It has certainly been a rough couple of years for Liverpool FC. First there were the unwanted owners doing their upmost to ruin the club and then came the infighting at all levels; the boardroom, the coaching staff and players. As if these problems weren’t enough, Liverpool were having to keep up with the high expectations of fans and media alike, whilst having to sell from an already threadbare squad to buy, nurse injury prone star players and play happy families with a certain want away Spaniard. Circumstances almost reached a fictional level when further problems were added, with the ill advised appointment of Roy Hodgson and the painfully believable threats of relegation and administration. Now, though, after the takeover of the club by FSG and with Kenny Dalglish as manager, the pain of the past couple of years has been replaced by optimism, belief and a united fan base.
Results and performances under Dalglish have pleased all fans. In almost all games, pass and move football has returned as the Liverpool style of play, bringing good results along the way. Added to this, Liverpool fans are finally happy with the ownership of the club and can be looking forward to a summer in which the squad could be considerably strengthened.
The emergence of John Flanagan and Jack Robinson, as well as the trusted use of Jay Spearing and Martin Kelly, has given all fans a boost. Liverpool’s famed Academy had gone through a baron spell, but looks like it is producing stars once again. Much of this is down to the restructuring directed by Rafael Benitez, who, predictably, was criticised at the time for showing Steve Heighway the door. However, the use of these young players is something else that Dalglish deserves a lot of credit for.
In the summer, Roy Hodgson was openly in the market for a right sided defender. Various names were mentioned, with Rod Fanni, now at Marseille, the top target. Less than a season later, the right side of defence is now one of the last positions Liverpool would need to strengthen, as Martin Kelly and John Flanagan are fighting England’s first choice right back, Glen Johnson, for a starting place. In fairness to Hodgson, he did use Kelly in Europe, but it wasn’t until Dalglish became manager that Kelly and, later, Flanagan were given fair runs of games in the Premier League.
This strength in depth at right back is positive in that it will keep all players ‘on their toes’ and will allow for rotation. However, it also offers Liverpool a chance to recoup money for transfers. With two good, young, home-grown full backs, Johnson, bought for £18m, could now be considered a saleable asset. In years gone by, when Liverpool have had to sell in order to buy, options like this haven’t existed and any sales would weaken the squad significantly. Such is Liverpool’s ‘luck’ that now that money is available to spend, a saleable asset, which would provide significant transfer funds, exists, but doesn’t have to be sold.
On the other side of defence, left back continues to be a problem position for Liverpool. However, the emergence of Jack Robinson will be in Dalglish’s mind when considering any potential buys for that position. This will be the case, in fact, for all positions and any potential buys. Dalglish has shown great faith in the prospects coming through from the Academy, but has also spoke of his delight at the owners’ willingness to spend big (they were actually disappointed that they couldn’t get another one or two players in during January).
Both the Academy and the buying philosophy of the club are building a positive future for Liverpool. The players already brought in under Dalglish have been for big money, but, as Dalglish said himself, are for the future. For any future buys, Dalglish will continue to consider the prospects from the Academy and rightly so. Spearing, Kelly, Flanagan and Robinson have proved that they are good enough for the first team and the signs are that more like them will be coming through. It has already been suggested in the media that Dalglish will favour any progression from the Academy rather than buying players from elsewhere, but this is perhaps unfair. Dalglish will, of course, like any Liverpool fan, be delighted to see all the Academy players become good enough for Liverpool’s first team, but won’t be blinded by where they come from. He won’t be scared to buy, but will carefully consider how any purchase will affect those from the Academy with a chance of progressing.
For summer transfer dealings, Dalglish has to decide how to solve this ‘problem’ of balancing the progression of quality young players and the newfound spending power Liverpool seem to have. He won’t be disappointed by it, though; in fact, Liverpool have finally got a problem worth having.
Twitter – @PaulBoyham