Liverpool’s Transfer Committees, Sporting Directors and the need to Step Up

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Since FSG have come into the club, transfers have been a mixed bag. There have been some resounding successes in the likes of Sturridge, Coutinho, Mane and Salah. There have also been some real flops like Lovren, Lambert, Balotelli and others. Michael Edwards has had to play a big role in all of this.

Edwards arrived as Head of Performance and Analysis and, more recently, worked with Brendan Rodgers as part of the now infamous Transfer Committee. This was one of the most dysfunctional set-ups seen at the club, mainly of FSG’s own making, with Rodgers feeling undermined by Edwards. Ultimately, both parties failed to work from the same page.

One such example of this was Edwards opting for Markovic and Rodgers buying Lallana in the same summer. Markovic was clearly unwanted by Rodgers and never got a proper look-in, instead of being deployed in a totally alien left wingback role (which he actually didn’t make a bad fist of!). Under Klopp’s stewardship, Lallana has gone on to become a key component in his tactical set-up.

When there’s such a lack of harmony around transfers it’s difficult to say for sure how many of the flops that were let go were real flops, given that the manager didn’t want those players in the first place. Therefore to assess Edwards requires a closer look at his recent performance under Klopp’s tenure as manager.

FSG made a mistake in appointing a glorified chief scout in Damien Comolli as Director of Football working with Kenny Dalglish. Frankly, I was amazed when they seemed to be making the same mistake when Edwards was appointed as Sporting Director. Edwards’ credentials were questioned in comparison to the likes of Begiristain at Manchester City. Whilst the latter is clearly knowledgeable about football I think his performance at City has left much to be desired. The likes of Giuseppe Marrotta at Juve and Sebastian Monchi at Roma are better examples for comparison.

With a wide-ranging and more strategic remit, I wasn’t sure a stats man and analyst were qualified for the role he was taking on. Especially at such an important stage in the club’s evolution. I’ve written about the financial challenges LFC faces versus key rivals, so to bridge the financial gap, our transfer activity needs to be superior. Bringing in a rookie for such a key role comes with serious risk. People will use Klopp’s endorsements of Edwards as vindication of the appointment. However, with the power of a 6-year contract and the final say on transfers, Klopp calls the shots. Edwards is absolutely no threat to Klopp in the way he was to a mistrusted Rodgers.

To be fair to Edwards, he has made positive improvements to football analysis at the club and has taken steps to restructure Melwood and the Academy. However, for me, there are some big question marks around his performance since he took over the role of negotiating and closing transfer deals. The latter is outside his comfort zone. Is he really qualified for these activities because he did a good job in other areas of the club?

In my piece “KLOPP NEEDS OUR SUPPORT NOW MORE THAN EVER” I made the observation that the lack of progress this season was down, in part, to transfers. I feel Klopp has been let down through under-delivery in both the 2017 transfer windows. It is clear for all to see that a naturally defensive-minded midfielder and dominant centre-back would improve this team immeasurably. Having had two windows to address an issue which is clearly holding the team back, to not even sign a stop-gap squad player beggars belief. Especially in light of Matip and Lovren’s poor injury records and the clear lack of backup quality.

Klopp will argue that he doesn’t want short-term fixes but there are affordable players on the market that could do a job and bring better decision-making and specialism. If we were to land first choice targets later on, then those stop-gaps would simply become squad players. And there’s absolutely no guarantee we will ever land VVD after this summer’s shambolic non-negotiations, which were clearly on Edwards.

To compound the issue Edwards offered Lovren a stonking new contract at the back end of the last campaign. If ever there was a case of disproportionate reward for mediocrity, then that’s a stone wall example right there. As with Sturridge, Milner and Mignolet, when players are on big money it seems they need to be used, even to the detriment of the team at times.

My other gripe with Edwards is the fact that we overpaid on Salah so heavily after an original bid of £28m. It was well known that Roma were desperate for cash this summer. They would almost certainly have had to make the sale. Just because the deal proved good value in hindsight doesn’t detract from what seems like poor negotiation once again.

