A Fall From Grace: Liverpool FC
With the 09/10 season coming to a close, there have been great cinderella stories, in the form of Birmingham FC and their very efficient promotion season in the Premier League, to Fulham reaching the Europa League final, to England’s ‘Big Four’ finally being broken.
Many, before the season had begun, predicted that this would be the year that the so-called ‘Big Four’ would come unstuck. Most suspected Arsenal, who field so many young and inexperienced players compared to the rest of the ‘Big Four’ to be the ones to fall out of it at the hands of one of Aston Villa, Tottenham, Manchester City, or Everton.
Many pundits and journalists at the start of the season predicted a finish for Liverpool that would have been quite similar to their title-challenging run last season. That, however, was certainly not the case in the end. Liverpool’s rather shocking and unlikely season has them sitting in 7th place in the league, eight points away from their much sought after 4th place, which Rafa Benitez promised they would finish in.
Problems at Liverpool don’t stop there, though. In the boardroom, American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are under constant scrutiny for the way they have run the club. The fans have urged them to sell up, and find an owner who will be able to inject some much-needed capital into the club for spending on squad additions and a new stadium. Hicks and Gillett, though, have priced the club at around 500 million pounds. A club that will not qualify for the Champions League, has a growing debt situation, needs massive squad improvement and a new manager, and they think it’s worth 500 million pounds. If Hicks and Gillett cannot find an Abramovich-esque buyer for the club, they will probably have to look at selling a few of their prized assets, most notably Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, and Javier Mascherano. With the loss of even two of those three key players, Liverpool may be looking at a situation where the Champions League becomes a lot farther away than just 8 points.
Rafa Benitez, Liverpool’s oft-criticized manager, must surely be looking for the way out now. He is responsible for bringing the club players like Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso, but is also responsible for big-money busts, like Robbie Keane, Craig Bellamy, Jermaine Pennant, Albert Riera and Andrea Dossena. Should Rafa Benitez leave Liverpool FC this summer, many players who followed him to the club, or players that would otherwise be seeking Champions League football, would probably move on as well. Many of Liverpool’s squad have been at the club quite a short time, and could fit into many other Champions League teams in Europe, so seeing them move on would not be surprising. For Liverpool, though, it’s all bad news. Having to rebuild a squad that is expected to challenge for a top four spot, with a new manager and a limited budget, and without the income from the Champions League, could be a catastrophic task. Prices in the transfer market will be increasingly high after the World Cup, and trying to replace key players will certainly not be easy.
Now that we have touched on Liverpool’s key problem areas, it’s quite simple to see that their inability to qualify for the Champions League for next year puts them in a very bad place. Even worse, though, if you take a look at all the good happening at the teams surrounding Liverpool.
Tottenham have finished fourth. Redknapp has guided his squad to a Champions League qualification spot for next season, and the club, which has a solid youth system and a good core squad, will be favourites to retain the fourth spot come next season. Although they do not have the spending power of a team like Manchester City, they have adequate enough resources, plus the new income from the Champions League, to fund any transfer activity that may be necessary to add to an already strong core group of players. There isn’t too many reasons for Redknapp to have to chop and change much of his squad; a simple couple of additions in a few weaker areas in the team, or talented youth players to bring through the ranks, and Tottenham will be set to push for Champions League qualification again next year.
Manchester City, who made it an absolute priority to have Champions League status next season so that they could attract the biggest names in the game, have failed to make the mark. Because of their massive spending power, they will offer players they deem necessary massive salaries and pull them in anyway. While Manchester City and Liverpool are in the same boat in terms of not qualifying for the Champions League, one could make the point that Manchester City are on a positive curve. If they have a squad problem, they will throw some money at it. New stadium? Money. New manager? Money. A youth system that even Barcelona would be proud of? Money. The problem for Manchester City will be consistency and continuity, because constant chopping and changing will be detrimental to being able to maintain an identifiable and cohesive team unit. Other than that, they are in a much better place than Liverpool.
Because of Liverpool’s poor position and backroom troubles, and the strength of teams around Liverpool who will be constantly challenging for top four places, it could be a very long time before Liverpool FC reach that top four promised land again.