As work continues over the summer to rebuild the Anfield Road end of Liverpool’s famous stadium, it’s the rebuilding of the squad that fans will be more eager to keep an eye on.
In May 2014, things at Anfield looked to be heading in a positive direction and there was plenty of optimism among supporters for what was to follow.
A title challenge that failed to result in silverware was nevertheless a sign of progress – and an indication that the team, and the club, were again challenging with the country’s best.
There was never any suggestion that a splendid 2013/14 season had instantly put Liverpool at the same level as Man City or Chelsea, but there was genuine belief that, at the very least, competing with Arsenal and Man United would be possible to maintain.
The departure of Suarez during the summer was a blow to Liverpool’s chances of success but, as key as Suarez was the the team in helping Liverpool to second place, the emphasis was always on team, and contributions from all of the attacking talent played as much a part.
Less than twelve months later, and the outlook could barely be more of a contrast.
Daniel Sturridge, the club’s top striker, has spent almost the entire season either injured, or returning from injury and struggling for fitness. Sturridge is currently out of action and won’t feature until at least early Autumn.
Also missing from next season onwards will be club captain Steven Gerrard, who has already announced his departure, having not been offered a contract extension.
And Raheem Sterling, another of the stars of last year, is refusing to commit his future to the club, and seems increasing likely to try and force through a transfer away from the club during the summer.
Sterling remains one of the most exciting young talents in the English game, but there are definitely some question marks that exist – not only over his ability to realise his potential, but on his attitude, too.
For Sterling to consider himself as worthy of playing for one of the continent’s elite teams suggests a vastly-overinflated self-opinion. Very few fans around the country would think of Sterling as anything more than a very special talent who has potential for a big future.
But despite playing regular first team football for three years, after making his debut under Kenny Dalglish during the 2011/12 season, it’s hard to recall many big matches during which he’s been the difference. Progress in Sterling’s game has unquestionably been much more gradual than the recent actions by him and his agent would suggest.
Should the 20-year-old depart, it would certainly weaken the Liverpool team, but the impact wouldn’t be as great as losing Suarez or Sturridge to the team.
Of more concern would be how wisely the transfer fee was reinvested – and that’s one of the reasons that there are even supporters doubting the position of Brendan Rodgers as manager.
More than £100million was spent last summer, though none of the players brought in have justified their price tags – something which is a recurring theme under the ownership of John Henry and FSG. There can be no accusations that the US owners have failed to support whichever manager has been in charge, as both Dalglish and Rodgers have had large sums of money available to them.
But the success rate of the players brought in has been unacceptably low for a club hoping to compete regularly for the title.
Rafa Benitez’s transfer record always divides opinion, but even though mistakes were made – as all manager’s are guilty of, to varying degrees – the success rate of the players signed for larger fees was good. The likes of Xabi Alonso, Mascherano and Torres were all top players, and offered instant improvement to the team, before establishing themselves as world class in their respective positions.
Of the players signed for £20million or more in the last four years, only Suarez is in that bracket, whilst Henderson has also developed into a reliable first team player.
But when considering that the most obvious other major successes – Coutinho and Sturridge – were signed for a combined total of £20million, it leaves a huge amount of money which has been spent on a long list players who simply haven’t proved reasonable value for money.
Having undergone a major team/squad rebuilding programme under Kenny Dalglish following the loss of key players during the disastrous tenure of George Gillett and Tom Hicks, a similar task was required from Brendan Rodgers when it became clear that too many of Dalglish’s signings weren’t of the quality needed to break back into the top four.
Rodgers can at least claim credit for overseeing a successful return to the Champions League, but there’s a feeling, only a year down the line, that Liverpool may yet again have to embark on a major squad rebuilding exercise.
Looking up at this year’s Premier League top four, Liverpool will know that there’s no evidence that any of the teams who will go into the Champions League next season are going to be any weaker next season.
And that means that more than ever, Liverpool’s transfer dealings need to be a success – or the team rebuilding work is likely to continue long after the work on the stadium is completed.