Liverpool are at a crossroads when it comes to deciding on their current transfer policy. This upcoming season will be the third consecutive year that the club have failed to qualify for the Champions League, meaning not only do they lack the financial clout that some of their competitors do, but they also face an uphill battle to lure any potential transfer targets to Anfield ahead of teams who can offer that elusive path to the elite club competition in world football. Balancing the ever-increasing need to get back in the top four with the long-term financial security of the club is the unenviable task that Fenway Sports Group, the club’s owners, are currently faced with.
The recent debacle involving Gylfi Sigurdsson serves as a perfect example of this delicate conundrum: the Icelandic midfielder had played under Brendan Rodgers at both Reading and Swansea, and he looked set to be reunited with the Ulsterman at Anfield, but eventually chose a move to Tottenham over Liverpool. Whilst Spurs are also not in the Champions League this season, they, according the various reports, offered Sigurdsson a far more lucrative contract, which, ultimately, had more pulling power than the Rodgers connection did. It is bad enough to lose a transfer target to a divisional rival; to lose one to a team that Liverpool will directly be competing with to finish in the top four is a double blow.
What it clear is that it is getting increasingly difficult for the club to promote the achievements of the past when the future shows no signs of repeating that success.
Still, attempting to make a definitive judgement on their off the back of a single transfer would be inexpedient to say the least. Looking at things objectively from the player’s point of view, Sigurdsson’s decision to sign for Spurs is completely understandable: the two clubs are currently at a similar level, he would earn more money, and he would be moving in an area he knows well from his time at Reading. On the flip side, presuming Liverpool can no longer attract quality players to the club based on one transfer is ridiculous. Whilst Sigurdsson was superb for Swansea last season, and clearly he was a player Rodgers liked, was this merely a case of a good player being available at a good price? If he was such an integral part of Rodgers’ future plans, would more of an effort have been made to sign him? Had Liverpool matched Spurs’ contract offer, would that have been enough to persuade the player to join them instead?
Where Liverpool currently stand in the grand scheme of world football is unclear as any debate about this is usually one of extremes. Opposition fans like to claim that LFC’s illustrious history now holds little appeal to a potential transfer target - particularly those from overseas who are unlikely to be familiar with the great sides from the 70’s and 80’s. Reds fans then counter the claim by pointing out that new signings nearly always cite the prestige and success of the club – along with the vast worldwide fanbase - as a big drawing factor. What it clear, however, is that it is getting increasingly difficult for the club to promote the achievements of the past when the future shows no signs of repeating that success.
Given that Liverpool announced losses of nearly £50m for the last financial year – more than double that of the previous year’s losses (£20m) – the need to return to the Champions League grows greater by the season.
Given the situation they find themselves in FSG deserve to be cut a certain degree of slack. They saved the Reds from the brink of administration and had to then deal with the aftermath of years of gross mismanagement, all whilst taking a crash course in running a football club – a sport they admittedly knew very little about. Relying on advice from more knowledgeable individuals, they sanctioned the spending of roughly £70m on homegrown talent last season with little return, so it is understandable that they may be apprehensive to splash the cash again. Any presumption that will refuse to significantly back the club in the transfer market based on the Sigurdsson saga is premature - but expecting to continue seeing similar levels of expenditure as the last few transfer windows is simply unsustainable in Liverpool’s position.
Every season the club fail to feature in the Champions League, their finances take a considerable blow. Last season Manchester City received £21.3m in TV money alone even though they were eliminated in the group stage, whilst Chelsea received £47.8m for winning the competition. Those figures do not take in to account the income raised from match day revenue, sponsorship, etc, and, should the club progress further in the competition, the real total is substantially higher - as an example, when Inter won the competition in 2010 they made over €120m. Given that Liverpool announced losses of nearly £50m for the last financial year – more than double that of the previous year’s losses (£20m) – the need to return to the competition grows greater by the season.
The club have been extremely vocal about the need for UEFA to properly enforce the financial fair play regulations that are set to come in to play, in order to level the playing field with the top clubs. Given that the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and PSG have continued to spend lavishly with seemingly no regard for the new rules, it begs the question whether UEFA are intrepid enough to sanction whatever punishments are outlined for violating FFP, be it heavy fines or bans from European competition. As with most things, there are likely to be legal loopholes that will allow for some creative accounting – Man City’s convenient record £400m sponsorship deal with Etihad Airways, for example – meaning the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Hoping for Michel Platini to play the role of Robin Hood is a recipe for disaster.
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