10 Aug 2008

I never thought I’d say this but hoorah for Hicks and Gillett

Liverpool FC owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have finally vetoed Rafael Benitez’s inglorious pursuit of Gareth Barry, and for the first time in their tenure I wholeheartedly agree with one of their major decisions.

Everyone in the world – except Rafa- can see that £18m is way too much for Barry, especially since the club’s pressing need for quality wide players supersedes the need for yet another central midfielder. Speaking on behalf of the owners, Rick Parry was emphatic on the subject:

"It is obviously the selling club's prerogative to put whatever price they want on the player, but on this occasion Liverpool think the price quoted is too high."

Liverpool fans seem to be up in arms with this statement but what exactly is the problem? Barry is over-priced - End of story. But as per usual with Rafa it is not just about one position, it is about ‘options’, as he explained after the turgid victory over Lazio:

“(Barry) can play in three different positions and that’s a positive thing but I am talking about one player. And I will try to improve the team and the squad if I can”.

I am so sick of Rafa’s pigheaded obsession with buying players who can play in 20 different positions. Whatever happened to buying specialists who excelled in one position and enhanced the overall team with their positional expertise?

Take wide players for example - Rafa is in his 5th year at Liverpool and he STILL hasn’t solved the club’s winger problem; he still prefers to play square pegs in round holes and one week from the start of the season, we are faced with the dispiriting prospect of having failed striker Dirk Kuyt as the club’s first choice right winger.

This is a pathetic state of affairs and Rafa has to take the blame. The ‘Rafa can do no wrong’ brigade will come up with all types of lame excuses, the most popular of which seems to be: ‘but there just aren’t that many quality wide-players in world football today'.

What?! To contend that in five years Liverpool FC’s network of scouts could not identify a few quality wide-players is just intelligence-insulting twaddle.

What about Ricardo Quaresma? Joaquin? Vicente? There's always an element of risk when buying non-premiership players but with those three, the potential is definitely there.

And what about Rafael van Der Vaart, Samir Nasri and Amantino Mancini? All three moved clubs for comparatively low transfer fees in the last three months. Why did Liverpool not move heaven and earth to sign these players?! Why were Liverpool not even in the running to sign these players?

Even the likes of Stuart Downing and Shaun Wright-Philips (not my favourite choices) could do well on the wings. At least the club would have some dedicated premiership-proven wingers!

Liverpool could have signed Van Der Vaart and Mancini for the same overall price as Gareth Barry! Granted, both may be unproven in the premiership but at least they are proper wide players with real skill and ability.

Surely either one (or any of the eight players I mentioned above) has got to be a better option than Dirk Kuyt or (inevitably) Robbie Keane?

Rafa has deliberately failed to prioritise the wide-areas of the team, something that is tantamount to managerial negligence in my view. In a rather ironic twist though, now that the club has put the stoppers on the Barry deal, Rafa has suddenly become concerned about his options on the left:

“Clearly we have problems on the left. We’ve lost Riise and Kewell, Aurelio is injured, Leto has no work permit and Babel is at the Olympics and could come back injured. So we need to improve in this area”.

As a justification for spending 18m on Garth Barry, this is a tenuous argument at best. The thing that irks me here is the fact that Benitez is complaining about things he has had *plenty* of time to fix.

He should have been planning for the losing Riise and Kewell before the end of last season. Aurelio is always injured so Rafa should have factored that into his transfer planning. The Sebastian Leto affair has been dragging on since Christmas and Rafa should have been prepared for the most probable eventuality.

And how long has it been public knowledge that the Olympics were starting in August?! In any event, Olympics aside, Ryan Babel is clearly not a viable solution for either wing.

So - instead of making the signing of two top-class wide men his priority over the summer, Benitez has spent the majority of his time pursuing a player Liverpool do not even need, especially given the fact Xabi Alonso is still at the club.

And if Alonso is staying then why is Benitez *still* trying to buy Gareth Barry?! To play him at left back or – god forbid – left wing?! He is not a winger! Just because he’s left footed doesn’t make him a left winger.

I just find it maddening that the creative side of Liverpool's squad is constantly ignored in favour of adding unnecessary players to over-subscribed areas of the team.

The warning signs were there last season, with Rafa playing Peter Crouch on the wing in several games! And now in the current pre-season, £20m man Robbie Keane has been made to play out on the left. How long will this spurious selection policy be tolerated?!

Now, with barely a week till the new season begins, Liverpool are scrambling around for wide players, with David Silva being mentioned as a possible target. Rafa should have been on his trail seconds after the Euro 2008 final ended, but he’s probably left it too late now after wasting his time trailing Gareth Barry.

