Now that we have all had the opportunity to digest the disappointment of losing the Champion’s League final, but also the opportunity to praise MP for taking the team that far, I wanted to write an article discussing the team’s near future and outlook in the upcoming transfer window(s). And funnily enough, it all starts and ends with… Liverpool.
This year, we came very close to winning a major title, which has to be encouraging, as far as the club’s development is concerned. On the other hand, it is again a season which ends without a title, and the wait for a trophy continues. The longer the wait goes on, the more we have to wonder if our current approach is ever going to deliver a trophy.
Funnily enough, the team we lost to in the final, Liverpool, is a very interesting case of progression. By all accounts, they have had an excellent season, winning the CL, and accumulating a points tally in the league which would make them champions 99% of the time. And given that they were in the CL final last year, it’s hard to call this season a one-off. It’s rather the culmination of a transformation which began a few seasons ago. It’s fair to say that they are ahead of us, currently, by most objective measures.
However, it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, looking back at the last 5 seasons, Spurs have finished above Liverpool 4 times. In the last 10, we finished above them 8 times. So how come they are winning titles now, when we have arguably been a superior team to them, in general, in the last 10 years?
The easy answer is money, but that would be short-sighted. Yes, Liverpool have had more money than us in the last 10 years, but they were never the wealthiest club in the PL in that time frame. They too have had to compete with teams far wealthier than them. They didn’t “buy” a title in the way that City or Chelsea have done in the past, by just throwing money at it. They have invested, yes, but lost players along the way too. And their spending pales in comparison to at least 3 clubs in England in that time frame.
In fact, looking deeper in how Liverpool have operated in recent years, there are many similarities with how we have operated recently. They too have produced players from their academy (Trent Alexander-Arnold). They too have successfully bought from the lower leagues (Joe Gomez). They too have had to deal with high-profile departures of key players (Suarez, Sterling, Coutinho). They too have successfully developed young players (Jordan Henderson). They too have found bargains in England (Gigi Wijnaldum, Xerdan Shaqiri) and abroad (Andy Robertson). They too have invested in a world-class training centre. The list goes on.
So if they have largely operated in a similar way to us in many ways, how can they win titles that are seemingly evading us? Well, there are a few differences in the way the 2 clubs operate, and if recent results are anything to go by, it is those differences which seem to have pushed Liverpool over the edge:
1. They haven’t been afraid to invest when they felt the right player was available. In the last years, Klopp identified weaknesses at centre back, and keeper. To solve those, he went out and broke transfer records to sign Van Dijk and Allisson, who were both instrumental in defeating us a few days ago, and sanctioned big deals for the likes of Fabinho and Keita too.
In order to fund those moves, he has sanctioned the sale of important players over the years, but he has been allowed to reinvest all of the money generated from player sales into new signings, which is something we as a club don’t do.
2. They aren’t artificially limiting their spend (such as our zero net spend policy, or thereabouts) or maintaining a wage limit hindering their recruitment. Despite this (or what some people on VS would call “unsustainable spending”), it doesn’t seem like LFC are anywhere near bankruptcy.
Of course, the elephant in the room is the new stadium. Liverpool don’t have a new stadium to repay. Faced with a need to modernise their infrastructures a few years ago, LFC opted against the building of a new stadium, and instead opted to renovate Anfield to increase capacity. This was deemed a less expensive and quicker solution.
I’m not sure that was ever an option on the table for us, unfortunately. But it’s hard not to put 2 and 2 together, and come to the conclusion that it is in fact the stadium repayment which is strangling our investment, despite the lines fed to us by Daniel Levy.
So let that be a lesson for Daniel Levy. We have done well to get this far, with limited resources. But this model has its limits. Liverpool tried it and won nothing. Only when they accepted that targeted spending was necessary, did they actually win something (and despite the 2 or 3 big signings, their overall spending still is largely inferior to the Man Citys of this world).
By all accounts, we are growing revenues faster than anyone, and bridging the gap with clubs above us at a rapid rate. What hasn’t increased proportionally is what we reinvest in the squad. Either we are open-minded enough to look at successful models around us, and adapt, or we can stubbornly do the same thing over and over, while expecting different results.