Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Mkhitaryan snub highlights Liverpool's tough road ahead

Star quality. Remember the name.
Kevin Hatchard, who works with me at Sportsmedia believes Liverpool will need to work extra hard to attract big-names who can now choose to join Champions League clubs instead.

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has spoken in reverential tones about the way Borussia Dortmund have transformed themselves from a club on the brink of financial collapse to one that came within a whisker of winning European football’s greatest prize.

It is therefore ironic that Dortmund have gazumped Liverpool for their primary transfer target. Armenian playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan has completed a switch from Shakhtar Donetsk to the Ruhr-based club for 25 million euros, and Rodgers must now look elsewhere in his efforts to add more firepower to Liverpool’s ranks.

Although the Mkhitaryan deal was extremely complicated (he was owned by three parties – Shakhtar and his previous teams Metalurg and Pyunik Eriwan), Liverpool’s failure to land the player perhaps demonstrates the difficulties that Rodgers now faces. Mkhitaryan actively pushed for a move to Dortmund, but he did not even meet with Liverpool’s representatives. In terms of development, the Germans are some way ahead of the Merseysiders in their recovery – Dortmund have won the Bundesliga title in two of the last three seasons and were Champions League runners-up, while Liverpool have no European football to look forward to this term, and haven’t managed a top-two finish since 2009.

Rodgers may find himself thrown about pursuing star names
For what it’s worth, I think Rodgers is doing an excellent job. He has given Liverpool a clear tactical direction, and he is fitting players to that system, rather than trying to clumsily adapt his footballing philosophy to the players he already has. He has managed to convince promising young talents like Phillippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge that Liverpool are a good bet long-term, even though the move to Anfield will cost them Champions League exposure in the short term. 

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that although both players have impressed since joining the Reds in January, neither had fulfilled their potential until that point, and as such were not highly sought after by Europe’s big hitters. This is the furrow that Rodgers and his much-vaunted transfer committee must now plough – players who have the technique and temperament that Rodgers demands, but aren’t dazzled by the bright lights and fiscal incentives of the Champions League.

Liverpool aren’t signing players who are at the peak of their powers. Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Simon Mignolet are all excellent young players with room to grow, while Kolo Toure is on the downward curve but has huge experience. These are all fine signings, but Liverpool fans will have to be patient. 

The Premier League title is simply out of reach, with Chelsea and the Manchester clubs all bristling with proven talent. That doesn’t mean Liverpool supporters should despair, it just means they will have to accept that a tilt at Champions League qualification is the primary target for this campaign. Just as Dortmund did, Liverpool will have to make gradual improvements year on year under the guidance of a charismatic coach.

Rodgers is right – Dortmund have shown what can be achieved. It just might take a little while longer than some Liverpool fans are prepared to wait.