Free Friday & Liverpool FC News, Media and Transfer Roundup – 10th February 2023
Rebuilding the Reds, Paisley's First League Title & Terrific Tyler Morton
Free Friday will cover our work across The Tomkins Times’ Substack network, with it running via an opt-in or opt-out newsletter on The Main Hub (where almost all of the community commenting takes place), but covering TTT’s four sub-Substacks, or spokes.
Also make sure you check out Daniel Zambartas’ media round-up, which will be added to best of TTT from the previous week.
Best Comment of the Week
First up - and it’s not just because of his excellent name - is Daniel T, responding to Paul’s huge three part deep dive on rebuilding Liverpool (more on this later!).
Preemptive apology for the length of this comment, but these magnum opi (not sure if right word) - particulary part 2 - have each inspired an immense amount of thought and I’m hard pressed to be brief.
I keep going back to is a basic belief I have about sports. Most people view teams as a simple machine. “Oh, that blender motor is more powerful than my blender motor? I’ll just switch it in and have a superior blender.” This error is a secondary reason (the novelty fetish was a dead on diagnosis) for the transfer obsession that helps drive the decline of this sport. But every sports team - whether it’s Liverpool or the Red Sox or Red Bull Racing or the All Blacks - is a complex system, far more akin to a living organism. Every transfer is a gamble. Yet, people will convince themselves that - for example - “the Jude Bellingham I see playing for Dortmund will be the same one playing for Liverpool” even though that is not true, this is not FIFA. That same status quo bias leads way too many people into thinking “the Fabio Carvalho I see playing now is the one I will see playing next season” which is also unlikely.
It’s easy to imagine the transfer. It’s hard to imagine player growth. Part 2 (which was my favorite) brilliantly discusses the issues with aging and the concept of an age curve. This is, on my side of the Atlantic, baked into how baseball fans think of the sport. As the game lends itself to player analysis, the aging curve was worked out deecades ago. Baseball people know that players peak at 27 (now about 26) and understand that applies differently to different types of players. If a player is any good at 20, you get ridiculously excited, even if their performance is quite average.
Part of this is due to the necessity of imagination. The only time there has EVER been a player as young as Jack Robinson was when he played for Liverpool was when half the league was off fighting World War II! We don’t see young players until they’re already close to physical (and mental) maturity. We imagine what a “prospect” (as we call them) will become, much like a transfer we’ve never seen except for a YouTube highlights video set to terrible music. If we saw them regularly not only would they lose their novelty but we’d be thinking about their current version, not their future. Which is why Ben Doak - who you can see - will always excite less than the hypothetical Doakinho.
I was reminded of the following article (that anyone unfamiliar with baseball will think is half written in Ancient Greek) that echoes a lot of the points discussed in Part 2 of this series. It delves into the science behind player aging, both their improvement and decline.
The most interesting parts of the article are about the lag between a player’s peak physical ability (23) and peak performance (27). The key seemingly being experience, which is why players who rely on “craft” more than ability will frequently peak much later. I obviously thought about that old article when reading about “Slow Giants” and “Slow Creators.” These players almost certainly develop differently because their key skills are going to improve with experience. I also think it’s notable that so many of the youngsters listed who washed out are players who just never scored enough goals. What percentage of scoring goals is mental versus physical? I’m no expert but I’m willing to bet it requires more craft to score goals the higher the level of competition. And obviously there’s goalkeepers. There’s a reason that players where “positioning” is considered so important age on a completely different curve. And that a 45 year old Gigi Buffon is still making world class saves in the Coppa despite having twenty years of his reflexes eroding. His reaction times may be too slow for Serie A but his ability to read the game is so far ahead he can still play.
This goes both ways. Players change as they get older. Someone (Michael Cox?) wrote about there being many different versions of Lionel Messi. The 20 year old dribbling through 10 men can’t possibly exist now. But the one we saw at the World Cup never could have existed then. This is why I’m not surprised James Milner has aged so gracefully, or Roberto Firmino: Cunning Goal Scorer may be his future. Conversely, perhaps players whose primary benefit is covering a lot of ground should not be trusted to age well.
Unfortunately, a lot of this is just outside our knowledge. We can’t know whether a player has that exceptionally rare mental makeup of high level athletes. We can’t know who are the ones obsessed with improving their game. We can’t know who is in the gym pushing their body to the next level. We just have to trust the people who see these players every day (and even they can be wrong). I’m thankful that person is Jurgen Klopp.
