The latest developments in Liverpool’s attempts to buy Stewart Downing from Aston Villa were reported across the media overnight and this morning as the Reds were said to have had a £15m offer turned down for the former Middlesbrough player. Some reports say this was a follow-up to an earlier bid of £12m.
The Midlands club signed Downing for £12m two years ago and insist his value has shot up since then, meaning they are now demanding £20m for his signature. With two years left on his contract there was an attempt by Villa to negotiate an improved deal but his agent (who also represents Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard) reportedly told them that Downing wanted to keep his options open.
Arsenal have shown some interest in signing him but, with Downing understood to be set on a move to Anfield, Villa know they aren’t in a position to draw Liverpool into any auction. Liverpool are expected to make one further bid, perhaps for as much as £18m, but should Villa turn that down there would be a need for Downing to force the issue with his club by putting a transfer request in. Villa’s staff and players return for pre-season next week.
Some reports also claim that Alex McLeish is interested in the possibility of using David Ngog as part of the deal, but the two clubs’ valuations on the young striker are some distance apart.
There have been, as is inevitable, some raised eyebrows at the prices quoted for Downing who turns 27 later this month, just as there were murmurings of discontent about the £16m paid for youngster Jordan Henderson. Liverpool’s decision not to match bids for Connor Wickham and Gael Clichy also caused a fair amount of grumbling, not to mention fears from some that Liverpool didn’t have money to spend.
In reality Liverpool do have a certain amount of money to spend, despite having forked out well over £70m since January (some of which was funded by the sale of Fernando Torres). A £22m bid for Phil Jones was rejected recently, as was this latest bid for Downing. There is still money on the table for Charlie Adam too, should Blackpool drop their £9m asking price for a player who only wants to move to LFC and has just a year left on his contract.
An agreement between the two clubs for Adam is moving closer by the day, even if at times that movement is at the kind of rates geologists talk about when discussing continental drift. There is a sense that it could be done before the Downing deal, even this week, but every time there seems to be a breakthrough the move then continues at the previous slow pace.
On the topic of continental drift, Liverpool’s other big task is to offload some of the overseas players that haven’t worked out and have low transfer values alongside those lucrative contracts they are running down. There’s not so much a need to reduce the wage bill – and it’s not just overseas players who are well paid and rarely used – as to ensure the wage bill is being spent on players who have value to the club. New signings will be restricted to a certain extent until that situation is addressed.
Milan Jovanovic is one of the players that Liverpool are desperate to offload. Signed on a so-called “free transfer” last summer, that deal is understood to have been for three years and worth £120,000 per week for the first 12 months and £60,000 per week for the final two years. That contract is worth £12.5m to the player who will be 32 when it runs out in 2013. He made just 10 league appearances last season, most before Kenny Dalglish arrived, and the club are now believed to have told him he can leave for free. Unfortunately for Liverpool he is unlikely to get a deal on similar terms and the Reds may yet have to pay him some compensation to move on.
Whatever fees Liverpool ultimately pay for their new players, those fees represent the value that Liverpool place on those players. The club may well pay more than other clubs would pay for one player, or drop out of the bidding earlier than other clubs for the next player, but all clubs have their own individual requirements and priorities. This is the first summer transfer window under new ownership and also the first one under the control of a new Director of Football and a “new” manager. On top of that it’s a summer where spending will be done with a keen eye on UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations.
Those new regulations officially begin to be assessed based on the financial year ending in 2012, which in Liverpool’s case begins on August 1st of this year. (For more information on why those regulations are already impacting transfer business see the excellent in-depth analysis from Daniel Geey – “UEFA Financial Fair Play Rules: a difficult balancing act?” – one of a number of pieces from Daniel that unravel some of the complexities of various pieces of legislation and regulations that impact the game. See http://www.danielgeey.com/articles.php for the full list and follow Daniel on Twitter at @footballlaw.) Clubs who don’t adhere to them may find themselves without a UEFA licence and therefore unable to play in Europe.
These regulations make it more difficult to subsidise the offloading of players like Jovanovic or Joe Cole but should, in the long term, make it less likely that clubs will allow themselves to be saddled with players in a similar way.
For Liverpool it’s a key part of their planning for the coming years meaning that, however they are working it out, they must feel confident that signings like Downing for up to £18m and Henderson for around £16m will represent good value. If Juan Mata, linked with Liverpool more strongly by some than others, isn’t eventually the subject of a bid from the Reds then it would suggest his worth to the Reds is less than what he would cost, which is likely to be anywhere north of £20m.