Saturday, 12 January 2013
Liverpool: A country for old men?
It was sadly predictable that many would misinterpret Steven Gerrard's comments about disagreeing with Liverpool's youth only transfer policy. It is clear he generally agrees with the policy but does not believe it should be pursued absolutely ruthlessly. He believes, simply, that there should be an exception to every rule.
To boot, he's right.
Whilst most Liverpool fans will have problems with the amounts that Liverpool have spent on certain players signed in the last 24 months there is no doubt that the underlying theory is a wise one. That policy is simple: buy young talent (under the age of 24), get their best years, pay less to them in wages, and sell on for a profit in due course (or, at least, recoup their value). The policy also looks to minimise signing older players because those between 26-30 are overvalued in the marketplace and, tellingly, the sell-on value is likely to be far lower.
(NB: Some say that this is moneyball but it isn't really. Moneyball, or sabermetrics, is the specialised analysis of a sport through objective evidence especially statistics that measure in-game activity. In football, I believe one can do this and believe Liverpool attempted to do so under Dalglish and Comolli. It just didn't quite work. I've written about moneyball in soccer on a number of occasions previously - all linked to from here).
Gerrard's comments link to a number of important points.
Firstly, that whilst a rigorous policy is useful to overall strategy that there are always occasions when such policies should be breached. Knowing when to do so is a skilful business.
Secondly, as there are numerous ways to skin a cat there are numerous ways to find inefficiencies in the transfer market. Celtic and, in the past, Wigan have both tried to find players in footballing backwaters where scouts fear to tread and where past greats do not skew the value of present day youngsters. FSG are clearly trying to make the transfer market work in their favour by not buying players over the age of 24*.
I believe that another market inefficiency is players in their early to mid-30s. Given that players can, given the right surroundings and support, play into their late thirties and given that such players can bring much needed experience and can assist the development of younger players it seems a trick not to be missed.
Fans at both ends of the East Lancs Road may pale at the thought of it but Gerrard's views chime with those of Sir Alex Ferguson. The Great Scotsman has often blooded youth and built teams around his talented youngsters but he has always understood the importance of experience and has not been afraid to buy elder statesman. Edwin van der Sar, bought aged 34, is one of his best buys. He tried to buy Raul aged 34 and Michael Owen, much as many will snigger, added value on - and more obviously - off the pitch.
Other examples abound - Dave Mackay going to Derby, Gary McAllister's Indian Summer at Liverpool, Davie Weir put in many years good service at Rangers, AC Milan for years nurtured older players into their late 30s and Manchester United have done the same with their 1990s generation.
Sometimes clubs on the cusp of greatness, or teams overloaded with youth, need an old head to help usher in the new era. Liverpool already have two elder statesman in Carragher and Gerrard and both add significant benefit.
Of course, his interview focused on Frank Lampard. Would Aston Villa benefit from Lampard's services? Almost certainly. Would Liverpool benefit? Of course. Could he flourish alongside a deeper-lying Gerrard? Now there is an intriguing question.
*There are, obviously, legitimate debates over the efficacy of this policy.