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Liverpool and the notion of small-club mentality

By Tony Attwood

Liverpool betrayed small-club mentality in allowing Arsenal to sign Alexis Sanchez

That headline came from the Daily Telegraph on 18 December 2014, and it was interesting at the time as it reflected a shift in position by the media.   Before then, although Liverpool had not been immune to press criticism, they had tended to suffer far less of it than Arsenal, as far as I could see from my regular scurry around the back pages and websites.  Most of the time if any club was going to be accused of something it would be Arsenal.

And yes, of course being an Arsenal supporter, I tend to notice Arsenal articles more readily, and take offence more readily than I do at Liverpool bashing articles, but since the notion that the media both defines the problem and then pronounces on it, is a central theme of Untold, I do watch other clubs, and how they are treated.

As I noted at the time, that headline managed a double effect, suggesting that we only got Alexis Sanchez because Liverpool permitted it, or were too stupid to stop it.  A reverse of the normal approach which says that Arsenal are too slow, the management too incompetent, the board and manager too mean to get any of the best players.

It is a view supported by many of the Arsenal focused bloggettas (by which I mean little publications with small readerships that produce four line articles five times a day, all of which primarily exist to knock the club about which they are speaking).  And it means that when we do get a decent player such as Alexis, Bellerin or Ozil either (as in the first two cases) he will quickly up and leave (because the management at Arsenal is too dozy) or else he is not any good anyway (as in the latter case).

I thought at the time that the anti-Liverpool headline was unfair.  After all, what exactly were Liverpool supposed to do about Alexis?   Sanchez wanted Wenger and London and despite all the inventiveness of Telegraphic journalism Liverpool possessed neither.  Nor at the time did they offer regular Champions League matches year after year, nor indeed a manager who has won Doubles and an Unbeaten season.

And although the Anti-Arsenal-Arsenal find it impossible to realise, Mr Wenger is held in high regards in many parts of the world – and at the time of the Alexis deal, Brenden Rodgers was not so regarded, in part because he claimed that he would only buy one or two top players with the Suarez money he’d beeen given and then spent it on lots of smaller purchases.  And then bought Balotelli and couldn’t get him to play in the way that he could play.

My view of that 2014 article about Alexis coming to Arsenal was that the author, Jason Burt, having lost the plot, lost the cinema as well, when having admitted that Sanchez didn’t actually want to move to the north west, asked, “But did they really try enough? Did they show a ‘big-club mentality’ in making such a persuasive case to acquire Sanchez that he would not say no?”

I mention all this now because as you will know, Liverpool are back in the news over the apparent attempted tapping up of Virgil van Dijk.

Of course Arsenal know all about the tapping up lark  Man U tapped up Van Persie, Chelsea tapped up Cole and were fined for it, Barcelona tapped up Fabregas and are now trying to do the same with Bellerin.  But it is interesting that in a recent Guardian piece there is the comment that “Southampton are not the only member club to regard an emissary of Fenway Sports Group with scepticism and suspicion.”

The article continues

“Liverpool’s owners, including John W Henry and the chairman, Tom Werner, were heavily involved in the damaging decision to withdraw interest publicly in Van Dijk on Wednesday, 24 hours after Southampton complained to the Premier League of a clandestine approach, and 48 hours after it emerged the Holland defender favoured a move to Anfield over Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal.”

Liverpool FC have not admitted wrong doing, as far as I know (but of course I may have missed it if they have) and in a statement Liverpool claimed that “recent media speculation” was the source of  “regret”.  But did they really pull out because of “media speculation”?   If so they ought to have a look at what is happening to Arsenal at the moment.  The daily abuse Arsenal have got for the past six months is what media speculation looks like.

In the current case the suggestion is that Southampton found Van Dijk allegedly meeting Jürgen Klopp in Blackpool, along with a raft of text messages from the manager to the player.  If that is so then that looks like FSG believe that if Barcelona can get away with it, so can they.  The Premier League have apparently written to both clubs to request their version of events.

What makes this of some interest to me as one who endlessly criticises the media for their treatment of Arsenal, is the difference in the way the two clubs are seen.

Arsenal is portrayed as dozy, slow, incompetent, lacking in ambition, stingy.   Liverpool were for many years seen as the darlings of football who could do no wrong not least because of their astonishing record between 1973 and 1992.   But now things have changed.   And as we have noted recently Liverpool are already under a transfer embargo at academy level for two years (although the second year is suspended) having been found guilty of tapping up a 12-year-old from Stoke City and offering him and his family inducements.

From here I was about to jump to the Suarez affair, but then I was reminded that going back a bit further in December 2012 Fulham protested against Liverpool’s methods, and ultimately got an apology after they, in turn, reported Liverpool to the Premier League for making an illegal approach to Clint Dempsey.

