Having crashed out of the Champions League in the group stages, the FA Cup in the third round, and hanging out in 7th place on the table with their three best players out of action, Liverpool are staring straight at catastrophe. Without the revenues available to buy their way out of this mess, and with no more money coming in from the Champions League or ticket sales from the FA Cup and a probable lack of Champions league football next year, all those unthinkable questions now need to be asked.
Can you sack Rafa Benitez? Truthfully, whether the sacking is justified or not, Liverpool probably cannot afford to. Seven months ago Rafa put pen to paper on a new deal that will pay him £20 million through 2014. If they had that type of money to spend, they would probably spend it in the transfer market, but since they don’t, spending it for the right to sack their manager and then having to spend to hire a new one is probably out of the question. Who would Liverpool hire to replace Rafa? What renowned manager would want to jump onto this sinking ship? Somehow, I don’t think Mark Hughes is the solution to this problem.
Can Liverpool sell and buy in the short term? Doubtful. With the coffers bare, Rafa needs to sell to generate cash to buy, but who can he sell? The value of Ryan Babel has collapsed in the face of his failure to establish himself at Anfield, and while Rafa may dream of getting £10 million for him, £5 million is probably where the market is. Combined with the £1.8 million he got for selling Andrei Voronin, the problems are a lot bigger than the budget to solve them. With a lousy central defense, little width and no significant cover for Fernando Torres, these are not problems that can be solved during this transfer window.
If you can’t afford the addition, is it time to demolish and rebuild? Perhaps. Let’s face the reality. At this stage of his career Torres cannot afford to be on a team that does not play in Europe and is more likely to see the middle of the table than they are the top. Torres will want to go. Liverpool could probably get £35-40 million for Torres, and possibly more than that if he blows doors in South Africa. As great as Torres is, a giant transfer kitty is more valuable to Liverpool than one great striker. Spent wisely, they can probably get four or five young players with a great upside potential to fill the holes they have all over the pitch. However, this would mean asking the Kop for patience as the team spends a couple of season retooling. Will the rabid Liverpool fans accept the fact that the team may spend a couple of years in the proverbial shop getting refitted? They may not have a choice.
Which brings us to the Gerrard question. This may be tough for Liverpool fans to accept, but Steven Gerrard turns 30 this May, and his best days are in the rear view mirror. His lifetime highlight reel – the final against Milan, the strike against West Ham in the FA Cup and many other great moments – will almost certainly not include a parade around Anfield holding the EPL Championship Cup. These niggling injuries he has had all year are a leading indicator of what is to come for Gerrard. Whatever his value in the transfer market now, and it still may be substantial, it will reduce by 40-50% every year for the rest of his career. As painful as it might be for the Anfield faithful, the right move is to cash out Gerrard to some free wheeler like Man City and let his game continue to degrade on someone else’s payroll.
These are hard issues for Liverpool. So hard, the team probably cannot speak of them publically. However, after net spending (purchases less sales) of over £90 million in the transfer market during the Rafa era, they have little to show for their investment. Like any business operation that finds its cash low and its income cut, Liverpool needs to pull back, sacrifice in the near-term and invest for prosperity in the future. Liverpool is not in danger of becoming the new Leeds, but it will take some very hard choices before they can rise again.