A traumatic roller-coaster of a transfer window finally came to an end on Wednesday and to many Reds fans it all ended on a pretty low point.
The whole summer has been a test of all Liverpool’s fans abilities to cope with the ups and downs of being a fan of a football team. Throughout the years that spanned the start of the Shankley era all the way to the end of the Dalglish era Liverpool’s success on the field meant plenty of highs, although in 1989 came the lowest point of Liverpool’s history when 96 fans died due to the Hillsborough disaster.
During the nineties Liverpool fans endure mediocrity more than ups and downs. Liverpool were never in any fear of relegation during this quiet period, but thanks the damage started by Graeme Souness were never really in any fear of getting the glory days back again.
When Souness was finally removed to make way for Roy Evans the chaos left behind was just too much for one of football’s nice guys to turn around. He certainly wasn’t unsuccesful, but he didn’t bring the levels of success that Liverpool fans were hoping for. After a short spell sharing the job with Gerard Houllier, the Frenchman got the job to himself. Houllier tried hard, spent big, and almost, almost brought the glory days back. When Liverpool won five major trophies in one calendar year in 2001 it really did look like we were back where we all feel we belong.
Houllier’s heart complaint seemed to change things though. He never was the same after that. He also seemed to struggle with dealing with situations where Plan A wasn’t working – he never seemed to have a Plan B. The money he was given though was in many ways lost. Players were sitting on big contracts with no intention of leaving for half the pay, and when they did get sold there always seemed to be a loss. Houllier seemed to fall out with players and then was unable to repair the damage done.
So when Rafa Benitez joined Liverpool he came to a club with a lot of good players and a lot of not-so-good players. With most of the squad away on international duty as he arrived though it was difficult for him to assess his squad. To win the Champions League at the end of his first season is a tremendous achievement. He got the best out of some of those players that had underperformed for Houllier. Maybe some of those players were demoralised under the Houllier-Thompson management.
Despite doing as well as they did, standing still in the Premiership is not an option for any club that wants to at least retain their league position. You need to improve every chance you get and Rafa was well aware of this. The Champions League win eclipsed the disappointment of the poor league position, but finishing fifth again will not be tolerated.
Rafa knew before the season was over where his team’s weaknesses were. He worked out who he wanted and went about getting them. In fact if Rafa had just lied to the press and said, "We don’t want Owen, and we’ve finished our transfer dealings anyway" then disappointment would not have been felt to be so great.
The heroics of Dudek in Istanbul made many of us forget just how many times he’d had us worried over the past few seasons. The arrival of Pepe Reina is important. Peter Crouch will probably emerge as one of Liverpool’s most important signings for years – especially when he’s had his strengths and weakness analysed and worked on by the Spanish coaching staff. Jamie Carragher went from a hard-working dependable right-back to a world-class centre back under the guidance of Benitez and his staff. If Crouch can improve his own game as much then he too will be considered world-class. Momo Sissoko looks extremely promising at this stage (although he looks likely to be Liverpool’s first suspension of the season). Bolo Zenden seems a little rusty at this stage, but he wouldn’t have been our first choice for the left wing had Mark Gonzales not had his work permit turned down.
Yesterday Rick Parry finally broke the silence and defended the club over the transfer dealings of the summer. Academy product Steven Gerrard, now captain, had been the main focus during the start of the transfer window. His final decision turned despair into joy for Reds fans. The end of the window was focussed on Owen, part of the same group of players from the academy. His final decision brought despair back again. Parry said that despair should not be the emotion we are all feeling now: "We don’t believe it should be all doom and gloom. There isn’t a club which hasn’t suffered disappointments in the transfer market, so we’re no different. The big danger, particularly when you’re approaching the deadline, is you get desperate and do the wrong deal. You have to hold your nerve and we decided not to pursue certain targets in the end yesterday. We have a lot of faith in the players we have."
If true then this is exactly how Liverpool should do business. Even if we had a never-ending pot of money, why should we be ripped-off and held to ransom? The worry for Reds fans is whether we stopped bidding because we felt it was too much to spend on players, or because we didn’t have the money to spend. Parry says that the main targets came anyway: "We have brought in most of the players we wanted. Let’s not forget we’ve spent £20m to bring in Pepe Reina, Momo Sissoko, Peter Crouch and Bolo Zenden. They are four top players. We have spent the same amount we spent in 2002 when we bought just three players, so lack of money has not been an issue here. We also had a deal for Simao which would have taken us well beyond what we’d spent then. We’ve enjoyed a pretty good summer in the transfer market. There’s been a substantial outlay."
The Chief Executive went on: "If you compare last August to this, we have spent heavily on strikers, as Jamie Carragher has pointed out today. We didn’t leave things too late because the deals we wanted were completed early during the summer and at that stage we were content we’d achieved four out of four on our list of targets. That left us looking for a right midfielder and cover for Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia at centre-half."
Parry points to the way that Luis Figo, claiming a move to Liverpool would be a dream move, actually decided that Inter Milan was more what he wanted. He didn’t seem too hungry to face the challenge of the Premiership and went back on what he’d told Anfield officials: "I think our problem finding a right midfielder began when Luis Figo decided not to come. Things were progressing well with that deal and we were hopeful. Had he joined us, we wouldn’t have been in the situation we were. It’s never ideal trying to do business on the last day because things can go wrong and then there’s no room to manoeuvre. Yesterday was a strange day. We had an agreement with Benfica but when the story leaked there was such a strong reaction they felt they couldn’t sell. Simao was sitting on a plane waiting to come for his medical, but Benfica called it off. In a way, it was similar to the Steven Gerrard situation here when Chelsea were interested. It was disappointing but there is nothing we could do. Had the deal broken down on June 30, perhaps there wouldn’t be such doom and gloom because you know there’s time to find someone else. That’s not the case on deadline day."
Parry says that Rafa is disappointed not to have got the players he wanted in the end, but would not have been happy had Liverpool spent over the odds. Parry says: "Rafa is philosophical about the situation. He insisted we didn’t pay for players who weren’t worth the money. We could have signed centre-halves yesterday, but there was no point wasting money for the sake of it. He is sure we are better placed to challenge for the top places this season. We want to push on from last season and we are still confident we have the players to do it. We haven’t got 100 per cent of our targets, but which top club in the world ever gets everything it wants. We’ve done pretty well. It was a strange contrast between European success and disappointment in the Premiership."
Parry left with a message which I think Liverpool fans would do well to take on board: "Have we got a better squad to do well in all competitions this season? Rafa’s answer to this is yes." And remember – Rafa is the manager of the team that won the European Cup and the Super Cup.
As for Owen, all sources likely to know details of his contract are saying that the England star has got a get-out clause in his contract. Liverpool will be able to buy him next summer for £12million if Owen and Liverpool both want that to happen. Djibril Cisse will be aiming to make sure that it doesn’t.