By Bill Farnham
The negative publicity and recriminations stemming from poor transfer market dealings prior to the start of the 2012 – 2013 season (all you really need to do is say Clint Dempsey) should have served as a valuable lesson for Brendan Rodgers and his staff to get the important transfer business done early this summer, and for some time it appeared as though they had taken the lesson to heart.
Starting with the free transfer of Kolo Toure on May 28th, and then continuing with the signings first of Luis Alberto (from Sevilla FC for € 7.04M) on June 20th, and then Iago Aspas (from Celta de Vigo for € 7.216M) on June 23rd, it appeared as though Rodgers was intent on getting Liverpool’s transfer business completed as quickly as possible. The signing of Simon Mignolet (from Sunderland for € 9.328M) to a 5 year deal on June 25th continued the trend and seemed to be further proof that last season’s summer transfer debacle was simply a fluke. Barely a month into the off season and the squad was already looking deeper as Rodgers continued to amass attacking talent. Granted, with the exception of Mignolet, none of three summer signings thus far will be expected to start regularly, however their presence definitely fills out the team and contributes to Liverpool’s strength in depth.
Nevertheless, as the summer wore on the Luis Suarez saga continued to be back page fodder and it appeared more and more likely that the striker would depart under acrimonious conditions, with Real Madrid looking the most likely destination.
Then came Liverpool’s bid for Athletico Madrid forward Diego Costa and I viewed it as a clear indication that Suarez was expected to leave this summer.
Where does this leave Liverpool with the start of the season a mere 11 days away? Let’s examine how the team looks if Suarez leaves, as a scenario whereby Daniel Levy repeats his well practiced stonewall act with Real Madrid over Gareth Bale would leave the Spanish giant looking for another marquee signing with mere days remaining before the start of the season and knowing full well that the Uruguayan favors them over Arsenal.
Suarez scored 30 goals in 44 matches for Liverpool last season, and if he were to leave, Liverpool’s first order of business would be to replace Suarez’s goals. While this is a fairly average return for Suarez, who scored an astonishing 111 goals in 159 games for Ajax and has thus far scored 51 in 96 games for Liverpool, none of the new (or potentially new such as Costa) players even come close to this sort of proficiency in front of goal.
Diego Costa’s best season was 2012 – 2013, where he scored 20 goals in 44 games (La Liga and Copa del Rey) for Atlético Madrid. Prior to that, his best complete season was 2008 – 2009, where he scored 9 goals in 35 matches for Albacete in the Spanish Segunda División. Iago Aspas, a talented striker by all accounts, has played all of one season in La Liga, where he scored a very respectable 12 goals in 36 games (La Liga and Copa del Rey), with his best season coming in 2011 – 2012 in the Spanish Segunda División where he netted an astonishing 25 times in 38 games for Celta. Luis Alberto, by contrast, had a grand total of 9 appearances from 2010 through 2012 for Sevilla, and did not score a single goal. His best ever season was the 2012 – 2013 campaign in the Spanish Segunda División for Barcelona B, where he tallied 11 times in 38 games. On the face of it, only best ever seasons from both Costa and Aspas would equal Suarez’s contribution to Liverpool last season, and that is hardly to be expected from players joining a new league and with such a limited amount of top level international or domestic experience to draw upon.
The argument can also be made that the presence of Daniel Sturridge and Coutinho for a full season will reduce the potential impact of losing Suarez, however Sturridge’s 11 goals in 16 games for Liverpool last season is a clear outlier compared to previous years: he scored 15 goals in 55 appearances for Chelsea from 2011 – 2013, and excluding a spell on loan at Bolton during the 2010 – 2011 season, netted 15 times in a combined 73 games for Manchester City and Chelsea from 2006 – 2010. Coutinho, clearly the player of the second half of the season for Liverpool in 2012 – 2013, enjoyed his best return in 2011 – 2012, when he scored 1 goal in 11 matches for Internazionale in Serie A and when loaned to Espanyol where he added another 5 goals in 16 matches.
So where does this leave Liverpool? If Sturridge and Coutinho can defy their own histories and repeat their form of last season for Liverpool during the the 2013 – 2014 season, then the potential loss of Suarez would certainly be lessened. Unfortunately, there is nothing thus far to indicate that either player will be able to sustain such a high level of performance consistently, let alone for the course of an entire season. Despite Coutinho’s success last season, his performance is the exception rather than the rule for players moving from one league to another. Expectations should be appropriately modest for all of the summer signings thus far, even Diego Costa, should Liverpool’s bid be accepted.
Unlike last season Liverpool is not yet in desperate need of an established striker, however given what we have seen thus far this summer, I would not be surprised to see Suarez depart for either Madrid or London, leaving Liverpool scrambling at the last second to find goals for the squad. Yet again.
P.S. I forgot to mention the worst case scenario, so here it is: Suarez throws a massive sulk about not being able to leave and Liverpool end up getting a figure well South of the £40M that Arsenal offered.