(As a complete aside: with a little Googling you can find Salah’s workout plan - try it for one week, after doing that myself, I understand why he is exceptional)
I’ll note that the reason I’m discussing baseball is because FSG are baseball men. They understand all of this. They also seem to understand that they’re playing a rigged game. They own a team in a Super League where they need to compete with three monstrosities in a sport saddled with governing bodies that an impartial observer would be forced to conclude are hell bent on destroying the game so no future generation can enjoy it. I have been relentlessly critical of FSG’s transfer policy for years, but it is still true that if they try to play the game the same way the monstrosities do it is hopeless. As my final baseball reference, there’s a reason the film Moneyball ends with John Henry offering Brad Pitt a job. When the sport goes one way, they know they have to go the other. Anyone who wants to see a transfer heavy team is likely to be disappointed.
I’ll end with a contrast. Last season, Napoli got back into the Champions League and then saw two 30+ club legends depart, one of their best players snapped up by PSG, and their defensive rock sold to (of course) Chelsea for 40 million euros. They used that money to buy a center back (aged 26) from Turkey and midfielder (aged 21) from Georgia. Both of whom made huge leaps, and will be moved to the English Super League for a quarter billion euros. Combined with their striker going supernova at - of course - age 23/24, and they are the runaway Serie A leaders and, as we all saw, quite good in Europe too.
Conversely, I remember when only a year after every pundit was calling them the greatest side anyone had seen, Barcelona were able to play an entire XI of homegrown players. But they grew impatient, stopped tolerating bedding in young players (which is how they lost Thiago!) and pivoted to an all transfers all the time strategy. And they won a European Cup. And lost their soul. And their greatest player. And watched their great rivals dominate them in Europe. And are facing down a future of potential catastrophe.
If you’re asking me to bet on a high risk transfer strategy or the best manager in the world and ageing curves, I’d rather bet on the latter. And I have a feeling the guys who were into moneyball before it had a name probably will too.
TTT Main Hub
One of the best series of articles ever published on TTT took up everyone’s attention this week, with Paul’s breakdown of the Reds’ problems this season, how to restart, looking into when players reach their peak, and finally a 15,000 word analysis of twelve potential stars currently on the Reds’ books. The three links are below.
Part One - Rebuilding Liverpool: Exhaustion, Fatigue, Resetting and Renewing
This chart, from Anfield Index earlier in the season but reproduced in The Times a month ago shows the astronomical cliff-face fall from the Reds in physical output terms (while the Reds have also been below the Premier League average on height as well, as another physical trait that certainly correlates with set-piece success, and set-piece success is a key component of overall success).
While it’s incredibly worrying, it does offer a confirmation for what we were seeing with our eyes: lethargy. Covering less distance wasn’t a problem last season; but the drop in sprints and high-speed runs has been the killer.
But also, it clearly wasn’t deliberate, and in recent weeks the team has seen a bit more youthful vigour added, as perhaps the first clear marker that this is a new team that will take shape.
Liverpool’s XIs got too old in 2022/23, but in this three part series I will look at the importance of peak-age performers, and the issue with the injuries has been that, while all areas of the team has been affected (midfield especially decimated earlier in the season, wide attackers later on, centre-backs right now), it’s been the age of the players who have been injured (as well as the pace they have) that has been the killer.
My hope would be that Henderson, van Dijk, Thiago, Salah, Firmino and others follow the leads of Paul Scholes, James Milner and – just this week – Raphaël Varane (aged only 29!) and retire from international duty.
Because football right now is too gruelling.
Scholes and Milner (like Ryan Giggs, who just never really bothered to start with) extended their careers by focusing on club football and having those regular two-week breaks, to train but not to travel and exhaust themselves (and to not spend more time away from family and kids). The international breaks for those not on international duty can be the decompression periods, to train hard, but also refresh and reset. They can also do tactical work with the guys who remain.
You can’t force players to give up the international game, but as with cricket (which I started following again in 2019 but whose fixture lists make my head spin) it’s becoming more and more of a ludicrous milk-it-dry cash-cow for federations, and it’s perhaps trickier for a national icon like Salah to walk away.
But these guys have to decide if they can stick it at the top level; something has to give.
Because if their club form drops, as it will do if they overdo things into their 30s, then they won’t get picked for their countries anyway. Someone needs to tell them that. (Or, go and join a club that’s not in Europe, and please resist the cheap dig at saying that’ll be Liverpool in 2023/24…)
They need to prioritise club football, because it’s club fans who pay their hefty wages, but also, if you’re not in you club team, it’s less likely – unless playing for a smaller nation – that you’ll even play for your national team.