I sense Klopp is none too happy with the lack of defensive options presented to him this summer. After all, it was clear Lovren would lose his place. So for Klopp to have to backtrack and make the claim that there weren’t five better defenders available (in order to manage expectations) is nothing short of embarrassing. If he had more time I am sure he would have looked at other options. My feeling is that he was led to believe that Van Dijk would be joining.

The other alternative is that the stats-driven identification of players is too limited. Is our scouting up to scratch? Why is it that Southampton seem to identify players at the right time yet our scouts and stats men don’t, resulting in us having to pay huge premiums to Southampton? Anyone who watches European football will know there are better defenders out there than Lovren. Every single signing is a calculated gamble but you need to speculate to accumulate, as the saying goes.

The failings of the summer window mean the team has stagnated and is behind the targets of genuinely challenging domestically and in Europe. How many years it will ultimately cost the club remains to be seen, but we’re probably behind where Klopp wanted us to be on the critical path. Once we missed out on Van Dijk and Keita this summer and didn’t attempt to bring in alternatives mean the title was not an option. Add to that the improvement of United and other rivals and even top 4 is going to be a tough ask.

While summer 2016 was heralded as a good window (and it was) the successes of that window are looking less good with time (Karius, Matip, Wijnaldum). These players, particularly the latter pair, were upgrades to make us top 4 contenders. Were they good enough to make us genuine title contenders? Time will tell. Again it’s important to note that Klopp was probably the key driver behind these signings although Edwards may well have had equally capable reserve options. They were part of the steady upgrade of the first XI. However, Salah aside, signings in 2017 have not been of the level needed to push this team up a notch.

Clearly Klopp bears some blame for the past 2 windows as part of his role in transfers-in. However Michael Edwards is in charge of identifying transfer options and negotiation. There is massive room for improvement. If we continue to see inertia in the January transfer window with regards defensive reinforcements, then FSG need to take a hard look at both Klopp and Edwards. And assess what is going wrong with the execution of the club’s transfer strategy, making changes where they deem necessary.

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  1. I really liked your article and I fully agree with your comments, I do feel that FSG must shoulder a large portion of the blame, right from the start I felt that their lack of footballing knowledge and the idea that a club like Liverpool could be managed by remote control from thousands of kilometers away was going to catch up with us. The decisions they make from time to time make absolutely no sense, all these people employed to do a job of recruitment and year after year they fail to get it right, and in spite of this nobody is ever held accountable. I am truly grateful to FSG for the rescue deal but at the same time I as a lifelong supporter have become more and more frustrated since they took over so much so a few months ago I have stopped watching the game, preferring to record it and if Liverpool lose I delete the game without watching it, as a die hard supporter I would never have believed that I would one day be doing this but its either that or it will start damaging my health and why should I care if the owners are only in it for the money.

  2. You seem to have a little bit of a chip here it seems, it’s common knowledge that Klopp only wanted Virgil – he has recently said they watched loads of CH (OPTIONS) and he chose not to pick one:

    To be honest this is normal from a Manager, we’ve all seen it before when they have their eyes focused on one player (much like Keita!!).

    Also if it was down to negotiation why didn’t anyone else buy him? Seems pretty clear Southampton just did not want to sell him like we didn’t want to sell Phil.

    In terms of Salah, your opinion is funny – the only reason it was a club record is because of the euro rate, Liverpool paid €40m – the exact same price as Firmino 2 years ago (who Edwards signed – again written everywhere). Most European deals will be negotiated in euro and to be fair I don’t see how going from £28m to £37m is bad either to be honest, if that is indeed true!!

    As for any renewal there is no way Lovren resigned without the Managers say so and Klopp has always been positive on him.

    If you are going to be fair look at what he has achieved since he has been in the role and look at the players he has signed along with the recruitment team who play in the first XI now:


    Special mention for Grujic who I think is a great find for £5m!

    They signed some flops too no bigger than Balotelli but it’s funny how Alberto and Aspas can suddlenly make the Spain squad yet were victimised here (take a look what Brendan did to Firmino when he arrived and look how long it took for Can to even play – Markovic you have mentioned).

    If you want to look at what Edwards has done in the past season then it’s:

    Lallana renewal
    Coutinho renewal with no clause.
    Coutinho kept at club.
    Lovren renewal.
    Gomez renewal.
    Trent renewal.
    Woodburn renewal.
    Kent renewal.

