Football clubs are becoming obsessed with buying for the future. If they’re good enough, sign them. A player transfer in the modern day market is compiled of agent fees, release clauses, transfer committees and medical examinations. Liverpool are just one of numerous top level clubs who have fallen victim on multiple occasions under various managers and transfer committee structures and the Anfield club's need for an experienced leader is greater than ever.
As Jurgen Klopp approaches his second summer window in charge of Liverpool, his squad is slowly nearing completion. The German was left with a squad built with the combined input of a six-man committee and four different managers. A year and a half since Klopp’s arrival, his squad is still a work in progress after being left with a squad consisting of players who were a mixture of bargain-hunting, quick fix solutions and long-term planning. You don’t have to look far to see how well it works by signing an older, experienced quality player, look at the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Gareth Barry, all of whom are playing regularly for their respected clubs in the top flight of English football.
The likes of Divock Origi, Marko Grujic and Loris Karius are all young players who have arrived for big fees on Merseyside under the age of 23. Jurgen Klopp has also not been afraid to give his young teenage academy graduates a run out in the first team with the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ben Woodburn, Ovie Ejaria and Harry Wilson all being handed debuts this season. Fans love seeing young talent emerging into the senior ranks, however as Alan Hansen once famously said: “You can’t win nothing with kids.” Two decades since his statement, Liverpool are still to lift the Premier League title, possess one of the youngest squads in the league and over half of the teams to have won the title since have had an average age between 28 and 29 years.
In recent times, James Milner has proved to be a solid addition to the squad, albeit at left-back. Ragnar Klavan brings a wealth of experience from playing in Germany, but lacks Premier League knowledge and expertise to really affect proceedings inside the club. Liverpool have done deals similar deals to this in the past – a high-profile foreigner signed in the twilight of his career – with various levels of success.
Liverpool have been blessed in the past with experienced leaders like Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia. This is the first time for a while that a Liverpool squad lacks that identity, especially after losing both Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel last summer and with doubts surrounding the future of Liverpool’s longest serving player in the squad and Anfield favourite, Lucas Leiva. Liverpool's naivity has been their downfall in recent months with an inability to break down lower ranked sides and see out matches like the Europa League final last year and 4-3 capitulation to Bournemouth this season.
Liverpool have become obsessed with buying for the future which is all well and good - for the future. Fans want success now and by the time their signings for the future come good, the likes of Philippe Coutinho would have moved on to look for silverware elsewhere. It is all about striking a balance and there are not many better task masters in the game like Klopp. The club and the fans trust his judgement and this summer will be a pivotal time in not only keeping their prize assets, but making the right signings too with the lure of Champions League football being an ideal starting point come the summer.
Gary McAllister is a prime example of how such a move can reap rewards. The Scotsman signed for Liverpool from Coventry City in 2000 aged 35. He made 55 appearances and scored 7 goals, winning three trophies in the 2000/01 season. Talk about making an impact. McAllister looked more like a 25 year old than a 35 year old and played an integral role in Gerard Houllier squad. The French boss has since hailed his signing of McAllister as “his most inspirational signing.” His presence, intelligence and experience left a strong impression both on and off the pitch which led to his nickname, ‘The Enforcer’.
The midfielder was recently hailed as Manchester United legend Eric Cantona’s greatest team-mate ahead of the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes which shows the impression that the midfieder had on his team. McAllister was man of the match as Liverpool completed The Treble in the UEFA Cup Final against Alaves. He even scored in the penalty shoot-out against Birmingham to win the League Cup earlier that season. Liverpool had played 63 games that year and scored over 120 goals culminating in three trophies, and a third place finish in the Premier League. After six years of winning nothing, Liverpool had created history again and Jurgen Klopp’s men are in a similar predicament having not won a trophy since their League Cup win in 2012 under Kenny Dalglish.
In 2000, Liverpool signed an experienced trio of players in Nick Barmby, Markus Babbel and Christian Ziege for a combined cost of £11.5 million bringing bags of Premier League experience and two German Euro 96 winners. Jari Litmanen was another experienced addition at the age of 29 and the Finland international spent a season and a half on Merseyside and despite struggling with injuries, he scored some vital goals and played his part in the club’s treble winning season but missed all three finals because of injury.
More recently, Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy have been shrewd additions, both helping secure League Cup glory in 2012 for The Reds and both firm favourites amongst Liverpool supporters and played for the club into their 30’s - Bellamy was 32 years of age when he put pen to paper on his second spell with the club. Yes it can backfire, Fernando Morientes was perhaps signed two years too late when he arrived for £6.3 million in 2005 aged 30, but Liverpool did win the Champions League when he was there. Boudewijn Zenden signed in 2005 aged 29 and both signings played key roles in the Anfield dressing room with their knowledge, maturity and professionalism.
Funnily enough, it was Gary McAllister who told the Liverpool Echo last summer that the Reds needed to add experience to their youthful squad. He said: “Football is a youthful game these days, a running game, but obviously at times you need calmness and experience.” Liverpool fans are lucky to support such a historic and successful club and they will always be able to attract the best players. However, the modern era has changed the way scouts and club bosses go about their business with older players often dismissed for being too old, past their best and not good value for money. However the stats show that there is method in the madness of signing older players.
Jurgen Klopp needs leaders this summer and such an addition could be the best piece of business you do and can often lead to instant success - Just ask Gerrard Houllier.
Sometimes it is the players who are at the club for the shortest time who have the biggest impact. Players can go on to make hundreds more games and many more goals, but it is players like Gary McAllister who will always have legendary status on Merseyside and a place in hearts of all reds fans across the world.
Gerard Houllier was the man from France that made them dance, let's hope Jurgen Klopp is the man to take the Reds back to the top as the wait for a Premier League title goes on for another season for the Anfield club.
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