What the transfer deadline madness means for Liverpool

by Steve

Liverpool badgeThe word ‘unbelievable’ is bandied about far too much in football, yet yesterday’s events as the January transfer window slammed shut were pretty astonishing. Liverpool were at the centre of developments, selling Fernando Torres to Chelsea for £50 million, at the same time as buying in his replacement, Newcastle United’s Andy Carroll, for £36 million. They also completed the purchase of Ajax’s Luis Suarez, for £22.7 million. What recession, eh?

The mood amongst Liverpool supporters seems broadly positive. A player who wanted to leave has gone, and in his place are some exciting prospects. I am not, however, so sure. Not yet.

This could just as easily be presented as Liverpool selling the best striker in the world, and bringing in a man capable of serious violence (Carroll) and a man not above blatant cheating and biting opponents (Suarez). Add Carroll’s injury concerns to the mix, and these are two incredibly risky transfers.

It is interesting to see Liverpool’s owners, the Fenway Sports Group (FSG), take such a risk. On the one hand, they do seem to preach the ‘Moneyball’/sabermetrics approach to sport, on the other they are not afraid to splash out on players, such as the recent signings of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to the Boston Red Sox.

The difference with Crawford/Gonzalez, however, is they seem much safer bets. It is easier to get an idea of how someone will perform in baseball (a sport made up of discrete, easy to record elements) and football (a more fluid sport with many more intangibles).

Perhaps the argument FSG would make is that, particularly with Torres on his way, they needed to do something to shore up Liverpool’s support. Attendances at Anfield have already been down this season, and a team without Torres and without any replacements for Torres would have inevitably drawn even less. But will Carroll and Suarez sell enough tickets and enough shirts to justify their expense?

Once Torres wanted out, Liverpool and FSG were in a very difficult position. If they forced him to stay until the summer there was a very real chance that his value would plummet, particularly if the player put in any sub-par performances. The January transfer window tends to inflate prices anyway, and so from a pure business standpoint it probably made sense to cash in, as much as it pains me to say it as a huge fan of Torres.

Luis Suarez? This seemed a reasonably considered purchase. Suarez had made it clear he wanted to be a Liverpool player, has been outstanding for Uruguay and Ajax, and seems the kind of exciting, creative player Liverpool need (biting aside).

But why then pay such an inflated price for Andy Carroll? There are not just his personal issues, or his injury concerns. There is also the fact that he has just one England cap, and just half a season’s experience in the Premier League. £35 million is an incredible price to pay for someone yet to prove themselves over any length of time.

It is also an incredible amount to pay for someone who may have not wanted to come in the first place. It suggests this was purely a panic buy.

If Liverpool had held on to their money, they would have got much more for it in the summer. Why gamble £35 million on Carroll, when there may be a few more options at a more sensible price in the summer? Why not make the money work harder? It is not as if Liverpool realistically need to avoid relegation this season, or can push to win the title. A little patience might have been what was needed here.

Instead, there is a very real risk that Liverpool and FSG have wasted valuable resources. Instead of building for the future, have Liverpool risked it all for the present? How many prospects could Liverpool have brought in over the summer for £35 million? Only a few would need to succeed to make that approach good business.

However, this does appear a very clear vote of confidence for new manager, Kenny Dalglish. Surely he wouldn’t have been given the money to spend if he wasn’t being considered as a longer-term option? That may be the biggest positive to take from yesterday’s events.

Image by i.embrace via Flickr