Part Two: How Young Footballers Reach Peak Strength, Pace and Maturity
Cody Gakpo, for example, grew 20cms in no time at all, and, “There were times in the academy when he had difficulties with his height and feet size”, a Telegraph article states. U23s centre-back Billy Koumetio, 20, was a little winger; now he’s a 6’5” centre-back.
With Man United’s Scott McTominay, there “were doubts that he would ever make it as a professional, being 5ft 6in when he was 18 before an incredible growth spurt to 6ft 4in by the end of 2015”.
Back at Liverpool, Virgil van Dijk told Sky Sports a couple of years ago:
“I played in the academy of Willem II for 10 years. There was a period at Willem II when I was around 16 that I was on the verge of not going through to the next year of the academy. I was not good enough at all, I was on the bench a lot. In the summer I had a growth spurt and after that everything went really well. I had an injury in my groin because I was growing so much, but after that I made big steps.”
(Incidentally, both Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen both were talented but not entirely remarkable basketball players until they had crazy summer growth spurts, to eventually end up together in the greatest team ever, or so the famous Netflix series tells me. Without doubt their talent magnified when they went supersized; and Jordan, like others, spoke of the fast improvement once he started hitting the gym and began to get bigger and stronger into his 20s.)
Even then, van Dijk didn’t end up in a Big Five European league until 24, and at an elite club until 26. He didn’t play for the Netherlands until he was 24.
For Stefan Bajcetic, the sudden growth spurt came a few years ago, in his early teens. It’s a reminder of how things like balance can be knocked out of whack, and how a new centre of gravity takes some getting used to. His old youth coach told the Liverpool Echo:
“As the 2004 cohort transitioned into a more well-structured regime from under-12s onwards and competed in renowned competitions such as the La Liga Promises, a string of growth spurts during his early teens would briefly hinder Bajcetic’s progress as he became, what Otero can only describe as, ‘uncoordinated’ with his flailing limbs.
“There were a few moments when Stefan was very uncoordinated with his body because he grew so quickly and a lot of people had things to say [criticism], but after that he was very, very good,” says Otero.
Bajcetic still needs to fill out. He will get stronger, gain more stamina, and probably get faster. He’s fading later in games, because again, he only recently turned 18. He’s brave and strong for his age and size, but he’s half the player he will become.
I also remember Curtis Jones as a dazzling wiry winger in the U18s under Steven Gerrard, then seeing him playing up front in a youth game (maybe the U23s) a year or so later and wondering who the hell the big, lumpy striker was. He looked nothing like the same graceful, free-flowing player. Over time he grew a bit leaner, and started to look like a dribbler again.
Even so, he’s just had a bad year with injuries, but even having just turned 22, is not at his peak yet. It’s not not quite clear what kind of player he is, but even at 22, there could still be a quantum leap by the time he’s 24, while for the role of an attacking midfielder, the peak years start at 26.
As for Gerrard, Jones’ old U18s coach, Wikipedia states
“…he began to suffer from persistent back problems, which sports consultant Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt later diagnosed as a result of accelerated growth, coupled with excessive playing, during his teenage years. He was then beset by groin injuries that required four separate operations.”
I remember those issues well, and it took a while, into his 20s, to get over the constant injury problems. As I keep noting, it took him 50 games to score more than one goal for Liverpool, then almost 200 followed after that.
Both Kaide Gordon and Calvin Ramsay have had issues with growing this season. Fingers crossed their issues are behind them, but it may affect different younger players next season.
Part Three: Reds’s ‘Magic Dozen’ – Elite Generation of Kids, Bellingham and More
As ever, there are always things that can’t be covered, even in a series this wordy, but the past is always our best guide to the potential of the future, even if nothing ever guarantees a repeat. You can genuinely only prepare for success, not guarantee it.
Yet, for the transition to work, and for the younger players to get more minutes, and for the new signings to bed in – and for it all to gel – it will need stability at the club.
It will need the ownership situation to be clearer, hopefully with FSG staying and receiving investment, or for a swift sale to a sensible, non-corrupt new owners if it’s still on the market. None of us want publicly-aired negotiations, but it would be nice to know what the situation is.
It will need some kind of Director of Football, or overseer of transfer deals, and some more backroom knowledge added (and to retain or promote the top scouts), to help Klopp and co..
