There is too much hype and over inflation of English talent that does not reflect reality.
Bob Paisley used to say: 'Judge managers by their judgement of players.'
Last summer two sides made significant moves in the transfer market. One side did away with their British players and invested in foreign talent. Another sold their foreign talent and bought British. Of these sides one has exceeded expectations and the other has distinctly fell short of theirs.
This past Sunday Liverpool played Newcastle, two sides who have had different fortunes this season. Newcastle have certainly overachieved whereas Liverpool have left everyone disappointed. With Carroll and Enrique leaving to go to Anfield, Newcastle appeared to be a team heading down, with a lack of investment and the loss of key players, they were tipped to many be battling relegation again. Liverpool were regarded as serious title contenders, yet, Newcastle lie in sixth; 11 points ahead of Liverpool. What has happened is due to different transfer policies and the management of the sides.
A really shocking season
Liverpool ended last season in good form, the resurgence coming from a change in manager and a new strike force. Kenny Dalglish appeared to have galvanised a side lacking belief and results. Performances against Man City at home and Fulham away seemed to show that a new era was upon Anfield, led by the charismatic, energetic Luis Suarez, a new number 7, of similar ilk of his new manager. With ambitious and rich new owners, the problems plaguing Benitez and the storm engulfing Hodgson would be of thing of the past.
The summer would be an opportunity for Liverpool to invest and improve their squad, perhaps giving this side a chance to challenge for a title not won in over twenty years. Yet, the season has not been the one anticipated by many, in fact it has been much worse than in previous years. A League Cup win can be celebrated yet it is inconsequential when the new owners anticipated Champions League qualification. Liverpool are currently 14 points off fourth and a staggering 34 points off the top. Based on recent form this gap will only get wider. What has happened this season?
Director of football
A lot of blame has been pointed at Dalglish for the sides poor performances this season. Yet are other people behind the scenes may just as culpable. The model of coach and Director of Football is a continental idea which has not worked all too well in England, where the manager usually has complete control over the running of the club. Dennis Wise was a failed Director at Newcastle with Keegan, yet perhaps this was more the man than the role which was to be blamed.
Damien Comolli spent time in England before, with Tottenham, and was there under the rather disastrous period of Juande Ramos. He was responsible for the transfer policy at the club which was based on signing young potential talent; this led to the arrival of Hutton, Prince Boateng, Dos Santos, Taarabt and Kaboul. He also purchased current first teamers Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Assou-Ekotto. This is quite a list and Spurs have benefited from many of these signings which has given them Champions League football. The interesting thing about these players is that only one was English, David Bentley and only a handful British. The policy aimed to acquire talent from all over, not just these isles and it has proved successful with the right manager.
On 22 March 2011 Comolli was appointed as the Director of Football at Liverpool. In an interview Comolli stated it covers pretty much the whole football side of running the football club, although he does not get involved in team training or selection. This is remarkable, effectively stating that he is the one who deals with the players coming in. Does this mean that Comolli is the man responsible for Liverpool's failings?
Can Dalglish be acquitted from blame then for the players who came in last summer? I would argue no. The relationship between these two must have been working in synergy, they must have discussed who and what was required and then Comolli would go out and make the deals happen. This has happened with Peter Kenyon when at United and Chelsea and David Dean when at Arsenal.
Comolli played a part in the acquisition of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll coming to Anfield with the departure of Torres. Suarez scored 81 goals in 110 games for Ajax and appeared an excellent signing to replace Torres. Andy Carroll had shown at Newcastle, in the Championship and Premier League that he had the ability to score goals, play as a target man and be a real danger to defences with his strength and movement.
Last season both signings seemed like genuine good business, Torres had lost his form and importantly interest at Anfield and two forwards for one was shrewd business for Liverpool.
In the summer Comolli helped Liverpool sign Henderson, Adam and Downing for roughly £50 million. These were players who the previous season had been arguably their sides best player. This was a major change in the squad and indicated that a change in playing style was going to take shape also. With wingers like Downing and Henderson, a playmaker in Adam and a bustling number 10 in Suarez, all the pieces appeared in place for Andy Carroll to score many goals and this Liverpool side to go and challenge for major honours.
However, something didn’t seem right; the expense of the players like Henderson and Downing seemed rather ludicrous considering their actual talent and quality. Charlie Adam was part of a relegated Blackpool side where he clearly showed his own failings. Were these players really of the standard to step up to the “great” Liverpool? A cynic would have seen what was to come a long way off. All these signings have been shells of their former selves this season, and this is where Dalglish is answerable.
