It was a busy week for Liverpool last week, and it was no surprise to see that the events were hyped up as much as they were.
Joe Cole was a good signing, but he was signed on a Bosman, following on from Milan Jovanovich who also arrived on a Bosman this summer. Danny Wilson is certainly a huge prospect for the future, but although his fee will rise substantially should he fulfil his potential the fee until he does is just £2m. All three signings are positive for the club, three good bits of business as some managers may refer to it, but they certainly don’t signal all is well at Anfield.
Although Emiliano Insua is still not a Fiorentina player his departure seems a formality now. That’s despite Roy Hodgson pointing out that the club had started the ball rolling on the transfer of the last remaining left-back before he’d even arrived at the club and that he liked the youngster as a person and a player. That suggests Hodgson would have preferred him to stay, and added to the fact that Insua will count as “home grown” when he is too old to count as a youngster under the league’s new quota rules it seems odd that the club felt they could make that decision when there was nobody with actual football experience around to help make it. Whether the reported £5m fee gets spent on a replacement remains to be seen.
Also in this busy week we saw Albert Riera follow Yossi Benayoun – the other player who complained publicly about the previous manager – out of the exit door. The fanatical reception Riera – alleged to have assaulted one of the club’s youngsters at Melwood last season – got in Athens suggests that Liverpool may still get a demand for a refund due to mistaken identity.
If Olympiacos do try to get their £3.3m back they’ll find what Rafael Benítez found out last summer and what Roy Hodgson seems to be finding this summer – where transfers are concerned Christian Purslow’s “player account” doesn’t give as much out as it takes in.
Assuming the Insua transfer does go through for the reported fee it will bring the club’s total profit on transfer fees to £32.1m so far this financial year (which ends on July 31st). Although the club have spent £22.8m on transfers in that period, it will have received a massive £54.9m back in again. The arguments that ‘free’ transfers aren’t actually without cost is all well and good, but it must be pointed out that the savings on the wages of departed players goes a long way towards covering the costs of bringing in Bosman signings.
Martin Broughton made it clear the club didn’t use transfer fees to “pay down debt” – perhaps that doesn’t include “paying the interest” on the massive debt, and perhaps that would explain what has happened to the bulk of the missing £32.1m.
Roy Hodgson doesn’t seem to know how much money is available for new signings; he doesn’t even seem to be all that involved in identifying or choosing the new signings. Jovanovic, Shelvey and Wilson were already signed or lined up before Hodgson arrived, Benayoun and Insua’s transfers were already done or underway by then too. Even Joe Cole is believed to have been pursued by Purslow on behalf of the last manager before the mutual consent that saw him leave for Inter Milan.
On top of this Purslow is believed to have discussed potential transfer targets with Real Madrid without the last managers’ knowledge, discussions that were held well before the end of the season and of course well before the new manager was officially given the job. One of the names Purslow is said to have mentioned when boasting about his discussions is Rafael van der Vaart who issued a “come and get me” plea to Chelsea and Liverpool this weekend.
The “out” door of the Purslow “player account” might be firmly shut but there seems to be no way of blocking whatever door Gerard Houllier’s crap comes out of. The man who left us six years ago with legacies like El Hadji Diouf (instead of Nicolas Anelka), Salif Diao and Bruno Cheyrou picked a London newspaper – not a Liverpool or national one – to tell the world just how good a manager he thought he was and how Benítez had only managed any success at all at Anfield thanks to the foundations he’d laid. More details on how wrong he was can be read elsewhere (see Paul Tomkins’ article ‘Houllier Vs Benítez: Who “Won”?‘ for example) but any hope he had of getting the vacant job as manager of Fulham must have gone out of the window based on the pure deluded arrogance of his outburst. We’ve yet to see a positive reaction to his comments, although he did make a lot of people laugh in a way he was unlikely to have ever intended.
Far more annoying and not at all funny was the announcement the club had shamelessly increased ticket prices for the new season by up to a whopping 16%. They may claim it was a coincidence but this announcement was timed to be hidden behind the news that Joe Cole had signed for the club. It’s rare for the club to announce a new signing before it’s actually done, and Joe Cole’s signing was still subject to a medical. For the first time in the club’s history that medical was carried out in a very public way, similar to how Real Madrid do it when they’ve spent between £30m and £80m on a new signing. But Liverpool got Cole on a Bosman; the hype suggests that he’ll be the biggest signing of the summer.