Maybe the old model that worked so well is now truly gone, and it possibly ends up more like the previously discussed Ferguson/Carlos Queiroz era of Manchester United, when run with an elite managerial figurehead and a canny assistant (even if this is not seen as best modern practice or perhaps the long-term solution, I would accept this over a new Director of Football combined with a new manager, especially with other changes behind the scenes).
I love the analytics side of things, but nothing is harder than managing 25 players day in, day out, and facing the media, and carrying all the pressure.
To me, it’s almost all still there: most of the players, with a clutch of youngsters to gradually improve; the peak-age players to return and/or to settle in; and the select few oldsters who need the balance provided by younger, harder-running team-mates.
It’s there with the manager and coaching staff, and it can be there in fitness terms after a proper summer and a normal preseason (and a review of why the injuries were so bad this season, aside from the after effects of last season).
But it needs calm heads from the owners and calm heads from the fans. And it needs for Klopp to not feel harassed into leaving, or giving up on the long-term project he knew he’d recently embarked on.
We’ve had one great Klopp team that pushed and pushed for five years, and I’d like to see him have the chance to build a second.
Chris continues his look back at the most memorable seasons, and 1975/76 was another significant step in the direction of the club to one of European royalty; Paisley’s first league title as well as the UEFA Cup versus Bruges.
The first leg of the final, at Anfield, started disastrously for the Reds. Bruges led 2-0 in the first half and were controlling the game. Jimmy Case replaced Toshack, and Liverpool scored three goals in a matter of five minutes around the hour mark, with Ray Kennedy, Case and a Keegan penalty giving Liverpool a slender advantage to take to Flanders.
Between the first leg and the second, there was the small matter of that momentous occasion at Molineux to be slotted in, with the chance of clinching the title. Then came a two-week break before the second leg, plenty of time to recover from the title celebrations. After 11 minutes, a penalty gave Bruges the lead on the night and in the tie on away goals. But just four minutes later, Hughes tapped a short free kick to Keegan, whose low drive levelled the score. And that’s how it stayed, a 4-3 aggregate win seeing Paisley win his first European trophy and the club’s second.
The Zen Den
To build on Paul’s series of articles on, erm, rebuilding, here’s a look at some of other positives, even in the Reds’ current context:
Here are some things regarding Liverpool that I'm grateful for:
1) Jürgen Klopp. I stated before that he has never rebuilt a great side, but he has certainly built at least two great sides, one with Dortmund (which he did not break up but which Bayern essentially stole) and one with Liverpool. But if you can build a great team you can do it again, as long as you are prepared to recognise the need and to not be too sentimental; and when Jordan Henderson and Fabinho were dropped and Stefan Bajcetic became first-choice, it felt like we had proof that, while fiercely loyal, Klopp will also be necessarily brutal when the time comes. He won’t humiliate the older players but he’ll manage their decline.
2) The club ownership situation may be a little clearer, if investment is being sought instead of a full sale. But it could still do with being clearer still, even if I don't expect to hear leaked information. My hope is some simple solution: new money into the club, and carry on as before, with minimal upheaval.
3) Man City are getting a lot of heat from the long overdue Premier League investigation, and Klopp's tenure will only look even better for going toe-to-toe with proven cheats if that is the end result. Whether or not titles are retrospectively awarded, it seems that Klopp will have won one title and been de facto winners of two more if City are found guilty.
The Transfer Hub
Finally, after a lot of articles looking potential transfer options for Liverpool, this time Mizgan analysed one of our own, and that was Tyler Morton who is on loan at Blackburn.
This section will have Morton’s numbers in the league this season, ranked amongst the CM/DMs in the division. The condition being a player has played a minimum of 900 minutes to be included in the table for sample size purposes.
Positionally, the 20-year-old has played most of the games for Blackburn in a double-pivot midfield, irrespective of whether there are three centre-backs behind him or two. He has played a game as a centre-back as well.
Considering that this is his first season where he is playing senior level football consistently, those are more than decent numbers.
He is comfortable on the ball through accurate and progressive passing. The defensive metrics are going good too. Other than that, Morton has recovered possession at an average of seven per 90 and won close to 38% of the loose ball duels (Wyscout).
With regards to his passing, the England U-20 international is particularly good at spraying long balls to the opposite direction of the field from the quarter-back position. As per FBRef, he averages 7.2 completed long balls per 90 (54.4% accuracy) and 1.24 diagonal switches per 90.
