Losing any league game is a disappointment, but the disappointment is always magnified if it’s the first game of the season. If that season was supposed to be “the one”, that disappointment goes off the scale. It’s too early to write the season off, of course it is, but instead of getting the little boost many said we needed to push us that bit further, Liverpool have had another kick in the teeth.
Xabi Alonso wanted to leave, his mind was made up well before the end of last season, and Rafa Benítez knew this. Florentino Pérez wasn’t actually the Real president, so Xabi wasn’t actually in talks with Real, but there was a genuine expectation at that time that Liverpool might even be persuaded to sell Xabi for as little as £18m. But £18m wasn’t Rafa’s expectation, he had a far greater say in transfers than he’d had before, and he wasn’t going to let Xabi go on the cheap.
It doesn’t require a massive stretch of the imagination to see Rafa in a position where he doesn’t need to wait for Real to show their hand to know what cards they’ve got.
If a player desperately wants to leave, and discussions to persuade him to stay don’t get anywhere, all that’s left is to try and get the best possible price for him. Few would argue that the £30m fee, plus up to £5m of add-ons, was less than Liverpool could have expected.
Whilst Liverpool were holding out for Real to offer the right amount, negotiations were going on elsewhere. It’s to the credit of those involved in the talks at both clubs that Alberto Aquilani’s transfer from Roma was kept from the back pages right up to the eleventh hour.
It looked like Liverpool had turned a corner. Not to be messed with in the transfer market, for buying or selling, Liverpool were going to build on that progress of last season.
But that wasn’t the case at all. Liverpool didn’t even hand the manager a budget for transfers.
Aquilani was signed for an initial amount of just over £17m, and although he’ll have to look on from the sidelines for now, he became the second of Rafa’s first-team signings for the summer. The first was Glen Johnson, who came from Portsmouth for around £18.5m.
That’s a total outlay of £35.5m, a new record for Liverpool for a defender and both signings would have broken Liverpool’s transfer record as it stood prior to Rafa’s arrival in 2005. But, without being greedy, Liverpool fans expected more.
A significant amount of money came back in through sales. As well paying the initial £30m for Alonso, real signed Álvaro Arbeloa for around £3.5m. Efforts to obtain a work permit for Sebastian Leto remained fruitless and so the player went to Panathinaikos for £3m. Around another half-a-million is believed to have come in for departing youngster Hammill, Hobbs and Anderson.
That’s a profit of around £1.5m. Added to the £20m of funds expected to be handed to the manager – taken from the money earned by the club through improved TV deals, decent runs in the Champions League, a second-place league finish and improved commercial success, Liverpool fans expected at least one more major signing this summer.
And that doesn’t include the partial refund Liverpool got from selling Robbie Keane back to Spurs. Keane was bought using last summer’s budget and was sold back again in February. The sale went through too late for Rafa to use it for other players – so why wasn’t it there for a top-up of the summer budget?
At the very least Rafa should have had a budget of £30m to spend this summer, if needed.
The squad has also been depleted by the end-of-contract departures of Sami Hyypia and Jermaine Pennant, and there isn’t even a slight doubt that Liverpool need someone to replace Hyypia as a fourth central defender. Looking at a cheap option for that role wouldn’t be a problem for fans if they knew that the rest of the budget was going on improving matters further forward. But where is the rest of that budget?
Has some of it has been spent on keeping key players at the club? According to some reports, Rafa was told that the contract improvements for the likes of Torres, Gerrard and Kuyt had to come out of his overall transfer budget.
That’s not a problem in itself. There should be one overall budget to cover all the costs of hiring and firing the playing staff; one budget to cover transfer fees, wages, signing on fees and agents fees.
But what that means is that the ‘usual’ £20m should be added to the ‘usual’ wage bill when coming up with the figure for the budget.
Liverpool’s wage bill has not gone up by £30m this summer, no matter how many players got new contracts.
And Liverpool have given players improved contracts before and still signed new players. Gerrard, Carragher, Reina, Alonso and Sissoko all signed new deals in 2007, the same year Liverpool spent £30m to sign Torres and Babel. They certainly didn’t make a profit on transfer fees that year.
By all means vary the amount a manager gets in his budget each season, base it on requirements, on where improvements are needed, on how exaggerated the transfer market has become.
It should to be there if the manager feels he needs it. Especially if he’s bringing money in from a good Champions League run, if the TV money has gone up, if commercial revenues have increased.
In 2009, on the back of Liverpool’s best league season in years, Rafa Benítez seems to have been handed a transfer budget of absolutely zero – at best.
And that is wholly unacceptable.
Liverpool were sold so that a new stadium could be built, so that new owners could invest in the squad whilst it was being built, so that Liverpool could close the gap in transfer budgets between themselves and their rivals.
Two-and-a-half years later and the new stadium seems all-but forgotten.
Two-and-a-half years later and the transfer budget is actually lower than it was when the club was sold.
If the squad was good enough it wouldn’t be a problem. But the squad isn’t good enough. It’s good, but not good enough. The squad needs more investment.
The squad isn’t going to get it.
And that’s not good enough.
In the long-term we’ve seen big changes at the academy that could work out well. We’ve got Kenny back at the club and many more changes have happened behind the scenes.
Rafa has been given a lot of his wishes – but has he been given the budget he expected this summer?
Today’s press conference saw Rafa asked about his budget: “I will not talk about money, I try to see how the market is, and what players are available, just in case. We are trying to keep working with the scouting department and will see what happens.”
Is he being gagged at press conferences, is he being shadowed in case he tries to say what’s going on? Do the hierarchy really think that will keep him quiet? Do they really think it will stop us getting to the truth?
We can’t go on treading water, we need to move forward, and sitting here without that new stadium underway, with a negative transfer budget, is not moving forward.
And trying to cover it up will not be for the good of the club.
Whatever the owners had in mind the day they sat in that first press conference in 2007, it surely wasn’t for it to turn out like this.
They’ve managed to ride one storm so far, the one that kicked up in the wake of the Klinsmann revelations, the one that went on for months, fuelled from Dubai, including a civil war inside the club.
That storm died out when Dubai looked around them and realised they had enough of their own problems to contend with. Those who’d helped them from within the club were left in the lurch – but had they ever put the interests of the club above their own?
Another storm is brewing now, and this storm isn’t fuelled by outsiders. Stop for a moment and listen, you’ll hear it. This is different to last time.
This storm isn’t fuelled by those looking after their own self interests. This storm is building because supporters have had enough of listening to lies and spin, because they have had enough of waiting for promises to be fulfilled.
This storm will ignore – or destroy – those who try to spin the facts to suit their own ends; this storm won’t just pass. Either it can be dealt with now, when it’s still in its very early stages, or those who could deal with it can wait until they’ve nothing left to protect.
There is very little patience left, but there is a lot of new anger building. The club is bigger than any individual, and any individual who doesn’t believe that needs to evacuate before this storm kicks in.
This storm will be built on passion, passion for the club, and the only way to stop it happening is to give those supporters something else to focus their passions on.
Announcing the finance is in place for the new stadium and finding money for transfers until it finally does open are minimum requirements, and urgent requirements at that.
If the club’s hierarchy can’t – or won’t – do that, then it really is time to run.