The early indications in this summer’s transfer market are that Liverpool will be looking to employ a ‘Buy British’ strategy. Jordan Henderson will most likely have signed by the time you’re reading this and Liverpool have also been heavily linked with Charlie Adam, the now Manchester United-bound Phil Jones, Villa’s Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, Wigan’s James McCarthy, Ipswich’s Connor Wickham and Birmingham’s Scott Dann. This is an apparent strategy to make Liverpool’s squad younger and less reliant on foreign players.
From the inception of the Premier League Liverpool’s problem has been that they have had flawed transfer policies, meaning that they’ve wasted substantial sums of money on the wrong players. This policy really concerns me, as I think it is extremely short-sighted. I’ve no problem with making the squad younger, but I think that focussing solely on British players would be a huge mistake.
At the time of writing Liverpool have agreed a fee to sign Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson for, depending on which source you read, somewhere between £16-20m. Part of this fee may be offset by David N’Gog moving in the opposite direction, but that’s still unconfirmed at the time of writing, but whatever Liverpool will pay, it'll be a large fee for an unproven player. Henderson is a very promising player, who could turn out to be a good one, but he’s not worth anywhere near that amount of money at present. This is a hugely risky transfer as Liverpool are paying the kind of fee that you’d expect an established star player to command for a player with only a couple of seasons of domestic football behind him, no European experience and one international game, a game where he looked out of his depth.
This transfer is confusing to me, Henderson may end up being a good player in the future, but there are plenty of better players available who are a lot more experienced and more likely to improve the team short-term as well as long-term, whilst still fulfilling the clubs desire for younger players (Steven Defour, Yann M’vila, Diego to name three examples just in central midfield), who wouldn't cost as much. I’ve heard some fans saying that it’s a good deal because of the possible resale value of Henderson but that’s just not the case. Look at the sums of money that the star midfielders of world football move clubs for. Those fees are not much more than Henderson will cost now.
If a player costs that much money, you’d expect him to start. However, central midfield is an area where Liverpool are pretty strong at present, so it’s not like there was a pressing need for a player like Henderson. He is a creative player, but I’m not convinced he’s suited to play in the role that Raul Meireles currently plays. Henderson won’t displace Steven Gerrard any time soon, isn’t really a defensive midfielder, so it’s hard to see him taking Lucas’ place either.
This fee underlines what has been a problem with transfers of players within England for years. Young players that show the merest promise are immediately hailed as ‘the next big thing’ and their transfer fees are vastly overinflated, especially if they have an England cap, like Henderson. This is why the Premier League is full of mediocre foreign players who are signed for fractions of the transfer fees their English equivalents would cost.
Liverpool paid far too much for Andy Carroll in January. Unless he goes on an absolute goalscoring tear, and here’s hoping he does, the club will never recoup the money spent on him. So Liverpool have to get £35m worth of goals and forward play out of him for this transfer not to be a colossal failure. In the games Carroll did play he struggled to fit into Liverpool’s style of play (the home game against Manchester City being an exception) and the team struggled to find a way of marrying Carroll’s aerial ability into the team with the players around him just hitting long balls at him in the hope he could do something with them. Carroll needs reliable service from out wide to succeed, which is an area Liverpool are deficient in and that’s where the money should be spent.
It can’t even be justified that Liverpool are buying young talent in the hopes of developing them into future first-team players. When clubs do that, they buy promising players for relatively small amounts of money in the hopes that they will be able to develop that player so that they’ll be first-team ready in a few years, such as the transfers of Jonjo Shelvey, Danny Wilson and Raheem Stirling last summer. The beauty of this policy is that you have a potentially huge upside for a relatively small risk, as if the player doesn’t develop in the way Liverpool hope they will, then the club hasn’t lost much. For the fees these players are arriving for, they’ll be expected to play a part in the first-team immediately, so while these players may be looked at as being ‘the future’ of the club, they’ll be expected to play a big part in the present.
It may be the case that the club have found themselves in a slightly awkward position in that they have money to spend, but without having any European football to offer next season (two woeful performances to end the season meant Liverpool missed out on a Europa League place), their top targets may not want to come, so Liverpool may feel that the next best thing is to buy some of the best British talent.
One of the theories going around here in Liverpool at present is that the club are looking for British players because they’ll settle in more quickly, are less prone to home-sickness and don’t have to adjust to the language/rain/food etc. This is totally wrong. A player (or his family) not settling into his new surroundings is not limited to players from overseas. There have been plenty of examples of British players moving to a different part of the country and getting homesick, and there have been plenty of foreign players at Liverpool who have settled in marvellously and felt at home in Liverpool.
This transfer policy seems really short-sighted to me. Surely the best policy is to buy the best players available that you can afford that will improve the team? That means that players from all over the world should be considered, not just British ones. If you have a straight choice between a Brit and a foreign player, and both players have equal ability and will cost the same and want the same contract, then go for the Brit, otherwise, just go for the best player.
Time will tell whether or not Liverpool are looking to buy mostly British players or if this is just some early pre-season talk. If it is the former, I think it would represent a missed opportunity to improve the team buying the best talent available, rather than the best talent with a UK passport.