By Tony Attwood
Some mornings the world is full of shocks. Like the headline in the Telegraph.
Liverpool betrayed small-club mentality in allowing Arsenal to sign Alexis Sanchez
Liverpool being knocked by the Arsenal-hating idea-stealing Telegraph? Well, quite possibly not, because when you come to think of it that headline somehow suggests that we only got Sanchez because Liverpool permitted it or were too stupid to stop it.
But what exactly were Liverpool supposed to do to stop it? Sanchez wanted Wenger and London and despite all the inventiveness of Telegraphic journalism Liverpool possess neither. Nor do they offer regular Champions League matches year after year, nor indeed a manager who has won Doubles and an Unbeaten season and who has long term cred in the game.
All is revealed in sentence one of the article. “When Arsenal bid £40 million and £1 – wrongly believing it would trigger a non-existent release clause – to try and sign Luis Suarez in the summer of 2013, Liverpool owner John W Henry famously took to Twitter to mockingly remark: “What do you think they’re smoking over there at the Emirates?”
Thus we wonder what the Telegraph staff or perhaps just Jason Burt is smoking. Did he fail to see the headline,
It was in the Guardian, the Mail, the Express, all those sorts of newspapers across the world. But maybe news is only news if it is in the Telegraph. Even so Jason Burt could go and look it up.
Apparently Liverpool will face questions from the media about Sanchez’ daring not to sign for Liverpool in the press conference this weekend, although given the state of British journalism, these will probably not delve into difficult matters like just why Rogers claimed that he would only buy one or two top players with the Suarez money and then spent it on lots of smaller purchases. And then bought Balotelli et al.
But although I continue to think Mr Rodgers was a trifle ill advised in some of his statements in May and June this year, I don’t think it was his fault.
The crucial point in the whole debate about the transfer of Alexis from the child traffickers of Barcelona to Arsenal is that Liverpool actually seem to have bid more than Arsenal for Sanchez. But Sanchez fancied working under Wenger (difficult though that is for the AAA to swallow) and wanted to play alongside Mesut Ozil (ditto).
But in his article, Jason Burt, having lost the plot, loses the cinema as well, when having admitted that Sanchez didn’t actually want to move to the north west, and play for a team that had recently been lurking outside of the Champions League, he asks, “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?”
Now this approach utterly demeans the player. All of us can say no when an offer is not to our preference, moral stance, geographic preference and so forth. Most of us are motivated by money, of course, but not only money. Anyway, is a player who is earning £9 million a year going to say, “well actually I will go to this club that previously purchased a man with serious personal issues and who has just been banned for biting (again), because you are offering me £10m instead of £9m, even though I will immediately lose half of that extra million in tax.
But no, the notion in the Telegraph (and you can see it as a thread running through all their articles on football) is that money is everything. Look at this line…
“In other words did they throw enough money at him and at Barcelona so that he could not say no? What if they had bid £45million? £50million?”
These two adjacent sentences are thoroughly confused – but the Telegraph never see it. If Liverpool had bid £50m the selling club might have put more pressure on Sanchez, but my own impression of Sanchez (just from watching him from block 99 and reading the interviews) is that here is a man with morality and a sense of himself, strongly carved by his upbringing.
So in simple terms, a club can say “we’re selling you to Liverpool” but the player can say “no”. Liverpool can say, “we’ll pay you more” and the player can say, “no”.
And at this point I have to wonder what part of human trafficking regulations the Telegraph journalist does not understand. Does this journalist feel that if the Telegraph comes to him and says, “You are going to work for the Shetland Morning Gazette,” that he has to go (unless he has been silly enough to sign a contract that says he will go wherever his employer says?)
Of course I don’t know Spanish business law that would apply to the contract Alexis previously had, as well as I know English business law, but even so EU directives on employment are fairly clear. You can’t change a person’s contract without their say so, and you can’t control what an employee does after leaving your employ beyond anything that is reasonably necessary. Necessary mark you – not what gives the employer a positive advantage.
The thrust of the article is that Liverpool should have signed one or two top players, and last summer the press were full of the fact that this was what would happen. Headlines like “Brendan Rodgers insists top players now want to join his stylish Liverpool revolution” were commonplace, and although that one was only in the Mail, there were enough of them in all the papers to incline one to the view that they were coming out of Liverpool.
Everywhere the notion was that Rodgers would sign two megastars, rather than do a Tottenham and buy lots and lots of twinkles. Yes that link leads you to the Express, a paper that is often the butt of laughter at Untold, but still the fact is that everyone was running the story last May and June, and that only happens when the club is briefing the media wholesale.
But now the re-writing of history (usually the preserve of the Times) is in full flow, and clearly Jason Burt wants to be part of that re-write.
“Instead Liverpool moved on. Their strategy was clear. They decided to strengthen their squad, add to the numbers, increase its depth, let Rodgers work and develop. It was a strategy that looked good on paper and is largely sound in practice. It looked sound and sensible.
“They effectively copied the approach that Tottenham Hotspur took when they sold Gareth Bale for £85million, even though that failed.”
But no, I think not.
I think all the evidence is that Liverpool and Tottenham would each have loved to sign one or two mega players of the Sanchez variety, but each club found that the players they targeted would not come.
And the reason that this is so difficult for Birt and his ilk, plus their pals in the AAA, to grasp is simple: players have become dehumanised by the press and the AAA. They have no morality, no sense of purpose, no sense of responsibility, no nothing. They are chunks of meat to be traded across the counter, always going after the money (except when chasing women).
Birt admits that he thought the Tottenham Strategy (as it will forever be known) would work. They spent the dosh on seven players. Liverpool took it further and bought nine. However even Villas-Boas was quoted as saying that the Tiny Totts bought too many players and missed their big targets.
But Birt still can’t get the fact that just because he can’t see players as young men who, although they are often incredibly stupid can on occasion have preferences that they want to explore. The press, rather like the AAA who follow them so avidly, can’t admit that a player might well say, “Actually, I’d rather like to be managed by Arsene Wenger.”
If you really want to start exploring what is wrong with Liverpool. one could start with any of these pointers:
1. The belief that if Liverpool come sniffing, a player will always say yes
2. The failure to qualify for the Champions League for a few years does have an impact. Those who say that “fourth is not a title” at Arsenal, always forget the enormous benefits fourth gives us – the money and the lure of being at the show.
3. Suarez was and is a dominant unstable personality, and not only do players look at who the boss is, they look at who they will be playing with. Even though he was leaving, his presence probably (and this of course is just an assumption based on looking at organisations that employ such people) left a mark, making players wonder who else with a dubious characteristic is lurking in the woodwork – or would soon be there.
4. The ground counts. Liverpool, like Tottenham, can boast plans (and now bulldozers in the Anfield case) but just walking up to the Emirates is a selling point. Not the biggest selling point, and of course not enough on its own, but still a selling point.
5. Liverpool finished second with Suarez, but prior to that finished sixth, seventh (twice) and eighth. And they would be without him again.
The fact is simple: no club can guarantee to be able to bring in the player/s they want because players are people who have their own sets of complex needs and wishes. Liverpool bought a highly effective but highly unstable player, and were forced to sell him. That is a reflection of where you end up trading if you drop out of the Champions League. Otherwise they are bringing in a wide range of good, but maybe no quite good enough, players. Tottenham are in the same boat.
So the plaintive cry of the Telegraph, echoed by many others “I go back to it – if not Sanchez then someone else. And pay what it takes,” is meaningless silliness. Money is part of the show, but not all of it.
After all if you were a footballer, and earning £9 million a year, wouldn’t you have some preferences of your own about who you played for?
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