Silly Season beginnings

Manchester City v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg

I’ve been a fan of Liverpool Football Club since I was seven years old. It was a challenge back in the days before we had 500 channels and before this thing known as the World Wide Web. I had to scrounge for news wherever I could find it. The advantage to living so close to one of those foreign nations (Canada) was that they actually paid attention to what the rest of the world was doing, even when it didn’t involve American or Soviet troops. That included what they called “football” and what Americans called “soccer”. As a young fan of the NASL’s Detroit Express, in scouring our half-dozen channels for any hint of their garish orange jerseys, I stumbled across the CBC’s replay of the BBC’s Match of the Week. At the time, it would almost invariably be Liverpool, one of the best teams in the First Division of the English Football League, against some other victim. From that point on, the Reds were my team.

As time has gone on, it’s become easier for those of us over here to watch teams from many other leagues in Europe: La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1, etc. I know fans of teams ranging from the top of the world standings (Barcelona) to near the bottom (Huddersfield Town) and my hope is that this place will be one where all of them can come and write about their teams, their leagues, and everything surrounding them. I’d like it to be a place where we can talk about tactics of the games that happened in the weekend that just passed and developments in the sport as it moves into the future (VAR, etc.); transfers that had impact from 5 years ago and ones that just took place in the current silly season; classic(o) matches from history and impending clashes next week. In short, football and everything surrounding it. So I figured I’d start with the transfer season already underway…

Prices continue to skyrocket

Thanks, Neymar. Or should we be thanking PSG and Qatar Sports Investments? Does it matter? Not to Liverpool fans, who are now tickled to be fielding the most expensive defender in the world in Virgil Van Dijk and the most expensive goalkeeper in the world in Alisson Becker. The €170M that LFC has spent just in this window exceeds what Jurgen Klopp spent in his entire career at Dortmund (€166M.) But what does this mean? Does it mean that Klopp has abandoned all sense of ethics to run with the big boys now that FSG has opened the money spigot? Or is this simply what Klopp would have always done if Dortmund hadn’t been on the verge of bankruptcy when he took over? At the very least, it means that we can all laugh at Chelsea, ManU, and Man City fans who are now- of all people -accusing Liverpool of trying to “buy the league.” The hypocrisy has to be unseen to be believed.

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The money is there and for the big clubs, it will always be there. The difference in recent years is that even the small clubs in the EPL are making insane amounts of money. The above, of course, doesn’t even include Champions League revenues, of which Liverpool earned more than any other side in England by going to the final (and the semifinals, for that matter.) The difference between Liverpool and the aforementioned three clubs is that two of them are (ahem) fueled by oil money (although perhaps not for much longer for Chelsea) and the other has the craziest sponsorship deals this side of Spain. Liverpool has made the money to buy VVD and Alisson by simply being popular and playing exciting football. Certainly, recruiting 40 million new fans in Egypt by being Mo Salah’s club probably doesn’t hurt in that respect, but anyone thinking that shirt sales are going to drive player purchases should read this article about the relative pittance that is jersey profits compared to transfer fees. Of course, the last quote ends the article on kind of a specious point, given that Chelsea basically had no history for the first 100 of its 112-years. In short, the money will always be there for the Big 5-and-a-half. Sorry, Spurs fans: You’re the half.

But that’s an important distinction. It will be there for the big clubs, but what does that mean for competition? Certainly, the top leagues have long been dominated by a particular set of clubs. In the last 20 years, the EPL has been won by only five clubs (ManU, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Leceister.) Similarly, La Liga has also been won by five clubs over that same period of time (Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico, Valencia, Deportivo), as has the Bundesliga (Bayern, Dortmund, Werder Bremen, Stuttgart, Wolfsburg), as has Serie A (Juventus, Inter, AC Milan, Roma, Lazio). Ligue 1, as usual, is the outlier, having been won by 8 different clubs in the last 20 years (PSG, Lyon, Monaco, Bordeaux, Nantes, Marseille, Lille, Montpellier.) But what most of those lists don’t show is how infrequent it is for even members of those select groups to even be contenders. Leceister won once in that period, as the most unlikely bet in the history of sports and the only reason the Big 6 isn’t the traditional Big 4 is the oil money behind City and Chelsea. No one thinks of the Bayernliga without thinking about Munich. Similarly, no one thinks about La Liga without thinking of Los Dos Grandes or of Serie A without first considering the Old Lady.

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Currently, the collection of talent assembled at Anfield is what keeps Liverpool considered one of the Big 6 and that’s without having won the League since 1990. Otherwise, it’s mostly about history, until Klopp arrived and finally has the club turning the corner into being a regular contender again for both English and European titles. But we can’t forget Michael Edwards, the current sporting director at LFC, when we talk about that collection of talent, since he’s been the primary agent not only in collecting it, but lately doing so almost as form of subterfuge. Naby Keita was in the bag by last summer, but the Fabinho deal was conducted in utter secrecy, allowing him to sign on the day the window opened. Similarly, both Shaqiri and Allison mentioned that LFC had been in touch with them and/or their clubs for some time, enabling those deals to go through relatively easily.

Is that increasingly easy access to star talent a question of pure money, with Liverpool being enabled by Barcelona’s largesse in the Coutinho deal, or is it that the style of football that Liverpool is playing and the history of the club is finally beginning to pay off? Given that we’re starting to beat clubs like Real and Chelsea to our targets makes me think the latter, but we’ll see how the rest of the window shakes out.

 

 

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