Daniel Zambartas’ Liverpool News, Media & Transfer Round-Up:
Klopp’s assessment of Wolves game
Klopp gave his thoughts on a defeat that he found “tough to swallow” and an opening twelve minutes that was “horrible” and “cannot happen”. Discussing the Reds’ lack of confidence, the effects of last season, and how Liverpool were “brilliant” in patches, here are some of the full quotes from Klopp’s press conference:
“Very frustrating, very disappointing. The start into the game was horrible, absolutely horrible; it was the opposite of what we wanted to do. The first 12 minutes, 2-0 down, is absolutely never helpful, but especially in our situation. It is absolutely not allowed to happen. Not for being passive, not for doing what we did in these moments. So, we saw different games today – all in one. The first 12 minutes, then an OK away performance where we created, we were there, that was absolutely OK.
“Then we started extremely well in the second half. The first 25/30 minutes of the second half was brilliant, was a super away game without scoring and then they scored the third goal from a counter-attack and the rest is then getting it over the line, pretty much. We caused that misery with the first 12 minutes. You can ask me if I can explain it; it is now 10 or 15 minutes after the game, still not. That cannot happen, it cannot. It did, I know, but that’s really tough to swallow.
“That’s true [we have a problem starting games slowly], we had that subject through the first part of the season and now not so much anymore, but today it was, if you want, the pinnacle of our problems because in a game like this it is absolutely not allowed. You can criticise, you can judge us, you can say whatever you want and you are probably right – I have nothing to say against that because these 12 minutes are not allowed.
Alisson on Wolves defeat
Alisson described his frustration as the Reds conceded more “silly goals”. He said: “I think it happened the same as we have done in the other games. We are not having consistency at all – I mean consistency [of] playing 90 minutes really focused and doing everything that we have to do on the pitch. The first 15 minutes, we started the game not in a good way and we get punished for that, conceding two goals.
“We are not in the situation where we are confident, that confident to come back, but we tried. We did a good second half and then we concede again: you don’t score and you concede again, so it’s completely frustrating from my side.
“It looks like in the game we were two steps behind in the first 15 minutes and then we make one step forward. So we still need to do more steps because of the result. The step forward was the performance of the second half, it changed a lot, it was two completely different sides if you watch the game and we have to take that for the next game – using the chances that we have and stop conceding silly goals.”
James Milner interview
A candid interview with the vice-captain, who describes the value of having older and wiser heads in the squad. He said: “We’re not where we'd want to be. If you compare it to last season, when we were competing for every single trophy and pushing right to the end to win all four, then it’s obviously a contrast. We know we can play a lot better. It's a situation we want to improve and we're working hard to do that. There are a lot of things to overcome, with injuries and things like that.
“That's football and you have to deal with it, and we can be dealing with it better than we are now. Performances can be better, but we'll fight to try to improve our current situation. We're halfway through the Premier League season and there's a lot of points to play for. We’ll look at ourselves and what we can do better.
“As you get older, you learn to keep that even keel the whole time. It's important when you're being successful you don't get too carried away with yourself, it's about being level-headed and continuing in that way. It's the same when things aren't going well. If you get too down and over-analyse some things, you can cause problems. The goal is always the same. We’ve always taken it one game at a time, preparing for each match and trying to improve and look at how we can improve as a team and move forward.
“It's a fine line and a balance between knowing when it's the right time to be geeing people up or having a bit of a go, and other times when people need an arm around them. It’s about how much we can help each other by putting messages across in terms of where we can improve. The biggest thing is showing we're in it together.
“Over recent years, we've had absolutely fantastic seasons and we've had seasons where we've had to dig in and really make something out of it. You go back to Ali's header to get us in the Champions League… We've experienced most situations together as a group. I think that's important and will help us come through this season.”
Darwin Nunez interview
A realistic interview with Nunez, who touches on the impact that Liverpool’s extensive injury list is currently having on the squad. He said: “There have been highs and lows; we have won a couple of games and then gone and lost – ups and downs. We have been on a bad run, it’s not a great time for us at the moment. Lots of players are injured too, Luis Diaz for example. He’s a fundamental player for us, so important in the position he plays in. Hopefully they’ll be back soon and together we can end this bad run.
“I always dreamed about playing in Europe. Now I am here in the Premier League. It is a very strong and competitive league. I will keep adapting over time. I already feel like I have adapted quite well to the league. I hope everything goes well for me here over the next few months and years.”
“We are creating a lot of chances but not scoring. We also need to change our mentality a bit too when we’re playing. It’s nothing more than that. As I said before, it’s a very competitive league. We have a lot of games ahead of us. Hopefully we will win, play well and win our remaining games and we have a good chance of finishing in the top four.
