17 Dec 2007

Spending £17m on Javier Mascherano is the wrong decision

If Sunday’s predictable defeat to Manchester United proved one thing, it is that Liverpool are in serious need of top quality creative players. Why then is Rafa Benitez pushing hard for 17m to permanently sign Javier Mascherano, a player who offers absolutely nothing going forward?

The proposed purchase of Mascherano has been one of the key causes of Rafael Benitez’s recent problems with the club’s American owners; Benitez wants £17m to buy the Argentinean stopper, whereas Hicks and Gillette allegedly prefer to wait until the loan deal is over in the summer before splashing the cash.

Liverpool fans need to be honest with themselves and ask this question: Does the club urgently *need* Mascherano? If he was to leave, would the club be left with a gaping, unfillable hole in the team?

The answer is clearly NO.

I don’t dispute that Mascherano is an excellent player, but at this moment in time, Liverpool just do not need him. The focus should be on scouring the globe for creative players, not using a huge chunk of potential transfer cash on a central midfielder when that position is already oversubscribed.

With stadium plans hitting the skids and precious little money for transfers, demanding 17m for Mascherano is not only wrong, it is irresponsible and would amount to a scandalous waste of funds.

I would further argue that Benitez made a huge mistake bringing Mascherano to the club. The Spaniard should have thought a little harder about the signing and the long term negative effects it would have. These include:

1. Stunting the development of Momo Sissoko.

2. Creating unhealthy competition in midfield, with 5 players fighting for 2 positions.

3. Unsettling Xabi Alonso to the extent that Liverpool’s best midfielder is possibly considering his position.

In reality, it is not even 5 players fighting for 2 places; Steven Gerrard will always play, so in effect, Benitez has created a situation where there are 4 midfielders fighting for one place.

This is poor management and has caused frustration and recrimination, culminating in Momo Sissoko’s recent outburst, in which he stated he wanted to leave due to ‘unhealthy competition’.

And it IS unhealthy competition. Most if not all top clubs in Europe have 1 or 2 top class central midfielders and another 2 or 3 slightly lower quality back-ups. No club in Europe has THREE top class center mids vying for two first team places. And by center mid, I don’t mean attacking mids like Deco or Iniesta; I mean proper center mids like Pirlo, Fabregas, Viera, Keane, Hargreaves etc.

Liverpool have Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Steven Gerrard – three top class midfielders - all of whom expect to start every game - all vying for two positions. Add onto that Sissoko and Lucas also pushing for the first team, and you have a recipe for frustration and eventual disaster.

Due to Alonso’s injury and Lucas' inexperience, Benitez has not had to deal with the problem of an oversubscribed midfield; for most of the season, it has been a choice of two from Gerrard, Mascherano and Sissoko. The problems will come when Alonso, Gerrard and Mascherano are all fit, raring to go and desperate to start games.

I don’t blame Sissoko at all for wanting to leave. It is impossible to retain match sharpness and get any kind rhythm going when you are unfairly relegated to the role of bit-part player.

Additionally, how exactly is Sissoko supposed to improve his game when he plays only once a month? Fans and pundits complain about his poor passing ability, but this will not change if he is not given the chance to develop.

If Mascherano had not been brought to the club, I sincerely believe that Sissoko would have improved and would now be an integral part of the team. Indeed, it is no coincidence that Momo’s drop in form coincided with Mascherano’s arrival at the club. Similarly, the rise of the Argentinean has dovetailed with the continuing decline of Sissoko's status at the club.

I am not suggesting that Sissoko is a better player than Mascherano; at this moment in time he is not, but this is due to desecrated confidence and lack of match sharpness. However, if Sissoko had not been dumped on the scrapheap and left to rot, I would argue that he would be better than Mascherano is now.

Sissoko showed this frightening potential in his pre-Mascherano Liverpool career. Fans were raving about his performances and everything was positive. Such is the fickleness of fans though that everything has inevitably changed, and Sissoko is not the whipping boy du jour.

£17m is a lot of money; if Benitez is going to lavish that on one player, then he should spend it on the most skillful, creative winger/link man he can get for that price. This type of player is far more important to the Liverpool cause. In fact, I would argue that top class creative players are ESSENTIAL to the club’s future progress.

Liverpool have been buying substandard, cut-price 'creative' players for 17 years now and this needs to stop. Teams that win the league almost always have superb creative players. Liverpool have been suffering with the likes of Vladimir Smicer, El Hadji Diouf and Dirk Kuyt for far too long.

It’s time for a positive change – Liverpool’s overly defensive priorities need updating and flair needs to come into the equation. Is Benitez the right man to oversee this change of philosophy for Liverpool?

Sadly, no.

If he was, then three and a half years into Benitez's reign there would be some evidence of an attacking approach to Liverpool's play. There isn't.

Furthermore, if Benitez was the right man then he wouldn’t be demanding 17m for a superfluous defensive midfielder; he wouldn’t persist with the creatively inept Dirk Kuyt at the expense of superior players like Peter Crouch and he wouldn’t continually leave exciting attack-minded talent like Ryan Babel and Lucas Leiva on the bench.

1 comment:

  1. Yikalo Yohannes3:00 am, June 29, 2009