The side which Dalglish inherited was mainly foreign. Reina, Kuyt, Lucas, Agger, Maxi , Suarez and Meireles brought that team out of their misery last season. Did Dalglish not like the foreign feel of the squad? Was he still stuck in the 80’s and 90’s where the British players ruled and the foreigner was more of a luxery than a major part of the team?
When looking at the signings that Comoli brought at Spurs compared to those at Liverpool, it would appear that Dalglish’s fingerprints are all over these signings. I would bet that Suarez and Coates were Comoli’s own decisions, whereas the others screamed of Dalglish. There are serious questions to ask about the logic and the costs of the acquisitions since Dalglish has been manager, especially the form of these players, which as Comolli stated, was down to the manager and his coaching staff.
A problem with the coaching?
So is Steve Clarke answerable to the failings of this side? Apparently he takes all the sessions and is a major part in the development of the team tactically. He was spoke of highly at Chelsea, under Mourinho and certainly after with Grant. Yet, at West Ham with Zola it didn’t go too well and this Liverpool side appears unsure of what is doing, positionally and tactically for many games. Each game Liverpool line up differently; their formation, the players and the style are always altered.
Now, for some sides this may confuse the opposition and be a strength, however Liverpool themselves seem confused as to what they are supposed to be doing. Clarke is to blame for this season yet the one at the top is the one most at blame.
Why have Carroll, Downing, Henderson and Adam all failed at Anfield? As said, their value was too high and perhaps the pressure on them has hampered their development. But we know that these players are not as bad as they have played this season, and so the problem here is not the players, but their manager. Even Luis Suarez has not performed this season, even prior to the racism affair.
Kenny Dalglish has a history of stress and a history of quitting. As a player he was superb, yet, in management, as he has aged, he has not allowed himself to adapt to an ever changing, ever evolving game. Ferguson, his nemesis for many years has been able to understand the changes, understand the influx of foreign talent and changing styles and tactics. This has enabled his side to constantly be at the zenith of domestic and European football.
Clearly the signings made and the handling of them by the manager has contributed to the poor season at Anfield. For the money spent expectations were high and Liverpool have failed miserably. No cup can compensate for the league form and position. In comparison to Liverpool, perhaps the side with the right transfer policy and management has been Newcastle.
A new philosophy in the North East
It has been a turbulent time in Newcastle for the past several seasons. Gone are the days of Keegan and Robson, when Newcastle were genuinely considered a top team. After the sale of the club to Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley, the club has been a shadow of it’s former self. So many poor decisions from Ashley turned the fans against him and made him a laughing stock to fans around the country. This beer downing, common dressed owner was making a mockery of the club he said he would make great.
The club was plunged into crisis when they were relegated, yet perhaps that year in the Championship matured the owner, the fans and the club. Chris Houghton was the man given the task to take the side back to the Premier League and he did a truly remarkable job. The Newcastle side that season contained Premier League talent, with players like Nolan, Barton, Coloccini and Carroll helped the side achieve promotion. Houghton still had to galvanise a side which was severely lacking in confidence, he brought the team together and achieved what was in the end of very assured campaign where they won the league.
With seemingly stable foundations built Ashley plunged the side back into chaos when he sacked Chris Hughton while Newcastle were in 11th after 16 games. The man he brought in was Alan Pardew, a manager who had just been sacked by Southampton in League 1, for apparently not bringing the team together. Many fans were displeased with this decision and more questions were being asked of Ashley.
Now one year on and the appointment of Pardew is starting to look inspired, even Ashley’s fiercest critics have started changing their opinions on his handling of the club and performances and results have put Newcastle back into the top six, a remarkable achievement for a club who have spent relatively little in the past two years. Pardew has efficiently reshaped the squad and the model that is being followed, with chief scout Graham Carr being a key figure, is clear and effective.
A change in approach
In the summer the midfield duo which had been part of the relegation and then promotion, of Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton was deemed surplus to requirements. Barton especially caused many issues with his behaviour and Pardew had a big decision to make. Ashley supported Pardew’s decision and Barton was released for nothing. This would cement Pardew as the boss and that anyone who did not buy in to the clubs philosophy would be moved on. Questions were asked however of whether Newcaslte could survive without these experienced players.
When looking at the transfers brought in by Newcastle in the past two years it would show that they have changed their approach. The value of the players has gone down, wages are lower and there has been a clear disregard for British players. Head scout Graham Carr has been credited for the arrival of these foreign players, players like Cabaye, Marveaux, Demba Ba, Santon, Obertan, Ben Arfa and Tiote have all come in for just over £20 million.
