Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Mercy Side: The Transfer Season and the Midfield Clutter

I haven’t written as much about football as I’d have liked to. The last article I wrote in fact was on my account on The Kop, (to avoid interruption with the Noughtie series) which you can find here. On this actual site my last football activity was part of my quick Bitesize update a few days before the new year. While I thoroughly enjoyed my Noughtie series the whole thing took me out of action for six months in terms of writing about other things. I mean, that’s a block that I made for myself, but I wanted to be committed to the music series that I was doing and doing random posts in between that project would have made my website a bit of a mess. So, here’s my first publically documented writing on football in around six months! Groundbreaking! Okay, enough sarcasm, let’s just get to the article.

I want to talk about the transfer window today, naturally. We’re around halfway through the transfer season now, and around this time of the window we tend to have little activity happen. You’ll see a signing here, and a signing there, but it doesn’t really build up until the second week in August time. But Liverpool hasn’t gone around their business in that fashion this time. In fact, according to King Kenny (who, as I haven’t written about his tenure on my site, has done a tremendous job back at the club where he belongs eternally) we’ve done most if not all our transfers already, as we have to sell to buy if we are going to get any more players.

We’ve reportedly spent around £50 million on four players in the past month or so, which is an incredible statistic when you round that up to on average £12.5 million per player. The four signings are intriguing in different ways. Here's a small bio on each of them.

Jordan Henderson
Sunderland born Henderson is only 21 years of age, and has been described by his previous manage Steve Bruce as “the best young British footballer there is”. Coming from Sunderland’s youth system. his career is quite young, and has only really started to gain major recognition in the past season. He can play on the right hand side of midfield, but has played centrally more often than not. He’s took the #14 number off Milan Jovanovic, which was also Xabi Alonso’s old jersey number. He doesn’t score too many goals as of yet, in fact he’s only scored 6 goals so far in 92 professional appearances (for Sunderland and Coventry) but he’s improving his trade, and he does contribute to a decent amount of assists. His progress so far has been at a decent pace and should be playing some games next season, whether or not he can become a regular player for us or not, will have to be seen. There is a lot of competition in the centre of the pitch, and he may find himself on the right more often that he may like, due to his versatility. He won the Young Player of the Year award for the two previous seasons for Sunderland, and also won his first England cap, where he played alongside our own Stevie G. To add to his obvious potential, FIFA placed him down on their list of “13 Young Players to Watch in 2011” alongside Manchester United’s new keeper David De Gea and Anderlecht’s highly rated Romelu Lukaku, calling him "composed, athletic and powerful".

Charlie Adam 
Charlie Adam was named after his father Charles Adam, who played for many Scottish teams in the eighties and nineties. He is a Dundee United youth, but spend the majority of his career at Rangers, six years of it in total. Adam is another central midfielder however, unlike Henderson above, Adam has a knack of finding the net, having done so a total of 63 times in 237 games in total, which is roughly one in four games. A lot of these goals have come from penalties, as Adam is an extremely clinical penalty taker, rivalling Gerrard and Kuyt for the spot takers next season. Like a lot of Rangers players, Adam spent a lot of time on loan I his career, finding mosts of his early success winning the Scottish Challenge Cup and First Division title with St. Mirren back in 2006. After finishing his loan at St. Mirren he started scored a hat-trick in a pre-season friendly, which helped him start to become a regular at Rangers. He scored 14 goals that season, which lead him to being crowned Young Player of the Year for Rangers. He eventually become part of the team that got to the UEFA Cup Final in 2008. Around 2009 he found himself falling out of favour at the club, and spent the second half of the 08/09 season at Blackpool, his first taste of football in England. A highlight that second half season was a goal he scored against Accrington Stanley reserves from the halfway line. He joined them permanently at the end of that season, and not long won the captains armband with the club. He was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year, before leading the team to playoff victory, also scoring from a freekick.

He spent his first season in the Premier League last season, scoring 13 goals in total, not bad for a team that eventually got relegated. Liverpool attempted to sign Adam back in January but the bid was rejected. Adam handed in a transfer request which was also rejected. His fantastic contribution last season for Blackpool got him nominated for a PFA Player of the Year award. We then signed him a few weeks ago, and he was given the #26 shirt, a shirt he often chooses as it’s the birthdate of his child. Jay Spearing was wearing the shirt at the time and let Adam have it (Spearing has since now starting wearing the #20 shirt).  Charlie Adam has been often compared to Xabi Alonso, due to his fantastic range of passing ability and also his fantastic accuracy from the penalty spot. Many Liverpool fans see him as Alonso’s long term successor, hopefully forming a nice partnership with Gerrard in the middle of the pitch. However, Adam’s Scotland career has had mixed results, he is yet to score for the team and isn’t often chosen. If his career continues to excel at Liverpool, it’ll be difficult for him not to be chosen on a regular basis for country.

In the early part of the year, John Henry talked of us signing younger players on a long term basis. Naturally Doni, being 31, doesn’t fit that bell. However with Pepe Reina at 307 appearances and counting, it’s not going to be easy to knock the Spanish stopper off his perch as Liverpool’s goalie. Last season we signed Brad Jones, who’s in his late twenties, however Doni, gives us great experience between the sticks, having won multiple cups at Roma, and also is a Copa America winner.