Indeed Liverpool went further and put a note on FSG’s website that  Dempsey had joined the club.  Liverpool had the humiliating task then of apologising to Mohamed al-Fayed.  The Liverpool MD of the time wrote, “Our club can do better and we pledge that it will.”  But it seems not.

Of course clubs don’t control headlines, but during Rodgers time at Liverpool headlines like “Brendan Rodgers insists top players now want to join his stylish Liverpool revolution” (that in the Daily Mail) were commonplace, and there were enough of them in all the papers to incline one to the view that they were coming out of Liverpool FC itself, not being made up by the journalists (as is often their wont).

Part of the problem dates from the sale of Suarez after which the headline was that “Rodgers would sign two megastars”, rather than buy a lot of lesser players.  But mostly it goes back to something before that: the time when the Liverpool owner John Henry admitted that Luis Suárez did have a £40m buyout clause but that the club simply refused to sell the player when Arsenal made their £40m plus one pound offer.

At the time Liverpool were adamant that Arsenal would not trigger the release of their striker, and the media went along with this, laughing with Henry at Arsenal when he did his “What do you think they’re smoking over there at the Emirates?” twitter message.  Laughing at Arsenal is after all a default media position.

But Liverpool owner John Henry, speaking at the subsequent MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, suggested that Liverpool claimed there was no such £40m agreement in the contract because “apparently these contracts don’t seem to hold”.

“Luis Suarez is the top scorer in the English Premier League, which is arguably the top soccer league in the world,” Henry said at the conference. “He had a buyout clause of £40m. Arsenal, one of our prime rivals, offered £40m plus £1. What we’ve found … is that contracts don’t seem to mean a lot in England – actually, in world football….

“Since apparently these contracts don’t seem to hold, we took the position that we’re just not selling.

The story Liverpool’s owner admits Luis Suárez did have £40m release clause was in the Guardian, the Mail, the Express, and all those sorts of newspapers across the world.  For those who trace the rise and fall of clubs in terms of their media profile, it was probably the tipping point.

Now maybe with all the media focus being on Liverpool’s exploits, perhaps they might lay off Arsenal for a while.

Although, I rather suspect not.

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8 comments to Liverpool and the notion of small-club mentality

  • The_Ledge

    Southampton have by all accounts, “forgiven” Liverpool following the Scousers’ grovelling apology for the “misunderstanding”. The Saints also say they consider the matter “closed”.

    It’s also being suggested in many quarters, that the FA have also closed their investigation.

    Governance of Sport in this country is a mess. Even when rules are broken, and laws infringed, the FA appears to have turned a blind eye. Yet, if Arsene Wenger kicks a water bottle, he gets a stadium ban?

    One thing about a Tory government being re-instated, we can press on with our own investigations into “Football Governance” in this country!

  • Nitram

    As I said on the Transfer Index thread:

    “I don’t know what there smoking up there but it seems to be having a catastrophic effect on there ability to comprehend rules regarding player transfers.

    Still, I’m sure there’s a big enough carpet at the FA head quarters to brush it under.”

    And so it seems !

  • BFG

    Are Liverpool really that big a threat to Arsenal’s standing? Peculiar article especially if Sanchez is looking to move on unless he breaks the EMs bank. Focus on the good things and surely that helps the club more than a constant siege mentality.

  • para

    This is all normal in the game of buy and sell.
    The only thing is,

    “do not get caught!”

    Think that the other clubs don’t do it?
    Come on people.

    How else are you going to declare an interest in a player who is not for sale yet.

    You make noises and if the return noises seem favourable, a tentative mostly secret contact is made, but we know that not much remains secret for long these days.

  • The_Ledge

    A couple of weeks ago, it was reported in Bild that Bayern were going to offer £65 million for Alexis. Now, according to that purveyor of the Truth, Cross Stitch, its dropped to £40 million. BM are reportedly offering Alexis a staggering £350k a week. Two weeks ago, they dropped out after hearing we had offered £280k.

    So, Cross would have us believe that Arsenal would be happy to subsidize Alexis’ salary at Bayern by dropping the price £25 million?

    With stories like that, he must be a Tory!

  • Gord

    Five players let go (Arsenal.com)

    > Yaya Sanogo and academy players Stefan O’Connor, Kristopher da Graca and Kostas Pileas will leave us at the end of their contracts this summer.

    Best of luck in your football travels, young gunners.

  • Nitram

    I wonder if the Mirror would consider a similar table showing how much money Spurs and Liverpool fans paid per trophy last Season.

    Or the Season before?

    Or the season before?

    I know, it would be a bit difficult.

    But here’s one they could do. Why not do one for how much they’ve paid per trophy over the last 10 years.