One year ago newly appointed Liverpool manager, Roy Hodgson, was familiarising himself with his new surroundings on Merseyside. Having led Fulham to a Europa League final in the previous season the former Inter Milan head coach was employed to stabilise a ship navigating unsettling waters, occupying the vacant post after his predecessor, Rafael Benitez, had earlier walked the plank.
The Spaniard’s six-year tenure came to an abrupt end last summer after presiding over the club’s worst League finish since the late 90s. Despite winning the Champions League in 2005 thanks, mainly, to a stunning second-half display from Steven Gerrard, Benitez’s reign is marred by a plethora of poor transfer deals.
Hodgson fared little better in the market. The signings of Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky instilled little confidence that this great club would soon recapture its status as one of the world’s best. In his defence, Hodgson did not have an abundance of riches bestowed upon him as, the soon to be departing, Tom Hicks and George Gillett had the purse strings well and truly tightened.
After a protracted resistance the American owners were eventually ousted as New England Sport Ventures (NESV) headed by John W. Henry completed a takeover of the club. Meanwhile, on the pitch Hodgson led the team to their worst start to a league campaign in over fifty years and with little sign of improvement his association with the club was ended just six months after it began, making Hodgson Liverpool’s shortest serving manager.
Enter ‘King Kenny’.
The Anfield legend was a shrewd appointment by the new board. Dalglish’s arrival ensured full support from the Liverpool faithful. More importantly, the players would have to raise their game. The Scot steered the club to a respectable sixth place finish revitalizing the buzz on Merseyside.
Upon his arrival at the club, Henry was under no illusions about the size of the task facing him, but insisted the problems would be “attacked head-on”. The biggest of those problems – a squad lacking quality and strength in depth – has certainly been attacked, with Henry’s cheque book the primary weapon of choice.
Since the turn of the year Liverpool have spent more money on new players than any other club in world football. NESV’s bank account has taken quite a hit as the squad’s refurbishment has cost in excess of £100 million to date. While considerations have to be taken for the fee received from the sale of Fernando Torres, the sums of money in question remain extraordinary.
The January and summer recruitment process, conducted by Dalglish and director of football Damien Comolli, has led to praise from some of the club’s senior players such as Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, while defender Martin Skrtel told liverpoolfc.tv: “The players we have signed are all top quality and they will bring a lot to this team.”
Liverpool’s arrivals in 2011 have unquestionably added some much-needed quality and strength in depth to a squad that desperately required rejuvenation, but the club’s recent transfer activity might not be as astute as it appears.
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Dalglish and Comolli’s transfer policy has been clear – to buy young, to buy British. With young British talent at a premium, Liverpool have discovered it is a policy that comes at an extra cost, but have willingly paid inflated prices to secure their home-grown targets.
Andy Carroll’s switch to Merseyside earlier in the year broke a British transfer record and while the former Newcastle striker is sure to have a bright future, £35 million is a hefty price tag for a player with little Premier League experience and just two England caps to his name.
Having added Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam to the squad this summer, Liverpool’s spending on British players has reached £80 million this calendar year, a figure that by far eclipses the quartet’s true market value.
Henderson is a player that was attracting interest from a number of England’s big clubs. Ultimately, Liverpool were the only club willing meet Sunderland’s obscure valuation of a young player that has been capped only once by his country and failed to stand out at this summer’s U21 European Championships.
Just one more midfielder, Damien, please?
The signings of Henderson and Adam would have come as little surprise considering the the club’s known interest in both players, particularly Adam – who had appeared Anfield bound in January only for Blackpool to scupper a deal. The pair’s addition could cause Dalglish a slight selection headache given the abundance of central midfielders at his disposal.
The duo’s arrival, coinciding with the return of Alberto Aquilani from a season-long loan, adds to the current crop of Steven Gerrard, Raul Meireles, Lucas Leiva, Cristian Poulsen, Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey, and unless ‘King Kenny’ has a radical 2-7-1 formation in mind, the squad seems a little unbalanced.
The midfield ranks now firmly bolstered, attention must surely turn to the defence, particularly after the club missed out on targets Phil Jones and Gael Clichy to Manchester United and Manchester City respectively. Daniel Agger’s persistent injuries, Carragher’s age and Sotirios Kyrgiakos’ inconsistent performances dictate that defensive reinforcements must now be a priority.
However, Dalglish admitted last week that Liverpool must sell before they can dip back into the transfer market, so there can be no guarantees of more new faces at Anfield before the new season begins in under three weeks.