    Salah signed.
    Keita signed for less than offered for last summer (they just did not want to sell)
    Ox signed over Chelsea.
    Solanke signed.
    Robertson signed.

    Sakho sold for £26m (previously sold Benteke the summer before).
    Kev Stewart sold £7.5m (previously sold Ibe and Smith to Bournemouth).
    Wisdom sold (Tiago sold previously).
    Lucas sold £5m.
    Origi loaned for £6m fee.
    Kent and Ojo loaned.

    New Training ground designed.

    Overall I would say that’s some great business and some very good signs. If there was a problem or he couldn’t do it Klopp would be the first to say or you would hear rumours.

    If you were to do this for Txiki B at Man City you would see he has signed an enourmous amount of flops and spent close to £1bn in the process.

    Edwards was an analyst of video not of data (like AVB) and played (see his interview when he first was officially announced), this data tag seems to be something the media and Rodgers championed when he clearly wanted control.

    All in all I think you should look at the bigger picture and look at everything as a whole, we have a great squad (could do with some more defenders) but overall have made massive strides when you look at what we used to have draining our wage bill.


  3. Since Klopp took charge I honestly think our transfer policy is just about spot on. I can remember this time last year fans were slating the transfer business because the club failed to bring in a new left back so we ended up playing Milner there. After the business we did this summer we now have that new left back and another player adding even more goals to this team. The fab 4 or fab 5 haven’t started one premiership game together yet and it will be interesting to see what happens when teams park the bus when they all do start playing together. I’m convinced that this time next year the club will bring in that new centre back but at the same time I know players will leave the club too so the transfer cycle just keeps going with different problems and solutions every year.

  4. Thanks for the comments all.

    My over riding view is that Edwards was behind the failure of this team to be in this season’s title race.

    Contract renewals should be bread and butter stuff yet the Lovren contract has to be questioned, the possibility of Can leaving on a free baffles me…

    He screwed up which meant we couldn’t even launch a *bid* for VVD

    Fundamentally the priority was to make us more defensively secure and in that regard the window was a failure for which the team is now paying the price.

    Time will tell us more.

  5. Hi Ash,
    I’m curious to know what evidence you have that Edwards is indeed to blame for any of these things.
    I also think that Lovren isn’t good enough, but that the fault here lies with Klopp and not Edwards. There’s no scenario in which I could imagine Lovren getting a new contract without Klopp backing the call.
    Can being on the final stretch of his contract is an interesting one. Clearly, there is something wrong otherwise it would’ve been done by now. What exactly that is is completely open to speculation, and certainly not solely in the hands of Edwards.

    I also disagree with quite of few of your points in the article. Paying what we did for Salah was totally acceptable, seeing as he scored 15 and assisted 11 in Serie A last season. Why wouldn’t Liverpool try with a lower offer to test Roma’s resolve first, especially if Roma have financial issues? In the end, we paid a few million extra to ensure we got a great player. I’d hate to imagine the feedback if Liverpool didn’t sign Salah because we refused to pay the extra money (sound familiar somehow?).
    I do, however, agree that the transfer window was a disappointing one. A new centre back was definitely needed.
    Cheers for the article though!

  6. Thanks for the comments Matt.

    This is purely an opinion piece which I accept may be totally wide of the mark. Hopefully Edwards goes on to prove me wrong! Nevertheless it is my personal assessment of the current set-up based on what limited information is in the public domain.

    If we accept that Klopp wanted either VVD or nobody (based on the team’s ability to defend well in the run-in last season), then Edwards failed. The media leaks about VVD only wanting to join LFC were naive at best and mean that we simply don’t know whether Southampton would have sold him or not – because we hamstrung the opportunity for a genuine bid.

    One also has to question what led Klopp to suggest there weren’t 5 better defenders available. I seriously doubt those claims, which suggests any combination of the following:

    Klopp doesn’t have a clue (highly unlikely)
    Our scouting isn’t up to scratch (plausible)
    Edwards led Klopp to believe that we could land VVD (plausible)

    Can Edwards and Klopp do better with regards transfers? Undoubtedly.


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