When Liverpool last made a transfer market splash this big, both idea and execution was right. It’s just that Andy Carroll was definitely their Mr Wrong.
Cast your mind back to January 2011, when a moping Fernando Torres had coasted his way through the first half of the season despite pledging his loyalty to Roy Hodgson.
Everyone seemingly knew those words would count for little, except for Liverpool. Eventually Torres did enough sulking for Chelsea to wear down their resistance and – belatedly – they tried to turn the situation into an advantage.
Hard as it is to believe now, £50m for a world class striker was a gargantuan price to pay in the olden days. But the Reds also needed a replacement for Torres. So they diverted £35m of the cash to Newcastle for Carroll and the rest covered off a large portion of the fee it cost to bring Luis Suarez to Anfield.
Suarez was good – great even – Torres was bad, and Carroll was just downright ugly. But there was one clear winner, and Liverpool are about to pull off an even bigger victory six years later in a similar situation.
History is repeating itself with Philippe Coutinho. He is doing a Torres and a Suarez, gnashing his teeth until he gets what he wants – though at the very least maintaining his professionalism on the pitch with a string of superb performances.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 28, 2017
Can you imagine a 35-yearold Coutinho, his hair flecked with grey, retiring at Anfield to a standing ovation? No. And nor can Liverpool, which is why in signing Virgil van Dijk, they’ve effectively let Coutinho free. Don’t believe the talk of Barca moving on from Coutinho and sending love poems to Antoine Griezmann. The Brazilian and the Blaugrana are a match made in heaven, someone with the positional flexibility to replace Andres Iniesta – with just about enough talent to do so – or enhance a front three.
With Coutinho set to raise £100m plus either next month or in the summer, Liverpool could afford to shell out £75m for Van Dijk without sweating buckets over the cost. Another piece of the puzzle is Naby Keita. With the Reds already committed to handing over at least £48m to RB Leipzig for the midfielder in the summer, there is no way an unhappy cash cow like Coutinho would be forced to stick around. The Premier League may be flush with money but Liverpool have to be a little shrewder with their sums than Man City, United and Chelsea.
The equation is simple. Coutinho = Keita and Van Dijk, give or take a little cash. Sounds better than Torres = Carroll and Suarez, right?
This time, however, Liverpool have addressed two needs, one so glaring it’s a wonder that the decision-makers weren’t blinded by the light a long time ago. As fine of a player as he is, in selling Coutinho they would not be removing the heart of their team. Think of it as removing a digit to reinforce the spine.
Jurgen Klopp has claimed, to the disbelief of everyone, that Liverpool take a defence-first approach. Finally though he has a leader of men who can organise and raise the game of the lesser lights around him at the back.
Liverpool Football Club can confirm they have reached an agreement with Southampton for the transfer of Virgil van Dijk.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 27, 2017
The function of Keita is a little less clear-cut – initially a defensive midfielder by trade, the 23-year old has been Leipzig’s Swiss army knife as both a creator and a destroyer. But with Emre Can almost certainly on his way out, Liverpool need a deeper option in midfield more than they need Coutinho.
Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge (for now) and a rising Dominic Solanke are all capable of operating in attacking positions.
Coutinho is scoring and setting up goals as well as he ever has, but some of Liverpool’s most impressive attacking performances – like the 4-0 thumping Arsenal – came without his involvement.
If the imminent departure of disillusioned Coutinho did indeed lead to the signing of Van Dijk – who unveiled his Liverpool shirt like a kid at Christmas on social media – then it was a no-brainer.
In one way, Van Dijk is as big a signing as a 1.93m tall Carroll. It’s a good job he plays in defence.
We [Everton] head into this weekend’s match against Bournemouth seven games undefeated in the Premier League, which is never easy to achieve. We are keeping clean sheets again and our new manager, Sam Allardyce, has really helped in that respect.
We’ve gone back to basics since Sam arrived in November and I think you can see that on the pitch with the way we are performing. We know we can get better going forward and that’s something we are striving to do but having the base of keeping clean sheets is massively important. We have recorded six in our last eight games, conceding only two goals in that period.