Just to add to the feeling of trying to make something positive sound like the end of all our troubles, 48 hours after announcing Cole had signed, the club announced that Cole had now actually signed. He hadn’t signed on the Monday when the first announcement was made after all, it seems. That didn’t happen until the Wednesday after he’d had that medical and the results had come back. Which is pretty much as expected, we just don’t expect to be told the deal’s signed when it clearly isn’t. Maybe he also wouldn’t sign until he’d been given the number 10 shirt that had only been given to Jovanovich a few days previously.
There was as much of an explanation for Jovanovich losing that shirt as there was for the rise in ticket prices, although the club did eventually promise any pre-ordered “Jovanovich 10” shirts would be sent out with his new number 14 on. A player changing his shirt number before he’s even used it is pretty trivial, a crippling price rise on match tickets isn’t and it’s sad that the club felt they could just sneak the news out to be accepted by supporters who have put up with just a touch too much mistreatment this past few years.
Although price rises affect all tickets at Anfield the largest jump – the 16% jump – is on tickets for The Kop. This is the famous part of the ground where the fans are clearly considered part of “the brand” when the club is being pushed to possible commercial partners or the latest set of bemused potential investors. Some might argue that such a rise is not only against the ethos of the club but that it’s also a case of killing the golden goose. But the current regime seem unconcerned about the ethos of the club – just look at how much it costs to get to see the Arsenal game if you go through the club’s official travel partner.
Thomas Cook is the official partner and their deal allows them the right to sell packages inclusive of match tickets from a website promoted by the club. Fans looking at the club’s website for ticket news earlier in the week were only given the option of going through Thomas Cook for the forthcoming Arsenal game.
Two £45 match tickets, two £3 matchday programmes, two breakfasts and one night’s stay in a twin 3-star hotel room costs an unbelievable £384.69 through the Thomas Cook website. Self-booking the room and breakfasts in the exact same hotel (Premier Inn, City Centre Liverpool) and paying face value for the two tickets and two programmes would cost £150.90. The club and Thomas Cook are making an absolutely astounding mark-up of £233.79 on that deal, or £116.89 per person. And that doesn’t include any flights, taxis, buses, beer or even a half-time brew. It’s not a corporate package inclusive of a meal. It’s a basic hotel, breakfast, programmes and match tickets in the main stand.
At this moment in time the club clearly feel that enough of these packages will sell to make it worthwhile to further damage the reputation and the relationship with supporters Bill Shankly gave it so many years ago. Part of the attraction of those packages, and the even more astoundingly priced corporate packages, is that golden goose that is the Kop in full voice. But more and more of those voices are finding a regular seat in the Kop is just out of reach, way out of reach, and the seats are increasingly likely to be filled by those who sit around quietly munching on seafood sandwiches.
Those vocal fans who remain will use more and more of their singing skills to protest about the owners and the hierarchy who do the owners’ work for them in bleeding every last drop of tradition, not to mention money, from the club Bob Paisley was so proud to be a manager of. Roy Hodgson and his players seem determined to give the supporters something else to sing about, and they’ll be well-supported by fans as they try, but clearly this situation can’t continue.
And that’s why there shouldn’t be any kind of praise awarded to those above Hodgson in the hierarchy for finalising deals that, as good as they may turn out to be, still sell the club and its supporters very short. They deserve even less credit than Gerard Houllier claims he’s owed for Istanbul.
This forthcoming week may prove to be even more eventful than the last one as we find out how important the Europa League is to the club that some say only exists to win trophies. Nobody expects out-of-condition players to be used, but nobody expects the club to completely disregard the competition that played a huge part in justifying the appointment of the current manager.
It should also be the week when Fernando Torres confirms he’s going to stay, but that confirmation will represent Torres reluctantly giving the hierarchy more time to finally live up to the promises they made to him when he signed his last contract. The only promise he’s likely to want to hear this time is that there will be a change of hierarchy; if that promise is broken again this will almost certainly represent his last season at the club. Any suggestion he wanted out because of Benítez can be dismissed immediately, especially if he does as expected and decides to stay on. He’s annoyed with “the Club”, and those who are killing it from the top down.
And with that we’re now out of room to be able to discuss the adventures of a sleepy Ryan Babel in a taxi on his New York holidays this past week. Or the two pre-season fixtures the first team has played so far.
Some will say that’s just as well.