Bony was lured to Man City in January, but not before making Swansea a £16million profit. Monk took the club to the heights of eighth, with Swansea scoring 46 league goals along the way. Of that total, 37 came from Ki, Shelvey, Gomis, Sigurdsson, Routledge and Bony, who in total cost the club an estimated £29million, a mere £1million more than what Bony was sold for.

There is a certain irony when you think that Rodgers left Swansea for Liverpool three years ago. His record in the transfer market at Anfield has been well documented, including by yours truly on this very site a few months ago. The Irishman has brought 31 players to Merseyside since 2012 for the grand sum of £291.5million, moving on 33 for £200million. Of his 31 additions, nine are either new to the club or didn’t even play for the first team. The other 22 totalled £211million in transfer fees. Of that lot, only two – Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, who cost a combined £20.5million – can be classed as undisputed successes. Others have been decent, such as Emre Can and Simon Mignolet, but Rodgers has signed more than a fair share of dross in the last three years. Fabio Borini, Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert cost £31million between them. Last season, that trio delivered four league goals. Let’s go back to the end of the previous paragraph. Swansea had six players who altogether cost £29million and scored 37 goals in the 2014/15 Premier League. Liverpool had three who cost £31million and scored four. You don’t need to have outstanding GCSEs to decipher who got better value there. The one case in defence of Rodgers is that he realised the three strikers in question were not up to scratch and bundled them all out the exit door this summer. Balotelli is merely out on loan while the others’ departure freed up £13million for Liverpool. Any club brave enough to sign Balotelli for a fee is unlikely to add substantially to that total. This might also be a good time to mention that Rodgers thought Dejan Lovren was worth £25million, which has bought him a tactically clueless defender who has begun this season by deciding that keeping the ball in play in a tight spot, and promptly losing it a few seconds prior to West Ham going 2-0 ahead, was a better choice than knocking it out for a throw-in, which any alert 10-year-old would do in your local park.

It may be too early to make confident predictions as to how both clubs will perform throughout the current season, but if the first month is anything to go by, Swansea will again reap the benefits of outstanding value for money to achieve a top eight finish while big-spending Liverpool will fall well short of Champions League football, something the club desperately needs if it is to even begin reeling in the leading pack. The Swans were at it again this summer, with free transfer Andre Ayew already netting three goals in the league. Gomis, who also arrived on a free, has four. Liverpool’s entire squad has two, one of which came from £32million man Christian Benteke. The other big-money arrival, £29million Roberto Firmino, has not yet struck me as a player who will fit the description of ‘goal poacher’, although it is far too early to deem him a flop. However, looking at his fee and comparing it to the equal sum of Swansea’s top six scorers last season, the Brazilian will need to score 37 goals in the next 34 games to match that value. Of course that is an overly simplistic way of looking at it, but it does bring into perspective just how excellently the Welsh club has played the transfer market over the past four years in comparison to their colleagues from Merseyside.

In conclusion, let’s revisit your school days and give you the pick of a few players for your team, like you may have done for a game of football during PE:

Ashley Williams (A) or Dejan Lovren (B)?

Ki sung-yeung (A) or Joe Allen (B)?

Jonjo Shelvey (A) or Lazar Markovic (B)?

Gylfi Sigurdsson (A) or Roberto Firmino (B)?

Wilfried Bony (A) or Mario Balotelli AND Christian Benteke (B)?

Michu (A) or Fabio Borini (B)?

I’m guessing you picked mostly Option A. How Liverpool fans must wish their transfer aficionados did likewise. Perhaps the best signing they could make is the brains trust behind Swansea’s transfer activity.

Featured image provided by Kathryn-May Forrest.

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