Transfer season is rife, and we spoke to Tony Evans, the Football Editor of The Times, about Liverpool’s summer business.
Raheem Sterling, Christian Benteke, and the Reds’ ability to attract elite players, are all on the agenda.
The transfer window is open and Liverpool have wasted no time in getting James Milner, Danny Ings and Adam Bogdan through the door.
The Reds have also tied Martin Skrtel down to a new deal, but there is still some uncertainty surrounding Raheem Sterling’s future, as well as what other players – particularly in the forwards department – Brendan Rodgers will bring in.
To get an understanding of what’s going on at the club, I spoke to Tony Evans, Football Editor of The Times and author of I Don’t Know What It Is But I Love It: Liverpool’s Unforgettable 1983-84 Season, and Far Foreign Land: Pride and passion the Liverpool way.
Were you surprised that Liverpool got Martin Skrtel’s contract sorted, given that he went public about his discontent with the previous offer?
Well I thought they offered him a pretty poor contract, all things considered. They’ve tried to get rid of him a few times. Rodgers certainly had his moments where he didn’t want him near the place, never mind the team.
I’m not surprised in the sense that he was the best centre-half last year, albeit the best of a very, very bad bunch. He always gives the impression that he’s being physical and being strong, but he isn’t, he’s a bit mentally weak. So I can see the desire to upgrade, but he wouldn’t be top of the list of my people to get rid of.
And was there genuine interest from Inter?
I think there’d be a couple of clubs who’d be interested. Remember, as late as last November, Liverpool were thinking of shipping him out, and they tried a couple of times last summer.
There’s always people interested in him. I think he’d probably do alright in Italy.
Given the state of that central defence, it’s the right thing to keep him.
Do you think it’s a matter of when, not if, Raheem Sterling goes to Manchester City?
Oh yeah. That one’s over. There’s no way back. I don’t think it would suit anyone to keep him.
He’s not like Suarez. John Henry played hardball over Suarez but he knew in the end that Suarez would go on the pitch and he’d want to play.
Sterling is not that sort of character. He doesn’t have the mental toughness, he hasn’t got the will to win. And the way things have gone – Sterling’s relationship with Rodgers and the club has broken down, and the infamous Aidy Ward – I don’t think he’s in a position where he’s keen to deal with the club or the club are keen to deal with him.
I think the best thing they can do is get it over as quickly as possible – and to be fair to City, they want to do it quickly – and everyone move on.
It is, though, a terrible shame and this is a problem that could have been sorted last summer. It could have easily been sorted last summer, and we wouldn’t have this crisis now.
All they had to do was give him a pay rise. Everyone wants to blame him and blame his agent, and thinks the club are shining knights here – not true. It’s a screw-up by everyone.
You know what, Liverpool have let a player with the potential to be one of the best in Europe go. Whether he will fulfil the potential is not the issue at this stage. But they’ve let him go, and in the end, this has got to be considered a massive failure.
Do you think City will pay £50m for him or will it be £40m plus a few add-ons?
The message from the club is that £50m is the price, well that normally means they’ll settle somewhere around £40m. The fact that City have gone to £40m on the second bid, from £35m plus £5m, suggests that they’ll make another bid which will get us up to £40m plus £5m. And if it gets there, I think they’ll pull the trigger on it.
They might try and play hardball and get a few extra quid out of it, but I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to force City away from the table here.
Do you think it’s a good move for Sterling given that he supposedly wanted to go to London? Or is it simply about the money?
I think he’d like to go back to London but here’s a kid who is being paid £35k a week, and he’s held up as one of the stars of the team. There’s other people in the dressing room who aren’t contributing as much as him, who are being paid double!
Everyone says, “Oh it’s a lot for a kid of his age.” Look at yourself. If you’re working and you see someone being paid s**t loads of money, and they’re not contributing to the company whereas you are, you’re unhappy aren’t you?
I don’t blame the kid. City will pay him £175k-a-week, he’s on £35k. A wage of £175k within a season will probably set him up for life.
If he did his cruciate now, and he’s on £35k a week, and his playing career is over, he never gets another good deal or he never plays again – his insurance will be linked to his wages. He’s got loads of things to think about, and Liverpool should’ve addressed some of those issues last summer.
They should have said to him, “Suarez is gone, you’re going to be the main man, we’re going to double your money.” Give him £70k a week. He would have been happy with that.
He sees James Milner coming in, and they’re paying him £150k (and I like Milner, so this is no reflection on Milner, and no reflection on the money he’s being paid) but your highest paid player is James Milner on £150k, so people in the dressing room like Coutinho will look at that and go, “Hang on a second.”
You’ve got to realise the dynamic. It’s like any workplace, and people think because they’re Liverpool fans, “I’d wear that shirt for nothing.” Bollocks you would. If you’re a professional footballer and you had to do all the work you have to do to become a professional footballer, you wouldn’t do it for nothing. You’d want the going rate for what you do.
Sterling hasn’t got the going rate from Liverpool for what he did. Part of it is a problem with his agent from the first deal they did, but after that, Liverpool should have been more sensible about it. And it’s another failure by Liverpool’s recruitment team and Liverpool’s executive staff.
The question now is where the money from the Sterling sale will be spent. Do you think it will be spent on Christian Benteke?
If you’re taking £40m+ for Sterling and you’re spending £32m on Benteke, well I think you’re mad.
How’s it going to work? I don’t know. I’m not the biggest Benteke fan. There is a suggestion that he’s easily discouraged, and plays when he wants.
You’ve heard that about players, you’ve heard that sort of thing. If you’re going to get rid of a potential superstar, then what you’ve got to do is find someone who is an upgrade.
Do you see him as being an upgrade? I don’t know.
It also kills the myth – finally – of the philosophy that Rodgers puts forward. How’s Benteke going to work in a Rodgers team? In a pressing team with pace running in behind? He’s not. He holds the ball up and he does it well.
Do you see Mario Balotelli staying? If you’re trying to play a pressing game, he and Benteke aren’t the ideal players for that are they?
Well yeah, pressing’s over isn’t it, the way things are going.
I don’t know. I honestly can’t predict what their recruitment policy is going to be. You hear whispers here and there, but I don’t know what logic they are working on. And I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that it’s a logical foundation that will bring us success.
So I don’t know where they are going to spend the money. On past performance, they’ll spend it badly.
Many of us can’t see there being anything in these Mateo Kovacic and Roberto Firmino links. Do you think we’re still shopping in the same market as Manchester United etc. or are we looking at players a level below that now?
Everyone talks about Di Maria going to Man United last year, and they weren’t in the Champions League, but they overpaid madly on all levels. When City’s takeover first happened and they weren’t in the Champions League, they overpaid madly.
We’re not overpaying. We’re not going to overpay on wages so people won’t come to us. They’re not going to get Champions League, they’re going to get normal wages, why would they come?
Last year, the captain might have got on the phone and said, “Come and play with me,” and you’ve got a genuine superstar who is saying that to you, so that might sway you a little bit. But what have we got?
As a Liverpool fan, ask yourself: what have we got that will make people want to come to us?
And I’ll tell you what the answer is: not f**king much.
Part two of this interview, in which we discuss the backroom staff, the manager and the owners, will be on the site tomorrow.