On July 11th 2014, Barcelona confirmed that a deal was in place with Liverpool for the transfer of Luis Suarez for a reported £75 million, the third highest in football history. 10 months earlier, Welshman Gareth Bale completed his move from Tottenham to Barcelona’s rivals – Real Madrid – in what was perhaps the biggest transfer saga in modern years.
Bale moved to Madrid for an approximate £85 million and went on to score the decisive goal in both the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona and the Champions League final against city rivals, Atletico Madrid. Both these deals involved the PFA Player of the Year from the Premier League moving to a Spanish giant for a huge fee, leaving their clubs an abundance of cash to spend on replacements. Unsurprisingly, the similarities seemed to have continued.
The sale of Gareth Bale from Spurs gave then manager, Andre Villas-Boas the funds to bolster the size and quality of his squad. This would be difficult without Champions League football but any incoming players would have the lure of a talented coach, state-of-the-art training facilities as well as the chance to pull on the world famous Lilywhite shirt. Villas-Boas, aided by his Director of Football Franco Baldini, spent the ‘Bale money’ on seven new additions; Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue, Erik Lamela, Vlad Chiriches and Christian Eriksen for a combined total of approximately £105 million. Spurs fans were excited by the signings and expectations rose to an unhealthy high. But the happiness was short lived.
Spurs began the season moderately well – picking up narrow wins, but for a short time were proud to boast the best defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues – conceding only two goals in August and September. However, crushing defeats to West Ham and Liverpool at White Hart Lane added to a humiliation at the hands of Manchester City cost Villas-Boas his job at Spurs; having failed to get the new additions going. Tim Sherwood took over, guiding the club to a sixth place finish in the Premier League. At a glance, this doesn’t seem so bad for a transitional season but the big problem for Spurs was that the players just hadn’t worked out. Over the course of the season, Eriksen is the only signing who could walk away with his head held high. Paulinho started well but faded; despite contributing to goals from midfield, Soldado just didn’t settle at all; only scoring two goals from open play in the League and Lamela’s season was blighted by a seat on the bench and then a horrible, season-ending back injury. Many went as far as saying the season had been wasted, without giving the players a second chance (season) to prove themselves.
Since the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino as Head Coach, there have been improvements in the players. Lamela looks more confident, strong and agile than his debut season, Capoue started the campaign well and Chadli has been in fine goalscoring form – Spurs’ top goalscorer in the Premier League. It was obviously too early to judge the signings in their first season but after spending that much money, Spurs fans had the right to expect more than they got.
When Liverpool went on to finish 2nd in an incredible season under Brendan Rodgers, many Liverpool fans felt that the title was not beyond them the following year – a reasonable wish after such a successful 2013/14. However, from the point of view of a Spurs fan, it was obvious that an offer from either of the Spanish giants would be taken seriously. In the end, Suarez departed Merseyside for Messi and Liverpool were left with near as much money to spent as Spurs. In the end, Brendan Rodgers and Ian Ayre spent £116 million on new additions. Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren were brought in from Southampton and were joined by Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Divock Origi (sent back on loan to Lille), Alberto Moreno, Javier Manquillo (on loan) and the highly controversial Mario Balotelli. Excitement brewed in Merseyside, with Liverpool fans hoping not to do, in their own words, “a Tottenham”. So far, Balotelli has misfired, the Southampton trio have struggled and Markovic hasn’t lived up to the billing. In fact, the only two successes Brendan Rodgers can claim to have in the transfer market for Liverpool are Daniel Sturridge and Phillippe Coutinho – both in January 2013. During his time at Anfield, Rodgers has brought in 25 players for a combined cost of £212,380,000; with only two stand out successes – a worrying sight for any fan and owner.
As the narrative goes, it went wrong – almost from the start. Despite wins over (their feeder club) Southampton and Pochettino’s Tottenham, Liverpool failed to impose themselves on the League and their signings have also started shakily. With only four wins under their belt and their Champions League hopes hanging by the narrowest of strings, it seems that Liverpool may well have done “a Tottenham”. This phrase isn’t used derogatorily towards either set of players but implies that both clubs could have spent their money much more wisely than they did and may have been better off buying quality, rather than quantity. The likes of Markovic and Lamela, Eriksen and Can were talents that needed a lot of work – not players that clubs could place their faith in the lead them to glory. Not immediately anyway.
But what worries most Liverpool fans more than the players is the man they felt could have been on course to write history at Anfield, repeating the success of manager past. Unfortunately for them, the hype and continuous media lauding seems to have got to Rodgers’ head and he seems to have fallen into the same trap as poor Villas-Boas did, stubbornness. And once stubbornness kicks in, you’ve got to produce the goods. Liverpool lie 12th in the Premier League with a mere four wins to their name and the nightmare that seemed inconceivable during the summer seems to be unravelling itself in front of their very eyes – and the eyes of the football world.
Rodgers’ track record isn’t the best but last year it seemed that he had stepped up to the level required to manage what is one of the biggest and most well regarded football clubs on the planet. But since the departure of Suarez, cracks have been revealed and Rodgers’ tactical genius has been breached. Is it the end? For me, if something isn’t working and doesn’t look like it’s going to be working – it has to go. But football is such a knee-jerk game these days that patience has been lost. Mike Ashley’s patience, belief (and worry about the huge compensation fees) seem to have paid off at Newcastle and sticking with Alan Pardew has brought the club out of a tricky spell – rather than uprooting his work and enduring a transitional stage. However expectations at Liverpool are higher – not helped by the summer spending spree and Rodgers has to prove to the board and the fans that he is the right man for the job; because if not, he won’t last long in what is now a short term business.
Their success under Suarez brought back memories of Bale, their transfer window stunk of Spurs’ and so far, their season is unravelling in the way many a Spurs fan expected it to. The question is – is the project over?