“It depends on us and how we play. We have to be motivated and want to win. Hopefully that’s how it will end.”
Curtis Jones interview with Walk On e-magazine (quotes via the Echo)
Jones signed a new contract with the club in November but has rarely featured this season. The 22-year-old discussed his determination to stay fit as well as his progress since his debut in 2019. He said: "For me personally, at the beginning of the season I was talking about goals and assists," he says. "Now I'm at the point where I want to stay fit, I want to play as many games as I can and I want to impact the team as much as I can.
"If I can be involved in all the games, or if I can at least be fit to be available for all the games, then that's the first thing, but I'd also like to get goals and assists. I just want to be the best that I can be.
"I'm a whole different lad," he says of the change since his debut in January 2019. "I'm older, I'm way more experienced and I've been on an up and down run in those four years. I would say learning the whole of the game has been the big thing.
"It's not as easy as you pick up the ball and you go and score your goals, as I was doing in the under-18s and under-23s. It's not as easy as that because you can't take too many touches. So I've learned how to mix up my game.
"If I'm playing out on the left I take it back to the old me where I'm direct and can pick up the ball and go, but if I'm playing as a centre-mid it's more of a balance. You've got to learn the defensive part of the game, which was difficult for me as I like to be so attacking. I'm at the point where I've been finding a balance of putting my game together.
"There was going to be a time when there was a little bit of a change, which is where we're at now. There are players that have left, there are players that are coming in, there are players that are injured. So the balance isn't there yet, but with the team we've got and the manager and the staff we have, we'll be fine."
Neil Atkinson on Man City charges
In light of the news that the Premier League has charged Man City with more than 100 breaches of financial rules from 2009 to 2018, Neil Atkinson of the Anfield Wrap gave his thoughts, although “fucking hell”, was probably enough to sum up the situation.
He said: “My position has always been to try and separate the football as much as possible, because it was the only thing that would keep me sane and, being fair, it made me fall in love with Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp and you all the more.
“The attempt to do that remains the only thing to keep me sane, but I remember the end of last season and being done in and barely being over it, if we are all honest, and therefore I look at 100 charges and basically go "fucking hell".
“All of this is and has been a choice. A choice to act in a certain way. A choice to carry out a four-year investigation. A choice to buy a football club in the north of England in the first place. A choice -- during a Labour Government, I hasten to add -- for everyone to wave it all through and a choice to never regulate football, a choice that to conceive of such a thing would be madness because nothing will ever go wrong, and the Premier League will never end up catalysing a real world diplomatic row.
“The issue with matters such as this is there really isn't vindication now for City, though they will claim it if it comes, and there really isn't redress for the rest of us.
“Nobody wins. Everybody loses. Possibly some very rich people and online followers of a football club may one day claim victory. Possibly some very rich people and online followers of a football club may one day claim victim status. There are, now, no real winners and you just knew and found a way to make a form of peace around it and you will have to do that again.
“But the cynicism and the idea that, yes, it was always that way, we all just knew and have known really, is the perfect allegory for everything in British public life for the last 50 years or so.
"Everyone knows. No one says anything. New slogan for the British Tourist Board, there.
“It's hard, in every single sense, to resist the idea of "well, what's the point?" What, actually, has been the point? And what, with potentially still years to ride on this investigation, on football reform, on dealing with the ramifications of these charges, let alone what actually happens at the end of this is the point now?”
David Lynch criticises FSG
Journalist David Lynch has criticised FSG for only allowing Klopp to strengthen one of two key areas in Liverpool’s team, as well as accusing them of making an “empty promise”. He said: “When it emerged back in early November that Liverpool FC had been put up for sale, Fenway Sports Group vowed to maintain a business-as-usual approach to running the club.
“Unfortunately, just three months on, that looks like an empty promise from an ownership group whose focus appears to have in fact shifted entirely to securing a hefty return on their investment.
“FSG’s true feelings were underlined by a January window in which Jurgen Klopp was allowed to address just one of two glaring weaknesses in his squad on the basis of further funds not being made available until the next financial year.
“Liverpool aren’t close to falling foul of Financial Fair Play rules and remain in rude health financially, so it can only be their owners’ desire to keep the books lean in order to attract outright buyers that is limiting spending.
“It still feels like FSG’s preferred outcome at this early stage would be a full sale, even amid claims that they are leaning toward relinquishing only a minority stake.
Michail Antonio and Calum Wilson on the footballer football podcast discuss how secure Jurgen Klopp’s job is
“In this week’s episode of the Footballer’s Football podcast, the team have been speaking about the pressure Jurgen Klopp is under at Liverpool and whether his job is under threat.
