Mkhitaryan sails by but the show goes on

Posted by Kristian Walsh

There is a scene to end the 1998 Oscar-nominated movie "The Truman Show" which manages to paint comic relief pitch black.

After the affable Truman Burbank realises his entire life has been the subject of a reality television show viewed by millions of people -- therefore ceasing transmission the show which had been obsessed over continuously for 30 years -- two security guards stare at the blank screen. "What else is on?" asks one. "Yeah, let's see what else is on," ponders the second, confirmation of man's fickle nature.

It's a comedic moment to finish the film, a much-needed smile after the emotional climax, but beneath lurks a darker tone: the man who was part of people's lives for so long, who gave hope and joy and inspiration to so many, is forgotten so quickly.

Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan must have felt like the star of his own show in recent weeks. He was under constant surveillance; every move was documented, every internal thought somehow shared with the world. His inclination, we were told, was to move to the Premier League, to Merseyside, to play for Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. He was the man to bring hope, joy and inspiration to Anfield.

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Scenarios were concocted of how and where he would play, of how he would be the final piece of a 23-year-old jigsaw. Little news of anything else was offered, nor was it wanted. Time stood still and the sun refused to set until this saga -- and how it became one, with talkative agents and grainy leaked photographs -- was complete.

He was worth the wait, anyway. Mkhitaryan was the player to propel Liverpool to Champions League football, the title, the moon and the stars; he was the talent to combine the city’s two cathedrals into one gigantic superdome of worship and jetski on the waves of the River Mersey recently turned into wine.

The reality was far different. The more he was scrutinised, the more inevitable the rejection became. Shakhtar and Borussia Dortmund have reportedly agreed on a fee of £21.5 million for Mkhitaryan and Liverpool's perfect summer has suddenly been clouded. After identifying four players -- and successfully signing them -- by the first day of July, their first-choice transfer target has failed to arrive.

There is no telling how Mkhitaryan would have fared at Liverpool. But one thing for certain is the importance attached upon him. He was central to Liverpool's plans, identified as the signing to excite the peasants and coax even more from Philippe Coutinho and -- if he stays -- Luis Suarez.

But the transmission finishes; the screen turns static. Here ends the Mkhitaryan show. In the words of that first security guard: What else is on?

This is where Liverpool must show their summer did not begin and end at Mkhitaryan. There are plenty of other options in that role, but availability is another matter. In a sport where little is guaranteed, the club must act quickly and focus on their attacking alternatives.

It also gives the first real glimpse of what happens when Rodgers and his transfer committee fail in their foremost desire. Though their efficiency in securing deals for Simon Mignolet, Iago Aspas, Kolo Toure and Luis Alberto is praiseworthy, only Mignolet could be regarded as a player ready to be dropped into their best 11 -- and even that is no guarantee given Rodgers' comments of goalkeeping competition, no matter how insincere they may ultimately prove.

This is where the scouting network, in all its intricacies, will show its worth. Scouting is not as simple as attending football matches and identifying the standout player; it is about securing contacts, discovering asking prices and pesky hidden clauses. A nose for networking is as important as an eye for a player. Though the club should face little blame for Mkhitaryan -- Liverpool never even had the opportunity to formally speak to the player -- there is the worry over how unsure the process appeared; there is worry regarding the uncertainty over cost and ownership.

Names will inevitably come: Christian Eriksen, Michu, Hatem Ben Arfa and many more. But the Mkhitaryan dealings highlight just how futile names can be and how immaterial they are until printed on the material of a replica shirt.

Liverpool simply cannot panic. If they have constructed a contingency plan around Mkhitaryan, they have no need to. If they now sit in their offices, desperately rifling through paperwork and DVDs as their starting point, consider this another lesson to learn.

Indeed, a lesson has been learned already for some with Mkhitaryan’s decision to join Dortmund: players such as Coutinho, Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, who possess both big-game experience but the willingness to play in a side struggling for European qualification, are hard to find.

Champions League football, at some point, becomes essential to attract a certain calibre of player. Anfield can become a refuge for those seeking redemption, for players whose trajectory need to turn upward once more. But with players who are moving upwards consistently, a Champions League side is desired to continue that.

But to qualify for the Champions League, Liverpool need better players. That is why they must take the opportunity to acquire them when they can; that is why they must recover after failure to sign a player who would improve them, and prepare to find the next one.

That replacement could be like-for-like; they could be Spanish, French, Italian; they might even be a player who will demand a shuffle of Liverpool’s front four. But above all that, they must be a player Liverpool have confidence in, a player capable of making Mkhitaryan an unpronounceable, unimportant footnote this summer. It will be no laughing matter if they fail to do that.

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