Doni, born Doniéber Alexander Marangon, is an experienced and dependable Brazilian goalkeeper. He doesn’t often make mistakes, and enjoyed a good few seasons at Corinthians, before ending up in Roma in 2005. He was initially bought as an understudy to Gianluca Curci and was only used in UEFA Cup games but after impressing in that competition, he took over as the main keeper for Roma. A few years later he was in a three-way battle for the keeper’s jersey with Artur and Julio Sergio, after he let in 4 goals against Juventus. The end of his career at Roma ended badly as he wasn’t even on the bench for most of it. He signed for us on a free transfer and is likely to be the understudy for Reina, where as one or two of our goalkeepers are likely to go on loan for more experience.

Stewart Downing
Unless you're not familiar with the Premier League and/or the England national team, you'll already know more than enough about Downing. Born in Middlesbrough, Downing went through the youth ranks all the way to the first team. A natural left winger, he tried and failed to establish himself in the first team before going on loan to Sunderland, then in the first division. An injury crisis at the Boro was what made him find himself in the first team long term. In the 2004/05 season he really started to find himself becoming an integral part of the Middlesbrough first team, when scored six goals and starting using his great left foot to cross the ball and provide many assists. One of his best games for the Boro was in a UEFA cup game against Steaua Bucharest in the semi finals when he assisted three of the four goals scored. It was around this time he started to rack up appearances for England, he took part in the World Cup in 2006, mainly as a back up for now team-mate Joe Cole. He also started to take part in the Euro qualifiers, in Steve McClaren's torrid tenure as England manager, Downing became one of the scapegoats due to his attachment to McClaren at the Boro beforehand. In the 2008/09 season, Middlesbrough got relegated. It was a particular poor season for Downing too, as he looked the frustrated figure with the poor run of results that were occurring around him. He handed in a transfer request in the spring, which got rejected. At the end of that season, Downing was sold to Aston Villa.

Things started to turn round for Stewart Downing at Villa, he started to find the form that he found in his first few years in the first team at the Boro, racking up assists and a handful of goals. You could argue that last season at Villa, where he scored eight goals, was his best season yet. Now 27, arguably the peak age for a footballer, he has now joined Liverpool to face competition with Maxi Rodriguez, Milan Jovanovic and Joe Cole for the left wing berth.


So what of these four players? Well signing two central midfielders is intriguing. Adam and Henderson above, now join Raul Meireles, Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole, Jay Spearing, Lucas Leiva, Christian Poulsen, Jonjo Shelvey and Alberto Aquilani, which total in NINE players all vying for two (or three) positions. While Joe Cole usually plays on the left for us (so can Meireles, and Gerrard can play left and right), he always maintains he wants to be in the middle. Something has to give. Nine players for two positions is quite frankly ridiculous. We need to sell some. But who? For me, Christian Poulsen by default gets sold. Not only is he 31 years old, he had a very poor debut season last year. He just didn't seem to gel with the team, and he didn't perform to the standard a Liverpool player should. But that leaves eight players, eight players quite frankly, I actually like. I can't say a bad thing really about any of the eight players who would then be left at the club. I mean yeah, Joe Cole had a disappointing campaign, but he was also injured a lot and didn't really get the best of opportunities. He can also as I said earlier, play on the left wing. I like him a lot. I always have. I want him to desperately be a success here. I think he deserves one more season. In honesty, if I were manager, I'd probably loan Jonjo Shelvey out to an ambitious team in the Championship, like Nottingham Forest or Cardiff, so he can get a good amount of experience in a decent quality side where he can shine. I think a season in the Championship will do him the world of good, he has bags of potential at the age of 19, and I reckon he could rack up at least half a dozen goals somewhere in that league if given the chance. It still leaves seven players though! It's really difficult, and while I have no problem with us signing Charlie Adam, who I think could be an incredible player for us at a decent transfer fee of around £9 million, or Jordan Henderson, who at 21 could be one of the best English midfielders of the next decade (I do think £15-20 million is a bit excessive though). But it does leave major question marks over the nine midfielders. Aquilani seems destined to go back on loan in Italy, which disappoints me as I think he has something to prove here at Liverpool, and deserves another chance. If he's going back on loan, why don't we just sell him? I've never understood the logic of loaning an established player presumably just to wind his contract down.

As for the other signings I think we've signed Stewart Downing at the right time. He had a great season last year for the Villa, and his crosses are imperative for Andy Carrol to head the ball into the back of the net. There are a few question marks over his consistency, but I think he answered those critics last season when he was one of Villa's best players. If he brings that form to the Reds, we have a very good left winger, who gives us a different option to the free-scoring Maxi Rodriguezz of the end of last season. For Doni, I thoroughly welcome him. He was a very good keeper at Roma, and has been the understudy for the Italian side and for Brazil in the past. I think he's a better keeper than Brad Jones, and I don't see where Jones fits in next season. That being said we have Péter Gulácsi on loan to Hull, so he's pretty much trying to make sure he's ahead of Doni for the backup shirt.

So what happens now? Well we need to sell more players, it's as simple as that. There are rumours of Aquilani, Lucas and Cole all being sold or loaned out. I like all three players, and they all offer us something different. But Kenny can't have nine central midfielders. I trust he'll sell or loan the right players, and make us as strong for next season as possible. It's definitely salivating stuff though, to have so many options for the midfield. We just need another backup striker and a left back now! Sell the right midfielders Kenny, and get some more depth in our squad.

What are your thoughts? Who should Kenny sell? Should we put out established players on loan? Comment below. Thanks for reading.

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