“West Ham forward Michail Antonio believes Klopp’s achievements over recent years should be enough, regardless of what happens this season.
He said: “He can finish 16th and still have the job in my eyes. For what he has achieved with Liverpool over the last few years, nobody should even be thinking about sacking the man.
“He should be able to stay in the Premier League and have a job next year to rebuild and go again. Liverpool weren’t even close to it. Nobody should be asking for his head in my opinion.”
“Newcastle’s Callum Wilson agreed, and still thinks the Reds can finish in the top six this season.
He said: “Results change everything. They can make the training ground feel unbelievable or like the worst place in the world to go to.
“After the storm comes the sunshine so you’ve got to stick with him. He probably needs some love showing from the Liverpool fans which I’m sure they give anyway.
“Liverpool are always going to be a top side and if they have a sticky spell they are still going to come back strong. I still think they can make the top six to be honest.”
Jonathan Liew of the Guardian on Klopp refusing to speak to James Pearce
Klopp refused to speak to James Pearce in his post Wolves press conference; he didn’t specify why, but Henry Winter said in the Times that Klopp was “unhappy with some criticism directed at his head of fitness and conditioning, Andreas Kornmayer”. I personally think and wrote that what Klopp did was wrong, and I don’t think it did him any favours, but my article isn’t worthy of being plugged. Here’s what professional journalist Jonathan Liew had to say:
“He [Klopp] looks a little haggard these days, like a homeless wizard: the face worn and weathered, a thick Arctic forest of a beard hanging from him. Deep breaths. Voice cracked and familiar. Baseball cap drawn low over sad eyes. On the walls at Liverpool’s training ground there are photos from his arrival, a younger and handsomer man staring him down every day he comes into work. Seven years. How has it only been seven years? How has it already been seven years? Somebody asks a question about Liverpool’s slow starts. Something about mentality. Suddenly he recognises a face, a name, some words, a feeling. A brief and powerful memory flickers and ignites inside him.
Henry Winter in the Times on Jurgen Klopp
In this Times article, Henry Winter insists that Klopp is still the right man for the Liverpool job, defending the Liverpool manager, particularly against claims that he is worn out.
“There is no one better to tackle this situation, not simply from a tactical or team-building perspective, but also because the board would struggle to find another elite manager who cares so much about Liverpool.
“There has always been this feeling with Klopp, even back at Borussia Dortmund, that he suffers for his art — and he’s suffering now. He can’t switch off, he’s an emotional character, and Liverpool fans love him for that passion. Managers are humans, having moments of frailty, making mistakes on match day, but if they have Klopp’s experience and determination, they can fight back.
“The forensic focus on Klopp is a Liverpool story and more. What do we want from managers? The pressure they are under is relentless, the need to deal with players, owners, media, agents and staff. You have to be manager, mentor, confidant, disciplinarian, good cop, bad cop. And have time for family. Good luck with that. What Klopp is going through is still a reminder that for all managers — those people supposed to be in control — that there is so much they cannot control: injuries, loss of form, boardroom uncertainty. Management is a job that’s front of house and also incredibly lonely. No wonder they occasionally get tetchy.
“The most visible manifestation of an unease within Klopp came in the press conference after the embarrassing 3-0 defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers. He was unhappy with some criticism directed at his head of fitness and conditioning, Andreas Kornmayer, and wanted to call people out because he cares. Klopp wanted to stand up for a trusted member of staff but his execution, picking on the wrong reporter, was ill-judged.
“To suggest that Klopp is burnt out, drained physically and mentally by the demands of reviving Liverpool and then maintaining the success, simply because of a few grouchy barbs, a few errors in selection and changes, is to ignore his innate fighting spirit. Nine months ago he was voted manager of the year. Ten months ago he signed a contract extension to 2026.
“Klopp knew a period of transition would always be coming, involving bedding new players in, but it has arrived at a time when other well-run clubs such as Arsenal, Brentford, Fulham, Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion have pushed on. All are above Liverpool in the table. So many opponents seem fresher, sensing a vulnerability within Klopp’s side, ambushing them. The fans’ backing is important and guaranteed. Players raising their game is vital.
“It highlights Liverpool’s problems that of the 11 who started the Champions League final, only five began against Wolves last weekend. There are problems throughout the team not of Klopp’s making.”
