Monday, 3 February 2014

Liverpool's transfer committee

Ah, committees. We've all heard the lines about them: 'a committee is a group of the unprepared, appointed by the unwilling to do the unnecessary'', 'a camel is a horse designed by committee', 'a group that keeps minutes and loses hours' and all that jazz. Committees might not be everyone's cup of tea but they are, like the taxman, a necessary evil.

And, so we turn, to Liverpool's fabled transfer committee. Last summer, Liverpool lost out on Willian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. This transfer break the club missed out on Salah and Konoplyanka. There is much brow-beating about this amongst Liverpool fans. This is currently generating more angry posts on RAWK than a Howard Webb penalty at Old Trafford.

Let's start by making the case for a transfer committee. It is clearly a very sensible way of doing business. It means that clubs are less beholden to managerial visions and takes into account the fact that, generally, managers do not stay at a club very long. What can happen at clubs who change their manager more often than an Arts student changes his bedding is that squads become full of yesterday's men - the squad is full of four different visions of how football should be played. This presents problems for the incumbent because he, himself, will want to buy players but also has to sow harmony where discord his rife.

So having some sort of overview panel makes sense.

Lyon, during their glory years, had a transfer committee which comprised the chairman (Jean-Michel Aulas), the technical director (Bernard Lacombe) and the coach. Assuming that there is some continuity in at least two of those roles means that a direction can be set, a vision articulated, and a goal pursued. It means managerial change doesn't hurt so much and that the team can continue.

Liverpool's transfer committee is similar but not the same. It involves four people (though some claim Barry Hunter, the chief scout, is also involved to a large degree):

  • Brendan Rodgers (the manager) - whose role should be obvious
  • Dave Fallows (head of recruitment) - who, amongst other things, assigns scouts, filters reports, prepares recommendations on the club's target and keeping the database of scouted players.
  • Michael Edwards (head of performance and analysis) - again, the clue is in the title.
  • Ian Ayre - managing director.
This seems relatively sensible. Ayre gets lambasted by Liverpool fans when he fails to close a deal whereas Rodgers and (more grudgingly the Committee) get praise when a deal works well. So, for instance, Konoplyanka not signing was Ayre's sloth or inability to sign a deal (though his commercial activities for the club suggest he is actually a fine deal-maker) whereas Coutinho's signing was a great piece of business by Rodgers.

The Committee system is, at least, reasonably sensible and, in some ways, could be seen as a modern approach to the Boot Room philosophy. There is a difference, though, between a system being a sensible and it working in practice. Indeed, given the increasing importance of Champions League football - in terms of revenue, player retention and player attraction - it is quite clear that Liverpool's transfer strategy needs to be improved. If the club do not finish in the top four which of the players leaves to get Champions League football? And who replaces them? All the while, of course, setting back progress Rodgers has made in his first 18 months at the club. If 
Konoplyanka would have given Liverpool a Mata-esque boost, given them depth or helped them over the line to fourth then the signing would have been worth it? A way of looking at it might be - is it worth buying x player to keep Suarez?

Rodgers publicly noted early in his tenure at Anfield that you need 'two players in every outfield position and three goalkeepers. Then below that you have young players to support that'. More recently, he has said that he was only looking at players who would be first team players rather than adding 'squad players'. All very noble but, at present, the club may well need squad players and probably doesn't have the ideal two players in each position.

As l say all very noble but, with the injuries the club has had (and, let's remember, all clubs have injuries and, on occasion, injury crises) the manager is down to the bare bones of his squad. That he so obviously doesn't trust, or doesn't rate, two recent signings (Alberto and Aspas) and one loanee (Moses) casts a little doubt over his importance on the transfer committee or its efficacy in scouting and analysis. That point is hammered home when one consider Tiago Ilori has been loaned out before playing a game for the club. Ilori, Aspas and Alberto all cost pretty pennies. They shouldn't be viewed as gambles. If the committee is working they should be playing.

Moreover, many fans agree that the club got its priorities wrong in the transfer window. Quality is quality and, if it is available for the right price, it should be bought. Liverpool were looking for attacking talent last summer (Willian and Mkhitaryan) and were looking again this window.

The club seems, however, to be short in a number of positions. In  defensive midfield were Lucas does a sterling job but there is no real back-up (unless you count Gerrard on his occasional run-outs there and note that he needs significant support to be able to work there). The dreams of Yann M'Vila were dashed before many knew they existed.

At left-back Jose Enrique's reputation is shining more brightly every week Aly Cissokho pulls on the red shirt. Rarely has a Liverpool player shown such astonishingly bad touch consistently. Flanagan has shone when he has been fit but there is a sense that more depth is needed

At right-back, Johnson is struggling for form and fitness. Whilst Martin Kelly may, one day, be the player we all thought he might become it seems, again, that the club are short in that regard.

As an aside, perhaps most frustrating, is the lack of depth in the match-day squad and the players that Liverpool currently have out on loan - Assaidi at Stoke, Suso at Almeria, Borini at Sunderland, Robinson at Blackpool, Wisdom at Derby County, McLaughlin at Barnsley are the most obvious. Admittedly, none look like they would start for LFC on current form but in a squad down to very few senior pros, and with a few individuals the manager clearly doesn't rate, it jars a little to have talent playing elsewhere.

A club that has scored as many goals as Liverpool - and who have young talent in Coutinho and Sterling - perhaps should not be prioritising players like Salah and Konoplyanka. Even if the club do decide that another attacking player is needed - to ease the burden, to open a new style of play, to give the manager more options off the bench - that shouldn't, surely, negate any attempt to buy players in other positions. Indeed, surely the whole point of having the likes of Fallows and Edwards is to ensure that we have a list of X number of players in each position the club would sign and with a rough indication of price. Moreover, no one really understands why - having lost out to Chelsea on Salah - Liverpool waited so long to try for 

It seems that Liverpool have stumbled upon a good way of operating a transfer budget.

It also seems that given their prioritisation of certain sorts of players (and neglect of other more obviously necessary players), given some of the players the Committee has signed (Aspas, Illori, Alberto) and given their seeming inability to close a deal (without alerting competitor clubs to that deal) that consideration needs to be given to whether or not new faces are need on it.



dearieme said...

I think you can discard What The Fans Think, since it is likely to be a melange of stupidity, ignorance and hysteria.

I take it that the club still feels burned by the madness of the Carroll purchase.

Rob Marrs said...

Yes, I think that's probably fair re: fans generally. In this instance, I think they are probably right that we need cover for Lucas.

The Carroll purchase probably more important externally than at the club. Henry has been very open in his reasoning behind the transaction - that they would pay whatever for Carroll as long as they got that +15m for Torres.

No one believes him, of course, but he said as much at the time. If Newcastle had said ''£20m'', Chelsea would likely have got Torres for £35m. So, yes, Henry will be annoyed at how the transfer turned out but not at how it originally was constructed.

Bigger issues are the Moneyball summer (of Henderson, Downing, Adam et al) and the consecutive summers of players who haven't bedded in (Allen - who is coming good, Borini, Aspas and Alberto).


dearieme said...

I see that Swansea have changed the composition of their transfers committee.

Rob Marrs said...

Indeed so - an odd one. Hoping for the Pochettino effect?


dearieme said...

Unless you have "the inside dope" you can't hope to assess the decision.

Mind you, Laudrup has looked a little distrait of late. I have wondered whether someone who was so good at the game just gets bored with the fundamental, repetitive coaching needed to get good performances from the (relative) dopes he employs.