Greetings from Liverpool’s tour of the USA. Well, I say Liverpool’s tour, but lots of teams are out here, including Manchester City who Liverpool played on Wednesday night in New Jersey, and Manchester United who Liverpool play in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
It still feels strange to travel 4,000 miles to watch two teams from down the road play each other, but that is the way of the modern Premier League and its international appeal. Whilst friendlies used to be in front of one man and his dogs, with the results in the papers the next day if you were lucky, now they’re screened on TV for worldwide audiences. Saturday’s game at Michigan Stadium has sold over 100,000 tickets.
I’m not sure Premier League managers all agree that this is a good thing. But it’s hard to argue with the enthusiasm of the fans out here once you experience it. On Wednesday legions of American Liverpool and, to a lesser extent, Manchester City fans were joined by general “soccer” enthusiasts looking to get a glimpse of some world class players in the flesh.
They would have been disappointed by the young Manchester City team named, but less so by the superstars on display for Liverpool, in particular Mo Salah, who received a rapturous reception when he entered the field just after the hour. He rewarded the crowd with a goal after less than a minute.
This tour has been a real insight, if needed, into just what a huge star Mo Salah now is.
In New York there’s a huge picture of him by an artist across from Times Square. Our taxi driver didn’t know much about Liverpool Football Club, but he did know about Mo Salah. It’s remarkable when you consider when Liverpool signed him for about £35m just a season ago, few were quaking in their boots and some predicted he would flop. And now, well, move over Pitbull – there’s a new Mr Worldwide in town.
He’s been an amazing signing for The Reds. But quietly, when it comes to signing and indeed selling players, Liverpool have been on a roll for a while now. What buy was more impressive last summer, Mo Salah for £36m or Andy Robertson for £8m? OK it is still Mo Salah, but the point remains. No matter the size of the signing at the moment, Champions League player or relegated from the Premier League, Liverpool keep striking gold. It’s early days, but this summer looks to be a continuation of that with Naby Keita especially impressive in pre-season.
It’s a long way from just a few years ago and the much maligned “Transfer Committee” at Liverpool. Rumours of disagreements between manager and scouts were rife and it resulted in a lot of square pegs in round holes and a transfer policy that made little sense.
Brendan Rodgers was allowed to buy Christian Benteke but no one really to supply him. The committee bought Roberto Firmino and Rodgers played him right wing back at Old Trafford. It was a mess and, predictably, so were Liverpool.
Now everyone seems much more aligned. The manager has more of an inclination to take advice from others and Michael Edwards, currently Sporting Director, has a clearer idea of what is required for each position. A defined style of play and a refusal to compromise in quality for a short term fix has led to a remarkable success rate of outfield players, at least.
I often think signing footballers shouldn’t be that hard, but it obviously is. Not every signing will work out, but the real problems seem to come when there is a lack of long term planning or strategy.
A clear example of that was down the road at Everton last season. Thanks to the sale of Romelu Lukaku, Everton had a fortune to spend at the market, but came back with a load of magic beans. None of them are bad footballers, but half of them wanted to play in the same position and the other half the manager didn’t seem to have a clue what to do with.
Everton seemed to be the latest to fall for the ruse of the magic scout on a good run. Steve Walsh had been credited with much of Leicester City’s success and was made Director of Football at Everton. But at Leicester he was part of a process, whilst at Everton he was in charge of creating it, and it quickly became apparent that he didn’t have a Kante or a Mahrez he could pull out of a hat whenever he liked.
Remember Graham Carr? Alan’s dad? He was the fella at Newcastle who could find you a superstar in France or Holland at the drop of a hat. So much so that Newcastle tied him down to an eight year contract in 2012. So is he still there? No. He’s working for Northampton. Because it is impossible for one man to keep backing winners. Eventually the house always wins.
For Everton the repercussions of that nightmare summer are ongoing.
It says something that they’ve sold Davy Klaasen for half of what they paid 12 months ago, and it’s surprising they’ve even got that. Despite the ongoing inflation in transfer fees, it’s only Pickford on whom, you imagine, they’d make a profit.
The whole squad looks like it needs rebuilding, yet they’ve chosen to spunk £40m, what must be close to the entire budget, on Richarlison. A lad who looks alright, but I’m not even sure is better than Ademola Lookman, who looks like departing for less than half of that. The whole thing leaves you scratching your head.
Liverpool got lucky with Mo Salah, to an extent. No one could have predicted his impact. But Liverpool have moved away from the idea of signing good players and wondering what to do with them later, to knowing exactly what qualities they want in each position and where to find them. And now they are willing to pay too. They might not get another Mo Salah for another decade or so, but they will keep buying players with the right skillset and mindset to play for the club. And how many other clubs can you say that about right now?