As many of you of a similar age to me will know there was an 1980s TV series (and also more recently a film version) called The Equalizer in which the basic premise was that Robert McCall (played by Edward Woodward who was great in the role), an ex CIA operative, who on seeing the various injustices perpetrated against the weak by the strong in 1980s New York decided to use his skills to help those in need equalize the odds against whoever was threatening them. I believe that for several years Liverpool have needed an equalizer of their own, someone who could help them to equalize the odds that are against them in the transfer market.
Whilst I would never paint Liverpool, one of the world’s biggest clubs, as weak they are arguably in a relatively unique position that can leave them vulnerable to rivals when operating in the transfer market. They remind me in some ways of the cheetah. Anyone who loves the natural world will know that the cheetah is a prince amongst animals blessed with a range of attributes that make it one of the most impressive predators on earth – phenomenal speed and acceleration, near perfect balance, phenomenal eyesight, great sense of smell and of course razor sharp claws and teeth.
Surely with this range of attributes the cheetah has it easy? Well no, not really, as despite all of these attributes the cheetah has one major problem – its location. In the vast majority of the world the cheetah would be the top predator with complete dominance of its territory but unfortunately for the cheetah, on the plains of the Serengeti these attributes, as impressive as they are, only succeed in making the cheetah the fourth strongest predator. Sadly for the cheetah the lions, leopards and hyena’s are bigger, stronger and have greater weaponry at their disposal rendering the cheetah’s attributes almost insignificant in any direct battles for prey. As a result in order to survive the cheetah has had to successfully adapt to its extremely challenging environment.
For the cheetah to survive in this harsh environment it has to be able to successfully spot prey before its stronger rival predators do, successfully pursue and catch it and then eat it or hide it before any of its rivals can take it away. This is no easy task particularly as the animals the cheetah hunts are no slouches themselves and every hunt successful or otherwise depletes its limited energy resources.
Liverpool are, in some ways, in a similar position to the cheetah as in most other leagues in the world, with their attributes, they would be the dominant transfer market predator or at least in the top two or three but in England currently for a variety of reasons they are probably only the 5th biggest draw despite being in the top 10 worldwide in terms of history and finance. This means that in recent years when pursuing transfer targets we have often been faced with domestic rivals who have a lot of what we possess alongside things we lack (such as a bigger budget, the extra lure of Champion’s League, a London location, a history of recent success, more world recognised players, a recognised style of play or a world renowned manager).
Whilst it saddens me to say it the unpalatable truth is that Liverpool have slipped down the transfer food chain. We are now in a very difficult position competing against several richer and currently more attractive rivals in a limited talent pool of top class or potentially top class players. As a result ,from what I can see, we have had to not only identify top class or potentially top class talent (in our price range in terms of fee and wages) but also hope that none of our rivals recognise and want the player we have identified so that there is no decent competition for this player. Spotting these players is a difficult task in itself but it becomes doubly difficult when you also have to rely on all your direct competitors not recognising their talent or if they do recognise it not needing it. Now of course this does happen sometimes as the signings of Sturridge and Coutinho illustrate but having to rely on this happening regularly is an extremely difficult position to be in.
Ask yourself when was the last time that Liverpool were successful in securing a footballer when up against a similar sized club? I could be wrong but as far as I can recall you have to go back quite a few years to think of an occasion. The last few times we have had decent to serious competition for players we have missed out; Sanchez chose Arsenal over us, Sigurdsson chose Spurs over us (Spurs FFS!), Willian chose first Spurs and then Chelsea over us, Salah chose Chelsea over us, Mkhitaryan chose Dortmund over us etc.
Now of course this happens to almost every club at times, irrespective of how big/successful/rich they are, as that’s the nature of competition but it has happened to us far too often and although to some extent that is inevitable given our current finances (relative to the likes of City, Chelsea, Arsenal and United) I have long felt we needed someone in the club ranks to start equalising the odds. Of course I recognise that if we are competing against Barca, Real or Bayern then the likelihood is we have no chance regardless of who we have in charge or negotiating/liaising with players but there are times when we have lost out to clubs like Spurs for players. Of course some would say that this would still happen if the competing club was in the Champion’s League as Spurs were and they may be right but I can’t help but think that in the past we haven’t given ourselves the best chance to secure players by having nobody with an International stature to help us attract the top players.
The odds have been, and remain, against us and we have been in desperate need for someone or something to help us equalise those odds somewhat. I firmly believe that Jurgen Klopp is the man who can help us do this.
When we missed out on Sanchez to Arsenal there were numerous reasons why this might have happened – higher wages, London location, preference for Arsenal’s style of play, wanting to play for Wenger etc – and we don’t know for certain which of these swung it Arsenal’s way but sadly I can guess that a conversation like this didn’t take place:
Sanchez (to agent): The Arsenal offer is more money and it’s in London but the idea of playing for Brendan Rodgers excites me and I’d like to hear what he has to say before I make this decision.
No disrespect to Brendan Rodgers is meant here, I am just highlighting that at this stage in his career (hopefully in future he will acquire this) he doesn’t have an International profile that excites and attracts top players. This is no disgrace as Klopp didn’t begin his time at Dortmund with that profile it developed over the years through his history of success and charismatic personality.
Stan Collymore summed this up saying of Klopp “with his CV, he’ll be able to attract players not just from Borussia Dortmund, but from across Europe. No disrespect to Brendan Rodgers, but if Liverpool were looking to sign me again I’d probably be 20, 30 or even 40 per cent more likely to put pen to paper now Klopp is in the chair. Mainly because he knows what it takes to win a league title. You always want to go somewhere you feel you have an opportunity of winning something.”
Most successful managers have a decent pull for players – particularly in their home country or country where they had success – but some have that something extra coming from their style of play and force of personality that means their pull is a bit special. I believe that Klopp is one such manager and just what we need in our current position. To give you an example of what Klopp’s pull is like there is a famous video on YouTube of him and Zlatan meeting at an awards ceremony where Zlatan is clearly excited to meet him and impressed by his management to the extent that he asks Klopp “When are you going to sign me for Dortmund?”
Now Klopp acknowledged that Zlatan’s offer was a joke but confirmed that the desire to play for him and his staff is very real for many top players “If something got around in football that we have a good relationship between coaching staff and team, that’s true,” Klopp said, and added that all over the world there are players who “want to be part of it.”
Now of course those comments were in relation to Dortmund but they give you an idea of the esteem in which Klopp, his staff and his teams are held in by top players – Zlatan more than arguably any top player is not easily impressed!
As well as the stature he and his staff have in the game it is clear to anyone who has ever heard him speak that he is an extremely charismatic and persuasive person. If we can get a player that we are pursuing to speak to him – and they should want to because of the aforementioned stature – then our chances of signing him will increase significantly. Many of the great tales of Shankly and Clough signing players are examples of them meeting, sometimes reluctant, players and through their sheer force of personality and ambition convincing them to join their clubs against arguably more logical choices. In Klopp I believe we have someone who can do similar things for us. Moreover when he speaks to players his words carry a real weight as they are backed up by clear and obvious evidence of their truth. When he talks of winning leagues against the very best with limited funds, of competing at the highest level in Europe or of developing players from unknowns to world class it carries real substance as players will already know that he has actually done these things. Klopp has style and substance in spades.
I believe that in the recent past when in pursuit of top talents like Sanchez, we have been in the words of Sean Connery’s Jim Malone in the Untouchables guilty of bringing a “knife to a gunfight” in terms of what we hope will persuade players to sign for us when compared to our rivals. I believe that Klopp helps to massively equalize those odds and ensures that in any future transfer market battles we have a real fighting chance of success.