Tottenham play Liverpool at Anfield today and their manager Martin Jol says they are still hurting from the embarrassment of being dumped out of the FA Cup in the third round by Leicester last weekend. Liverpool had a similar embarrassment in the Carling Cup when they were knocked out by Crystal Palace, and that prompted them to go on an almost invincible run, with numerous clean sheets and only one defeat. Jol thinks Spurs will take longer to recover from their own upset: “It’s a big scar for us and will be until we get the chance to play in the competition again. We are still not good enough. Before the game we spoke about the Celtic and Fulham results so they knew very well. I thought the side was good enough to win away at Leicester but they played well and fought back.”
Jol also feels that Liverpool’s chances of winning the title are out of reach for this season at least, simply because Chelsea are already too far ahead he feels: “Liverpool can’t win the title – they will do well this season but Chelsea will drop less points than Liverpool and the gap is already so big that I don’t see Chelsea losing three or four games. If they do lose four games, Liverpool have got to win everything and that is impossible.”
Jol claims that his own side are still way behind Liverpool, perhaps hoping to instil a sense of complacency into the Reds before today’s clash: “The quality in their squad is better because we would not win the Champions League for example.”
Tottenham are currently fourth, the position Liverpool’s neighbours Everton finished last season before bombing in spectacular fashion this season. Jol says the reason for Everton’s laughable form this season is because their squad does not consist of quality players throughout: “Everton did amazingly well last season but as soon as they played European football, they had a problem. It is about quality in the whole squad.”
Rafael Benítez has carefully improved the Liverpool squad since his arrival, trying to get to a stage where he has two or three good-quality players for every position. According to Jol, Liverpool’s improvement hasn’t been as good as Spurs’, because Liverpool were already a team finishing in the top four or five and the Reds have spent more money. He says: “Liverpool have been in the top four or five all the time. We weren’t. It is much different. We needed a year and are top four now. I think maybe we did a better job than Liverpool if you compare the two clubs.”
Jol’s comments are probably deliberately controversial – a touch of pre-game psychological baiting – but are also full of inaccuracies. First of all the Spurs boss increases substantially the price paid by Liverpool for a player that arrived before Rafael Benítez was given the managers job in a deal that was brokered by Gerard Houllier 12 months before he left. Jol says: “They go for a player like Djibril Cisse; I think he was 18 or 20 million pounds, but we do it in a different way. Most of our young ones have done well and we have three or four experienced players, so we look a stronger team, we are still not 100%.”
Jol has also missed out on the fact that Rafael Benítez has taken action to improve the quality of Liverpool players at a younger level. Signings such as Jack Hobbs and David Martin are just two from many that Liverpool have signed over the last 12 months as players for the future, but Jol didn’t seem to know or remember this, saying things are hard for Spurs: “It’s 100% different. If Liverpool buy players, they buy experienced ones. They try to fill positions. If the left side is not good enough they go out and buy, but we had to start all over again. We had 30 new players and cleared 15 of them out.”
Jol’s not been short of transfer funds, despite what he says. In fact the Spurs purchase of Jermaine Jenas for nearly £9million is basically what gave Newcastle the confidence to go out and spend £16million on Michael Owen – in turn ending Liverpool’s chance of getting him for the maximum £12million they were prepared to pay.
Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez spoke yesterday of how English football is likely to start suffering if transfer fees for English players don’t start to be brought in line with fees for continental players. All kinds of rumours are circulating over who will be signing Theo Walcott from Southampton, and how much they will pay. The valuation for Walcott is widely quoted as £10million. This seems on one hand as an amazing amount for a 16-year-old, yet nobody is really surprised given the state of transfer fees in England. Whether Southampton will actually get much say in the transfer fee remains to be seen – Walcott is subject to different rules to most players due to his young age. He’s under no obligation to sign a professional “adult” contract with Southampton, meaning he can join any other club he likes once he turns 17. Southampton will then get whatever compensation a tribunal deems appropriate.
Rafa says he’s made numerous enquiries for English players, but is always put off by the inflated valuations: “Ideally my aim is to have a young squad based on English talent but the problem is always the price. You ask about a teenager with no experience and you are quoted £5m, maybe more. You can go abroad and buy a player with international experience who can go straight into the team for half that price. It is a problem for the game in England.”
Rafa says that the young players would benefit from playing with the bigger clubs, which in turn would benefit the national side, but it’s not Liverpool’s job to do this: “There is still young talent coming through, but the high prices make it very difficult to bring them to clubs like Liverpool where they can play at the highest level. I think if the talent is going to keep coming through there is a need to adjust the prices that the clubs are paying. We will not pay the high prices – we will only pay what we feel the player is worth.”
Of course it’s also not the job of the lower-level teams to become feeder clubs for the likes of Liverpool, so it’s unlikely to change anytime soon: “Clubs are prepared to wait and see what price they can get. They think they can get bigger prices when they hear the name Liverpool. It is manna from heaven for them, and the price increases.”
If rumours are to be believed the two managers for today’s clash would like to swap strikers, with Jol reported to be an admirer of Cisse and Rafa interested in Jermaine Defoe. Rafa won’t entertain the price wanted by Spurs for Defoe though, and is not ready to let Cisse leave yet. Then again if Martin Jol is so easily mixed up over transfer fees maybe there’s a chance for something to happen before the window closes again.