By Tim Treacy
The turnaround at Liverpool Football Club over the past year has been remarkable. A comparison between last year and this year is like night and day, oil and water, chalk and cheese, a journey from Hicks and Gillett to Henry and Warner.
A year ago, fans of Liverpool were wondering where all the Javier Mascherano money went, and the Xabi Alonso cash too – it certainly did not go to pay off Liverpool’s crippling debt or be reinvested in top players. Fans were also bewildered by the appointment of Roy Hodgson as manager. Liverpool fans however were willing to support him, even though Kop idol, Kenny Dalglish was most fans’ first choice for the job. Then came the 2010 summer signings that made most of us give a good scratch to our head and ask, “Huh? Really? Konchesky, and Poulsen?” Liverpool were, to be blunt, in a right old mess. The Liverpool Way had lost its way in the L4.
Fast forward fifty two weeks, and things couldn’t be any different.
Liverpool’s new owners seem to be ticking all the right boxes for those of us who sing about golden skies week in, week out. In the past eight months, they have sanctioned around $180 million investment into Dalglish’s squad, a historical and unprecedented amount in such a short time at Anfield.
This summer’s additions, Jordon Henderson, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Jose Enrique, Sebastian Coates, Alexander Doni, and Craig Bellamy, coupled with a strong finish to last season has served to only bolster fans’ belief that Liverpool will be a real contender for a top four finish this year. It is also prudent to point out that since Dalglish took over this past January, only Chelsea and Manchester United had better second halves to the season than Liverpool.
One summer signing that raised eyebrows on Merseyside was the signing of Stewart Downing. Some people may feel that Liverpool overpaid for him. But $32 millions for a player who will have no problems settling into life at Liverpool, who is entering the prime of his career, and who can supply Andy Carroll with the ammunition he needs to be allowed to fulfill his own potential, will prove to be an astute capture by Dalglish. Harking back to Dalglish’s first term in charge, in 1987 similar opinions were aired on Merseyside over the transfer fee for John Barnes. Of course Digger went on to become one of the club’s greatest players. If Downing has even half the success Digger had, then he will be a great success for Liverpool.
Liverpool lost out on many transfer targets under Houllier and Benitez. Those two managers would be the first to say it is about time Liverpool started to pay the going rates for players after each manager previously missed out on Cristiano Ronaldo and Nemanja Vidic respectively simply because the club wouldn’t pony up the dough.
For me, Charlie Adam is probably the most interesting capture of the summer. For a fee of $11.5 million and rising to $14 million, Adam has been signed as a definite starter. His vision and range of passing will provide much needed balance and creativity to Liverpool’s midfield. Not since Xabi Alonso has Liverpool had a player with such pinpoint passing ability. Dalglish failed to sign Adam last January, and even Alex Ferguson was interested in him, claiming that Adam’s corner kicks were “worth £10 million alone,” Liverpool has signed the American footballing equivalent of a quarterback. Judging by Adam’s performances so far this season, especially against Bolton on August 28, he is probably the biggest bargain of the summer. His passing ability and vision is incredible and we will see more and more of his influence on the team as the season goes by.
At 21 years old, I don’t expect Liverpool’s youngest signing of the summer, Jordon Henderson to start too many games once Steven Gerrard comes back to full fitness. I hope he will push Dirk Kuyt and Gerrard all the way for their positions, but Henderson is one for the future, and under Dalglish he will develop into the box-to-box midfielder that earned him so many accolades at Sunderland last term. He has begun to show lots of promise after a shaky start to his Liverpool career. After his man-of-the-match performance against Bolton two weeks ago, his confidence and game should soar. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Henderson bag 10 goals this year.
Of course let’s not forget about Liverpool’s superstars, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez. Gerrard has been out injured since March and will not appear for Liverpool until the middle of September at the earliest. A rest until mid-to-late September for Gerrard could very well play out positively for Liverpool, who have seen their captain get a total of just 10 weeks rest in the previous three years at Anfield.
Suarez, coming off the back of a Copa America tournament win, where he was was named player of the tournament, is a player, who according to Jamie Carragher, has replaced Fernando Torres in the hearts of Liverpool fans with his head-turning displays of last season. He has already made a huge impact this season and it makes my mouth water to think of what he, Gerrard, and company can do when they are all fully fit.
For the first time in a long, long time, we will see some great football being played at Anfield this season that is for sure.
Jose Enrique has seamlessly fit into Liverpool’s starting XI. As strong as an ox, and as fast as a hare, he hasn’t put a foot wrong since joining the Reds. If he was English, Liverpool would have paid $25 million for him. At $9.5 million, he is a bargain and easily one of the top three left backs in the league right now.
Liverpool’s other defensive signing, Sebastian Coates is probably the team’s fourth choice center back this season, but he is the most promising defender. Named Young Player of the Tournament at the Copa America, Liverpool fans will get an up close look at the six-foot-six-inch giant who is hailed as being quick and agile despite his massive frame.
While losing Raul Meireles on Deadline Day was a shock for some Liverpool fans, I don’t see him as a loss at all. His leaving will allow more playing time and development for Shelvey, Spearing, and Henderson, even Conor Coady. Kenny Dalglish knows what he wants at Liverpool, he knows who he wants, and he knows how he wants to play. Meireles didn’t fit into any of that. So he was shipped off at a profit, and in return Liverpool signed a fourth striker for free who is, on his day, as good as anyone in that position, Craig Bellamy. I pity defenders who will have to deal with Downing and Suarez’ pace on the left hand side for 70 minutes, and then a fully fresh, raring-to-go Bellamy comes on for one of them with 20 minutes to go. I expect Bellamy to be an impact sub this season, and I have high hopes he will do just that. He is a fighter, he has a massive will to win, and above all, he trains and works as hard as Dirk Kuyt.
With the addition of Adam, Bellamy, Coates, Doni, Downing, Enrique, and Henderson, to a squad already boasting international stars such as Agger, Carroll, Carragher, Johnson, Kuyt, Gerrard, Lucas, Maxi Rodriguez, Pepe Reina and Suarez, Liverpool look to be once again heading in the right direction. With a core of British talent, an old-fashioned footballing mentality from the tactically astute Dalglish, Liverpool should be odds-on favorite to at least secure fourth place and a domestic cup this term. Not since Dalglish left Liverpool over 20 years ago, has Liverpool Football Club had such a strong squad. There is every reason for Liverpool fans to think that sooner, rather than later, silverware will again be flowing into the Anfield trophy room. Now if only we can get stadium issue sorted.
Tim Treacy is the Chairman for LFC Boston, a supporters club that meets regularly at the Phoenix Landing in Cambridge. If you are a member or leader of a supproters’ club and you would like to contribute to The Soccer Guys, contact Kevin: Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.