The answer to that question from all supporters, as well as most rivals, will be a resounding ‘yes’ – but just how big a club is Liverpool these days?
Liverpool Football Club is certainly big enough to compete with the best at times, particularly on the pitch, but recent years have seen the financial limitations start to impinge on how well the team can do.
The lure of the club was certainly enough to get the much sought-after Jurgen Klopp to take over from Brendan Rodgers back in October 2015 and the German looks the perfect fit for a club who cannot compete in the transfer market with cash rich rivals. Many supporters had hoped that the presence of the former Borussia Dortmund boss would be enough to turn heads, especially those of his former players, but it hasn’t proved to be the case so far.
When Ilkay Gundogan decided the time was right to move on from the German club, a lot of Reds were optimistic that Klopp could persuade him to move to Anfield last Summer. But the international midfielder followed Pep Guardiola’s path from Germany to England by signing for Manchester City last year. Another Germany international that fans thought could be persuaded to join the club was Mario Gotze. But, again, Klopp wasn’t sufficient to persuade the midfielder to swap Bayern Munich for Liverpool and Gotze decided to return to Dortmund – the club where he worked with Klopp so successfully.
Several other big name players have been transfer targets, but time after time they have chosen to go elsewhere. Some fans will say that Liverpool were rejected in favour of money, others will point to the Champions League and some will use both as reasons why we have struggled to compete for top talent in recent years. Even geography was used as a reason for Alexis Sanchez rejecting the chance to replace Luis Suarez at Anfield in a swap deal when he chose to leave Barcelona for Arsenal. He looked the ideal replacement for the Uruguayan and far and away the best player we could have hoped to see arrive in the Summer of 2014. But instead of the Chilean forward, Brendan Rodgers had to make do with Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert – which speaks volumes about where the club stands in the transfer market along with the signing policy at Anfield.
Other big names have turned down the chance to become a Red, with the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Willian and Diego Costa all players who have turned us down to play elsewhere. Liverpool now looks to be a club where players can go and play regular football and be developed into players that the clubs competing for the Champions League will want to sign.
We’ve seen it with Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and even Alvaro Arbeloa in the past decade or so. They’ve all been signed, improved and sold at a hefty profit. A lot of fans have claimed that Liverpool is now a “selling club” and this kind of evidence only reinforces that. Even Raheem Sterling, who joined the club from QPR as a fifteen year old, decided he couldn’t rely on success at Anfield and decided to jump ship for rivals City just short of two years ago. He was called a “snake” by many angry Liverpool fans after many saw his wage demands as too big for a player who hadn’t achieved a great deal in the game. But many neutrals will look at the England international and feel that he was looking after his career, as well as his bank account, when he made the move to Manchester. Perhaps he would have felt differently had Klopp been appointed that Summer rather than a few months after Sterling’s exit, who knows?
Liverpool fans will have their concerns about any players who become stars at Anfield following the exits of all the aforementioned, with plenty of interest from Spain, France and England’s elite clubs in Philippe Coutinho. Such is the strength of Barcelona’s desire to sign the Brazil international that the likes of Neymar, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo have all been very publicly courting the playmaker in recent months. It is said that Barca see Coutinho as the ideal man to replace club legend Andres Iniesta – and it is clear to see why that is.
But Liverpool have resolved to stand firm and not let Coutinho go and have handed him a new contract with a pay rise in order to force away the interest from elsewhere. But how likely is that to see these clubs end their interest? Contracts don’t actually mean a great deal in modern football and every player has a price – and a lot of power to go with it. If Coutinho demands to leave and kicks up a fuss, then he will likely get a move to the Camp Nou or wherever he wants to go and play his football. It happened with Suarez, Mascherano, Sterling, Torres and so on – so why won’t it happen with the current stars of today?
One thing Liverpool need in order to stop the slide into becoming a second tier club in the Premier League, and Europe, is to regain a regular place in the Champions League. And that is easier said than done with the competition more fierce than ever for a top four spot. But few players are likely to look at Anfield and fancy joining a club that has seen one season, and a disastrous one at that, of Champions League football in the past seven years – especially if they’re going to take a drop in pay to do so. The run to the Europa League final last season was great for cup-starved supporters, but few players are going to sit up and take notice because we made it to the final of the secondary European cup competition.
Jamie Carragher said that “Liverpool are becoming Tottenham, think they’re a big club but the real big clubs are not too worried about them – who they buy, what they’re going to do – that’s the situation as it’s become for Liverpool, even when I was there at the end.” back in October 2015 before Klopp was appointed and it is hard to argue with him. We’ve lost out to Spurs for several players since 2010 and they’re looking a club with prospects at present. They’ve made the jump from top four contenders to title challengers over the past eighteen months and have a similar presence to us. They will be worried about keeping hold of the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen and Hugo Lloris. They also have a relatively small squad that lacks depth beneath their impressive first eleven. They too play an expansive and fast-paced tactical system under manager Mauricio Pochettino. The difference between us and them is that we look a season or so behind them in terms of development – but they’ve had the advantage of getting a head start on the arrivals of Guardiola at City, Conte at Chelsea and Mourinho at Manchester United. One thing we are ahead of them in is beating our rivals, or at least not losing to them, away from home. Spurs have not had much success in the six pointers against rivals, while we are unbeaten with just City away left to go this season.
Beating two of these rivals to one of the Champions League spots is going to be crucial for Klopp this season if he wants to continue development at the pace he has overseen so far. Otherwise we will risk falling further behind and won’t be able to compete for the players he wants and needs to make this club what we all think it should be.
The Summer this year is going to be a huge one for Klopp’s reign at Anfield. If he does manage to secure Champions League football, he will need to add both quality and depth to a squad that is ultimately short on both. He will also need to do this while moving on players who are past their best or have shown that they either aren’t good enough or aren’t suited for what he wants to do. Daniel Sturridge is one player who clearly has the talent to be a success at the club, but he doesn’t seem able to stay fit for long enough to make the adjustments to his game that would make him a fit for Klopp’s tactical system. The German could persist with the England international, but he doesn’t have time to keep waiting on a player who spends more time on the treatment table than on the pitch. There are also question marks over the mental strength of the twenty-seven year old. It makes sense for all concerned to move Sturridge on this Summer and use the money to improve the squad.
A big reason why Klopp is such a good fit for the club is that he has shown an ability to develop a young, and inexpensive, player into a top class talent. We’ve seen this with the likes of Gotze, Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus and many others. FSG will be hoping that Klopp can repeat the trick at Anfield and bring success to Liverpool without the need to spend huge sums of money on transfer fees and wages. But the problem with trying to compete with rivals who can throw money at success is that you have to get everything absolutely spot on or it won’t work and you can’t succeed.
It worked at Dortmund for Klopp and the team he had around him and he will need to repeat the feat in order to land the elusive first Premier League title here.