Papiss Cisse was £10 million and effectively the return on Carroll has given Newcastle depth. Those going out have returned good money and importantly reduced wages; Nolan and Barton were no longer needed and their wages were needed to be slashed. It has made Newcaslte more sustainable and has improved performances on the pitch. The payroll has been brought under control with a new era of tight fiscal policy as the club stops haemorrhaging money.
It would appear that Ashley through Houghton and now Pardew has overseen a cultural shift at St James’ Park, a side which used to be home to some of the best-paid players in English football such as Alan Shearer and Michael Owen is now home to up-and-coming talent such as Yohan Cabaye, Chiek Toete and Hatem Ben Arfa.
A tale of two sides
Newcastle have changed their philosophy and decided that buying British was not producing results and was costing them more than it should. And this is the problem with Liverpool this season, they have invested in a transfer policy of buying British, signing potentially good players yet who are average now, with no guarantee that they can and will succeed.
When you buy these types of players for cheap, a la Tiote, Cabaye and Ba, then the risk is not great. However Liverpool have invested huge sums into players who were clearly not worth the money paid for them. It has burdened the players and the team with increased expectations of which they have clearly not dealt with. It has led to a media frenzy obsessing over the obscene sums paid for these players and the wants of the owners have not been fulfilled. Perhaps if they were bought cheaper less would be expected of them and they be able to relax and perform like they did prior to their arrival to Anfield.
Over hyped and over valued
Some major questions come from this situation. Firstly, why are English players so expensive? It seems rather ludicrous that players who are no more than average are valued so highly. The problem for the England national team is that many sides find it much more financially prudent to buy cheaper foreign talent for less than pay perhaps 10x as much for an English man who is of the same quality. Newcastle have realised that buying foreign players is much more beneficial for their finances and as we are seeing, their sides performance in the league.
For Newcastle then there is more value in scouting abroad than buying English players. And their team reflects this; against Liverpool Newcastle had only two English players in the side; Perch and Simpson, players who will not be considered for the England team. Liverpool had six with Henderson and Downing coming on later. And the truth was that Newcastle were better than Liverpool, and have been all season, an 11 point lead shows that. And so comes the debate of whether the talent in Britain is really as good as we are led to believe or if it is more to do with the management of the side. Both aspects need to be accounted for.
There is too much hype and over inflation of English talent that does not reflect reality. We are not creating players of the quality as well as other countries yet we pricing them above many others. When clubs begin to be realistic with their valuations then perhaps more English players can come through the system.
What needs to happen is the Premier League needs to introduce the 6+5 rule to make it the case that 6 players need to be British. What will need to happen from there is that a tribunal will be needed to be set up to set the cost of each player, to make the cost buying English players more viable. These players need to be realistic in their wage demands also; it is the clubs fault for paying them and the agents for demanding so much. Foreign sides will not buy English players due to the high transfer fees and wages demanded, this is causing a disservice to the national side as not enough players are developing into top class players due to an arrogance and delusion that our players are better than the rest.
This is having a detrimental effect on the development of top quality English players, as there are not enough going to top teams to improve further, because they are simply too expensive. Newcastle have progressed financially and on the pitch by bringing in cheaper foreign players who are just as good, or better than their English counterparts.
Secondly, the management of the players. Alan Pardew has shown he has the ability to be a top manager, he has shown tactical knowledge and a man management which has brought out the best in his players, especially the volatile Ben Arfa. This is much different to Dalglish who has not brought out anything like the best of his side. Liverpool have made mistakes in their transfer policy and importantly with the handling of these players and the performances on the pitch have shown this.
Newcastle appear a side more in line to get into the Champions League than Liverpool right now, if Liverpool’s owners have any sense they must part ways with a man who is holding the team back. It shows that all factors are key in the successful running of a team; scouting, transfers, wages, coaching and man management are all key to developing a successful side.
Dalglish has done a poor job at Anfield, he has brought in players who offered potential and he has ruined them; they are all devoid of confidence and inspiration. Alex Ferguson gets the most from his players, many of who are considered average, yet he inspires them and drives them on to do better. Dalglish lacks this ability, he has the opposite effect, and the media, for all they adore Kenny cannot deny that he has done a terrible job this season. Many other managers would not have lasted this long and the time is up for the “King”, he needs to do the respectful thing and leave because right now he is taking this side to mediocrity.