James Pearce believes Nat Phillips and Jordan Henderson should start against Everton
Here are some of the changes James Pearce feels Klopp should make for the Merseyside Derby next Monday:
“Even if Van Dijk isn’t available to face Everton, Klopp needs to change things defensively. Yes, his options are limited with Ibrahima Konate also sidelined with a hamstring problem, but centre-backs Joel Matip and Joe Gomez struggled badly in that miserable defeat at Molineux. There was a lack of physicality and communication, especially during that error-strewn opening spell.
“It’s time to turn to Nat Phillips. With his aerial ability and combative nature, he’s perfect for the challenge of coming up against Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Phillips, who would relish a first Premier League start since August, won’t get bullied.
“In midfield, it’s time to recall captain Jordan Henderson in midfield after four games out of the starting line-up. Starting Diogo Jota is a big ask given he hasn’t played since October, but he’s a great option to have off the bench. I’d give the front three who fired blanks at Molineux the opportunity to make amends.”
Ronald Koeman on Cody Gakpo’s start at Liverpool (original quotes from YouTube video, these quotes gathered via BBC)
When I first read the headline “Cody Gakpo: Liverpool move came too early - Ronald Koeman” I was expecting to read a load of reactionary rubbish, but it’s fair to say the BBC’s headline is quite misleading. See if you think that’s a fair headline after reading what Koeman actually had to say:
"He has ended up in a team that is not doing well," Koeman said.
"If you don't score or you're not important and you don't win any matches, it's very difficult, especially for a young player. If that was someone aged 28, with experience, it would be different."
“The level in England is higher than in the Netherlands, but they are also young boys, aren't they? Like [Ryan] Gravenberch going to Bayern [Munich] and not playing. Then that is difficult."
I’m not sure saying someone older would find life easier is the same as saying Gakpo has joined the club too soon. I’m also not sure it would be any easier- you have to feel for Gakpo, who I feel is doing well under the circumstances.
Paul Joyce in the Times on van Dijk and Harvey Elliott joining new football agency
“One of Europe’s largest football agencies, ROOF, has expanded into the United Kingdom and taken on board clients such as Virgil van Dijk and Harvey Elliott.
“ROOF already represents Sadio Mané, Kai Havertz, Serge Gnabry and Naby Keita among others, but is broadening its talent pool and setting up offices in London to go with existing sites in Madrid and Munich.
“The move comes with Neil Fewings, who previously spent more than 15 years at the Wasserman media group, joining ROOF as their UK managing partner. Fewings helped negotiate Van Dijk’s £75 million move from Southampton to Liverpool in January 2018 and, in addition to the Dutchman, he also looks after Tammy Abraham, Elliott and Ademola Lookman.
“ROOF, meanwhile, will have Keita’s future on their agenda this summer with the Guinea midfielder out of contract at the end of the season. Liverpool had previously started talks with Keita on a new contract, but the £52 million signing from RB Leipzig in the summer of 2018 has not agreed fresh terms as yet.
“There is likely to be interest in Keita, who turns 28 on Friday, from German clubs seeking to lure him back to the Bundesliga on a free transfer. ROOF oversaw Mané’s move from Liverpool to Bayern Munich last summer for a deal worth up to £35 million after he turned down discussions on a new deal.”
Neil Jones provides injury update and concerning goal statistic
“There could be some good news on the injury front this week, with Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Virgil van Dijk all potentially returning to full training at Kirkby.
“Take away the freak 9-0 win over Bournemouth in August, and they’ve managed 25 in 20 league matches, as many as Aston Villa and fewer than a Leeds side that sacked its manager on Monday, fearing relegation.
“They’ve only scored the first goal six times in the league this season.”
Since, the club have posted pictures on social media confirming that all Jota, Firmino, van Dijk, and Arthur Melo are all back in full training.
Liverpool interested in Declan Rice
“Liverpool are ‘really interested’ in signing West Ham United midfielder Declan Rice, journalist Rudy Galetti has told GiveMeSport.
“The 24-year-old is expected to leave the London Stadium in the summer following a string of impressive performances for both club and country in recent years, with Anfield outlined as a potential landing spot.
Galetti said: “It’s too early to talk about negotiation between clubs because West Ham don’t want to discuss about Rice with any clubs until June.
“But for sure, Arsenal will be one that will follow the player with great attention during the next transfer window, and in that sense, we also need to pay attention to Liverpool, who are really interested in him.”
Changes to LFC’s Champions League squad
Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gakpo have been added to Liverpool's Champions League squad as Calvin Ramsay and Arthur Melo drop out.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Tomkins Times - Main Hub to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.