It’s always hard to calculate transfer costs. Transfer fees can be undisclosed, and additional costs such as agents fees and wages etc are even harder to guess. But despite these obstacles, guesstimates can be made. Looking at the stats we do have, the last four Liverpool FC managers, Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson and now Kenny Dalglish, have between them laid out nearly £440 million in transfers, on 172 players. By my count, in total the four of them have laid out £10 million or more on a single player 13 times:
Notice anything? The first thing that leaps out at me is there isn’t a single winger or wide attacker on the list. Some might quibble that Ryan Babel was used as a winger, but he always said he preferred to be a striker. Taking him at his word then, the most we have spent on a winger is the £8 million Rafael Benitez spent on Albert Riera. The second thing on the list that leaps out at me is how many of our expensive signings have spent time in wide areas. Babel, Cisse, Heskey and Diouf all spent lots of their Liverpool careers shoehorned into wide positions, and even Robbie Keane spent a few games in his short stint out wide. Dirk Kuyt, a £9 million signing not on the list, is another striker turned winger. This season, we even saw Raul Meireles dumped into right midfield.
There are probably more factors at play here, but on the surface you could certainly make a case that we spend big on central areas, especially strikers and central midfielders, only to use them out wide when the cheaper wing options we had didn’t convince.
Now, to my mind, you can argue whether traditional hug the line wingers are a requirement in today’s game (although Spurs seem to be doing fine with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon), given attacking midfielders can float all over the pitch (with the width coming from attacking fullbacks). But you need to have someone to hold the width, otherwise the middle just gets unbearably congested, and whether they roam or not, the likes of di Maria, Nani, Nasri, Walcott, Bale, Pedro, Messi etc are definitely comfortable in wide positions. Regardless of the specific definition and limits of the role, I think we need to have players on the left and right that can score goals, beat a man, frighten the opposition and push them back (thereby often covering for a relatively weak defence), and provide those moments of genius that can often turn draws into wins.
Now, the current senior wingers/wide midfielders on our books are a converted striker, Kuyt, and three free transfers in Milan Jovanovic, Joe Cole and Maxi Rodriquez. Now, all of these players have their individual merits (especially the admirable Dirk Kuyt) and can do a decent job on their day. But, sadly, I also imagine that none of these are currently worrying opposition managers and defenders overmuch. A look at the stats tells as much – between them, those four have featured in 65 premier league games this year, scoring 8 goals and creating 5. The comparison to our rivals, all of whom have spent hugely on wide positions, is stark – for example, Nani (an £17mn signing for Manchester United) on his own has 9 goals and 12 assists this season.
Now, my personal feeling is that it is not optional – if we are serious about wanting to challenge for the title, we have to have players comfortable and capable in the position. I would like to have two wingers, one for each side, that have the skill to retain the ball and the pace to beat a man one on one, combined with an eye for the killer pass and an ability to score goals. Possible candidates I would like to see us look at include Eden Hazard, Marko Marin, Diego Capel, Alexis Sanchez and Arda Turan, and closer to home I would look at Ryan Jarvis, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marc Albrighton.
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