I doubt the club will get Silva at this late stage, which probably means Rafa will sign some Jermaine Pennant-esque non-entity as a stop-gap…and we’re back to square one all over again.

Last season, Rafa publicly accused Hicks and Gillett of not understanding the English game. Well, I find it rather worrying that these two footballing neophytes have a better understanding of Liverpool's current player requirements than the club's own Manager.

If they can see that Liverpool's priority should be wide players and Rafa can't - or refuses to see - then this is surely something to be concerned about, is it not?

I should just reiterate that I am not a fan of Hicks and Gillett in any way. However, in this instance I applaud them for trying to save Rafa from himself.


  1. Good on you. agree 100%

  2. I agree about 90%. I do believe however that wide targets are hard to come by. To be honest I do not want either quaresma or mancini (as they are all flair and no substance in my opinion). Van der Vaart isn't an orthodox winger nor is Nasri(who was always going to arsenal anyway). Juaquin and Vicente have not played properly in 3 and 4 years respectively. That leaves us with Stewart Downing who is nowhere near what we need. Rafa will probably end up playing 4231 all season with gerrard keane and babel up there and the full backs (dossean and degen maybe?) offering width. Could be the best possible situation.

  3. I agree to an extent that quality wingers are hard to come by these days, but perhaps you're discounting some potential solutions too easily? I disagree that Quaresma and Mancini are 'all flair and no substance'. If Mancini is so poor, why did Mourinho buy him? Quaresman has talent and potential that could be harnessed with proper management.

    Whilst Nasri and Van Der Vaart are not orthodox wingers they do play out wide and - most importantly - are *comfortable* playing out wide.

    As for Joaquin and Vicente - they may not have set the world alight over the last couple of years but they are still proven, talented wide players who are probably in need of a new challenge. Liverpool could have been that challenge.

    And I also disagree about Stuart Downing. What is so bad about him? if a few dodgy games for England meant you were crap then Steven Gerrard would be deemed the worst footballer in the world! I don't care about England' Downing is left footed, has some skill, premiership proven, gets crosses in and scores goals.

    Surely all the players I mention above have got top be better options that Dirk Kuyt?!

    4231 is a recipe for disaster in the league. It will work against crap defences but as we saw last season, as soon as Liverpool play quality teams, 4231 is a non-starter.

    Furthermore, 4231 opens up the possibility of Keane and Kuyt playing the wide-roles. Keane is a STRIKER so play him as a Striker otherwise what is the point of spending 20m?

    If we had Van Der Vaart and Nasri in the team, Liverpool's chances of winning the league would increase by 50% in my view.

  4. And as usual, Mr Kanwar, you are guilty of manipulating Rafa's words to ameliorate your argument. Rafa did not explicitly mention Barry's name when he was talking about the "one player" who could play in three positions. The media naturally surmised that it was Barry, as did you. Oh well, nothing new.

    Van der Vaart is not a winger. He is an attacking midfielder. While he may have skill, guile and superior game intelligence, he does not have the pace to beat a fullback. Don't get me wrong; I would have loved to see him at Anfield. However, I don't know if he would have been amenable to coming here. This is a matter of conjecture. And, as an attacking midfielder, would he replace Gerrard in the lineup? He is certainly more creative, but less dynamic than the captain. All we can do is speculate.

    With regards to the winger debate, it is blatantly obvious that we need a left winger, as Rafa conceded. But as he stated earlier in the summer, width must not only be ascribed to the wingers, but to fullbacks as well.

    If you watched Valencia under Rafa, he employed the 4231 formation to great effect, with the two wide men tucking in to assist the lone striker, the attacking midfielder/second striker( The role you'll be likely to see Gerrard or Keane in) making timed runs into the box and the fullbacks pushing up to offer width and more attacking options. The two holding midfielders, which Mr Kanwar seems to constantly berate Rafa for, would then cover for the fullbacks.

    Admittedly, a decent winger like Silva would be a great purchase. I am still unsure of exactly why Rafa is so intent on signing Barry at that price. His premiership experience and versatility are ostensibly important to Rafa. 18 million still seems a bit out there. However, I am willing to give Rafa the benefit of the doubt, that after 4 years in the premiership and more in Spain, the man has some vestige of intelligence and a semblance of a plan. I, for one, am willing to wait and watch.

  5. Roque Santa Cruz would have been a superior buy to Keane, I must agree. Is he really available for £12M though?

    FWIW I reckon Keane will do OK, although possibly not well enough to propel Liverpool into the title race.

    The Liverpool season preview is up on my site which tackles football from a more statistical perspective. Hopefully it might be of some interest: