Willian saga reinforces LFC fall from elite

Posted by David Usher

There's been a lot of finger-pointing among Liverpool's fan base this week as Willian became the latest high-profile target to say "thanks but no thanks" to LFC. The latest transfer saga involving the Reds came to a sadly all-too-predictable end as the Brazilian initially opted for Spurs before Chelsea swooped in to grab him.

Regardless of where the Brazilian ends up, Brendan Rodgers has been left high and dry once again as the club continually fail to bolster his attacking options. It's getting ridiculous now -- who is in charge of Liverpool's transfer dealings, Arsene Wenger?

-Chelsea agree to Willian deal
-Rodgers rules out Suarez to Real Madrid

Some fans blame the owners for not showing enough financial intent and allowing Spurs to outbid them. Others blame the scouting team for not going for more realistic targets, while there are those -- let's call them die-hards -- who simply blame the player for not knowing what a huge mistake he is making in turning down the opportunity to pull on the famous red shirt. Me? I blame them all, to a degree. Especially Willian -- I mean, who wouldn't want to play alongside the genius who is little Phil Coutinho? Madness!

All that said, the biggest factor in Liverpool's missing out on all of these players is circumstances. After four years in the wilderness, the Reds simply don't have the pulling power they once had, and this summer that has really begun to hit home as players have snubbed Liverpool in never-before-seen numbers. Missing out to teams in the Champions League is one thing -- but when it's Spurs, that's a different kettle of fish entirely.

Willian may end up at Chelsea, but it doesn't change the fact that he saw White Hart Lane as a more attractive destination than Anfield -- that's a pretty big wake-up call for Liverpool.

Missing out on Willian was obviously a big disappointment for Rodgers, who claims it was not down to any footballing reasons and was purely a financial issue, adding: "It's the owners' money and they will always have the final say because it's they who run the club. The bottom line is he hasn’t come here.”

Understandably, the owners came under fire in some quarters for not going that extra mile and matching what Tottenham were offering. But I'm not convinced that throwing more money at Willian would have made a difference -- especially as Chelsea have now entered the equation -- but I can certainly see why others are not happy about it. It's a moot point anyway, as Liverpool were simply never going to pay more than they thought the player was worth. It goes against "company policy" these days.

Could Liverpool have shown more intent by agreeing to top any offer made by Spurs? Yes they could, but like it or not, that is simply not going to happen under these owners. After getting their fingers burnt with the Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and, to a lesser extent, Jordan Henderson experiments, Fenway Sports Group will no longer pay more than what they see as the going rate for a player. A noble sentiment, but one seemingly at odds with their repeated claims of being serious about getting back into the top four. Liverpool may be doing things the "right" way, but when most of the teams they are trying to catch are spending money like drunken sailors, it's going to be extremely difficult to bridge that gap, as a downbeat Rodgers admitted Thursday.

Unfortunately, the only way a club in Liverpool's state can persuade high-profile targets to spurn the advances of better-placed teams is to pay more money. Right or wrong, FSG are simply not willing to do that and we are now witnessing the consequences of that policy, with three high-profile targets -- that we know of anyway -- failing to be secured this summer. There may well be others who went under the radar.

FSG point to Daniel Sturridge, Coutinho and Iago Aspas as the kind of value-for-money deals the club need to make to move forward. That's their blueprint for success, and in theory it's great. Unfortunately it relies on being able to pick up players no other rival club is looking at. All three joined Liverpool because that was their best offer. What would have happened, for example, if Spurs or Arsenal set their sights on Coutinho in January? I dread to think.

It's difficult to keep pulling rabbits out of hats; occasionally you also need to spend big when it's the right player. Liverpool will point to the failed attempts to land Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Diego Costa and Willian as evidence they are prepared to do that, but what use is that "intent" to Rodgers right now? He's expected to deliver a challenge for the top four, but to do that he clearly needs more players. He's said it himself, repeatedly, and it's something the fans are well aware of. Instead he's "selling to buy"-- his words last weekend -- and there's more selling than buying going on at the moment.

All is not lost yet, as there is still time left to bring in players. However, with the clock ticking until the close of the transfer window, the likelihood of the owners getting "bang for their buck" decreases by the hour.

The other problem facing the Reds is that when clubs think you're desperate, the price often goes up. If that happens, don't expect FSG to sanction any deal they aren't happy with. Andriy Yarmolenko has been linked this week, but if Willian opts for Chelsea, then what are the odds of Spurs swooping in and gazumping any deal for the Ukranian?

The owners' "thriftiness" is not even my biggest concern, as I reluctantly accepted that reality some time ago. I'm more worried about what LFC's much-vaunted new "transfer committee" are doing. It doesn't even appear that there was any real plan in place this summer. Mkhitaryan was clearly the one Liverpool wanted above all others, but when that didn't happened, where was the fallback option?

Several weeks passed before the "bid" for Costa, a completely different type of player and someone who doesn't even play in the same position as the Armenian. Was Costa even on a list of targets at the beginning of the summer, or was he offered around by his agent and Liverpool then decided they liked his look?

Willian surely wasn't on any list of targets -- he just unexpectedly appeared on the market and Liverpool reacted to it.

FSG are not prepared to get in bidding wars for players, which inevitably means missing out any time they are competing with any half-decent side that can offer more money or Champions League football. They want to get these top players before they become top players, hence their investing so heavily in recruiting half of Manchester City's scouting network. So far this summer, the committee have failed to deliver and have instead been led around by the nose by streetwise agents who have merely used the Reds to get better deals for their clients.

The lack of success in the transfer market is a source of real frustration and is in danger of overshadowing a lot of good things that are happening at the club. It's certainly not all doom and gloom at Anfield, and Liverpool (who visit Aston Villa on Saturday) may yet surprise people this season. Rodgers is a fine young coach who is growing into top-level management by the week. They have a good core of players and produce a brand of football that is as pleasing on the eye as anything the Premier League has to offer.

With a fair wind behind them and a huge amount of luck on the injury front, the Reds can certainly make a run at the top four this season -- the form shown in the latter part of last season is proof.

However, if Rodgers is repeatedly left frustrated in his efforts to bring in the reinforcements he so obviously needs, then the smart money will be on another year of Liverpool finishing no higher than sixth. And if that happens, the finger of blame should be pointed at those who failed to give the manager the tools he needed for the job.

Whether that is owners who appear to have developed short arms and long pockets or scouts who have failed to do what they are being well-paid for is a matter of opinion. The fact is the club have had all summer to get the manager what he needs and have thus far failed to do so. Whoever is to blame, they have 10 days to get their collective act together.


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