Having been heavily restricted in the transfer market in recent years due to terrible ownership and massive interest payments, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has looked to make the most of new owners John Henry and FSG’s willingness to commit funds in order to achieve success. Undoubtedly football is run as a business for most owners today and Liverpool fans can be thankful that their new owner, who also lists the Boston Red Sox in his portfolio, is a firm believer that the best way to make money out of a sports team is to make that team successful, spending to achieve this if necessary.
Since the signing of Andy Carroll in January for £35m, eyes have been on the Anfield outfit’s movements in the transfer market. Many people, including a surprisingly large amount of people calling themselves Liverpool fans have been quick to question the clubs summer signings before they have even kicked a ball, deeming the club to have drastically overpaid for what they consider to be nothing more than average to good players.
Whilst FSG are prepared to spend freely to achieve the success they crave (something backed up by their dealings in baseball as well as the first two transfer windows for Liverpool), what is also clear is that they have a set model they prefer to follow. Henry is a firm believer in the ‘Moneyball’ model in baseball using ‘sabermetrics’ to determine a player’s value to the club and why they may be a success, all based on statistics.
Although they have openly admitted that they realize this model cannot be directly applied to football (soccer), the concept of buying young players that will have some resale value certainly can and has been applied. It also seems apparent that Director of Football Damien Comolli and manager Kenny Dalglish are keen to look into the stats of their targets to discover a more detailed outlook of the players game.
Here’s my analysis of their recent signings:
The first target identified by the club this summer was Jordan Henderson, a young English centre-midfielder who is also equally capable at playing in a wide right position. Most people were surprised to learn of the Merseyside club’s interest in the youngster, having had a mixed season for former club Sunderland. Henderson started last season in great form winning plaudits along the way and even picked up his first full England cap in November. However, his form started to wane around the turn of the year, much in keeping with the whole clubs downturn in form – possibly one of the effects of selling their main goalscorer Darren Bent without replacement.
Football is an extremely subjective topic of conversation and as such the reality is often quite different to the argument presented. This could be true in the case of Henderson. A look at his stats show that he can compete with the top players in the Premier League, but playing for an average side may have caused these stats to be hidden. For example, when compared to Jack Wilshire – a player largely considered to be one of England’s brightest prospects and a top midfielder, Henderson’s stats are favourable having scored 3 and assisted 4 last season compared to Wilshire’s 1 goal and 3 assists. Both players have pass completion percentages that are excellent and that are in the 80% bracket. However Henderson created an average of 2.1 chances per game compared to Wilshire’s 1.6. Whilst these stats are no guarantee of a player becoming a success at a new club, they should at least be respected and allow the player to prove himself before being questioned.
Liverpool’s signing of Charlie Adam has also been criticized by many who deem him to be below the standard required for a title challenging team. What is clear is that the Scotsman has been a clear target for Dalglish since January and the Liverpool boss is convinced that his services will improve the squad. The standard of Adam’s set-pieces is not in question having created and scored numerous goals from them last season in a team that ultimately was relegated. Although with Liverpool already having several top central midfielders in the squad it remains to be seen what Adam’s main function in the side will be.
The last major signing to arrive at Liverpool so far this summer is Stewart Downing, possibly one of the most underrated Premier League players in recent years.
Liverpool has been in dire need of a winger for many years having tried and failed to find the solution many times in recent years. The former Villa wide man should tick all the boxes yet his arrival earlier this month was greeted with a very mixed response. When signing the player Comolli reiterated his practice of studying the stats and data of a player to gauge his potential value to the side. A quick look at the stats from last season’s shows that Liverpool fans should infact be very enthusiastic about the winger’s arrival. When playing on the left Downing managed a successful cross percentage of 20% (meaning his cross found a member of his team) coupled with 22% when on the right, showing that he is a versatile winger that is equally capable of producing on either wing. It is clear that Downing is not a ‘one season wonder’ and has performed consistently over a number of years. Since 2004, when Downing fully broke into the Middlesbrough team, he has created 421 chances in the Premier League – only Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Cesc Fabregas and Ryan Giggs have produced more.
When analyzing the signings it is clear they make sense and are logical, and if they had foreign names there is no doubt a much larger percentage of fans would be excited, in this day and age a lot of fans want to hear their club have signed Joao Henderez or Silvio Downinho. But the stats don’t lie – between them Downing, Adam, Henderson created 239 chances in PL last season, equivalent to 56% of Liverpool’s total last season. Although they might not be the most popular, they very well may be successful.
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