In training we have worked in a back-four or back-five, defending wave after wave of attacks. We have paid attention to distances of where we want to be on the pitch and worked on covering each other. It’s things like that – if you do them little but often it makes a big difference. The manager has got us all working together as a unit and we know that defending starts from the front and through midfield as well.
I was recalled to the team against Chelsea – when we took a point in a hard-earned nil-nil draw – and hopefully that performance will give me that confidence to kick on. I did well in that match at Goodison and then played against West Brom on Boxing Day, when we kept another clean sheet.
The manager has been great and has spoken to me on several occasions to offer advice. He’s a likeable guy who is easy to talk to, and I feel any one of the lads could approach him if they wanted to ask a question.
Obviously, he has bags of experience, as do the staff he has brought in such as assistant manager Sammy Lee and first-team coach Craig Shakespeare. The atmosphere is great and the lads are really enjoying playing football again.
Another big factor behind our recent upturn in form has been Wayne Rooney’s performances. He’s scoring plenty of goals but it’s also his calmness on the ball – he is always looking to play forward and release those passes between the lines.
With all his experience, he is great to have around the place. He’s not someone who is going to force anything on you but, if you want to pick his brain, he’s more than happy to help.
We approach the new year with plenty of optimism. We need to keep working hard on the training ground and maintain that belief in what we are doing. That stems from results, so we want to continue grinding them out, winning matches and keep that undefeated run going.
We are all looking up now instead of down and, whilst we don’t want to look too far ahead, we still believe we have a chance of forcing our way into the battle for European places.
On Sunday at West Brom, the Arsenal manager will oversee his 811th Premier League fixture, surpassing the record previously held by Sir Alex Ferguson and at a time when the profession has never been so demanding.
The Frenchman was appointed to his role in 1996 and in the 21 years since has become one of football’s most respected figures.
He remains under pressure to deliver a top-four finish after years without Arsenal convincingly challenging for the Premier League title, but former Leeds and Aston Villa manager O’Leary believes he is the last of his breed.
“It’s remarkable, amazing, unbelievable,” the Irishman told Press Association Sport.
“To do 20-plus (seasons) as a manager: it’ll never happen again at Manchester United, Sir Alex was unique, and it’ll never happen at Arsenal, Arsene’s achievement there is unique.”
O’Leary, 59 and a title winner with Arsenal in his playing days, added: “He’s had a very understanding board you’d want to be working for. They’re not reactionary people, and that’s played a part in him achieving that success.
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) December 29, 2017
“I came back with Leeds to Arsenal, and if somebody said, ‘He’ll still be manager of that club’, I’d have said, ‘No chance’. It’s amazing longevity, and at a big club like that. I thought playing was hard, but when you’re the manager of a big club, the demands that come with it: you don’t realise it until you manage.”
The second longest serving Premier League manager is Eddie Howe, who has been at Bournemouth for little over five years but is only in his third season in the English top flight.
“I don’t think it’ll ever happen again: the likes of Sir Alex and Arsene are a dying breed, and going to be a thing of the past,” Smith, 55, also a title winner with Arsenal, told Press Association Sport.
“Managers are getting sacked after four games in the Premier League, so patience has worn more than thin.
“To retain that work ethic and desire is amazing. Whatever you say about the rights and wrongs of him still being in the job, you can’t take away from that achievement.
“He’s taken more on his shoulders than Sir Alex did. Sir Alex delegated more, spent time overlooking the training ground rather than being down there. A succession of assistants slowly changed training, different voices, different methods. Whereas Arsene, he’s had Pat Rice and (Steve) Bouldy, but he likes to oversee everything: that’s extra pressure.”
Dixon, 53, was a regular in the team that won two doubles under the 68-year-old Frenchman, and he added: “The fact he’s reached that milestone is incredible. He must be immensely proud.
“That style of manager, the longevity: it’s different to managing a smaller club. When you’re at a big club you’re under scrutiny every single day, every single game, and sometimes every single training session. The wear and tear on managers in the game that long is immense.”
Provided by Press Association Sport