Martin Skrtel must be bemused at what has become of his Liverpool career in the space of twelve months. One half of what was generally acknowledged as the Premier League's foremost central defensive partnership, Skrtel was imperious, alongside Daniel Agger, throughout the 2011/2012 season under Kenny Dalglish, winning the club's player of the year award in the process. Now, having been removed from the first team by Brendan Rodgers, the big Slovak is pondering a potential reunion with Rafael Benitez in Napoli.
Skrtel is a player who divides opinion among the fan base, even when performing at his optimum. Several friends of mine, fairly knowledgeable football folk, consider him a poor footballer, prone to lapses and unimaginative in possession. His form this season saw a slew of self righteous I told you sos emanating from their corner. Others, no less sapient, believe him to be an immensely efficient stopper with scoring potential from set-pieces. They saw little to persuade them otherwise despite the centre-half's comparatively poor form this campaign and mumbled indulgently about one-offs.
As is often my wont, I take a different view, one which is more of an amalgam of the two more extreme appraisals already discussed. Since Rafael Benitez took him to the club, Skrtel has been a regular in the heart of the Reds' defence. He has brought aggression, aerial presence, a set-piece threat in attack and general solidity. However, he is often caught napping on his defensive marking at set-pieces and whilst his passing has improved, he is too quick with the more agrarian style of clearance. For me, Skrtel is a solid pro, who never really worries me, but when there was silly money being offered for him last summer, it's my contention that the club should have cashed-in.
When he was first dropped, it was clear that Skrtel did not take it well and his mutterings to the press in his homeland bore that out. Strong rumours began to grow about a return to his former club, Zenit St. Petersburg and these have continued to rumble, in the manner of an Andre Villas Boas sentence, up to the present. Now a new connection has been made. Journalists, perspicaciously noting that Napoli have recently appointed Rafael Benitez, drew a very obvious conclusion, and whether by accident or Machiavellian design, the player's agent, Karol Csonto, was questioned about a potential move.
"It is too easy to say, but if there is contact from the Blues then we will begin to evaluate it," Csonto told Tutto Mercato. "Napoli are a great club and Benitez is a great coach, but Skrtel is a Liverpool player and for this reason he is already looking to the next season with the Reds."
This, my friends, is an example of premium, painstakingly crafted double-talk, agent-style. It could, and will, lead to headlines as extreme as Skrtel's Going Nowhere or Rafa Wants Slovak Stopper. We, discerning amateur Holmesian sleuths that we are, must read between the lines. Eyelash batting at potential suitor? Check. Acknowledgement that the player is merely a pawn in a bigger game, subject to the whims of the all-powerful clubs? Check. Insistence that said player would never think of being anything less than loyal and professional? Checkmate.
Irrespective of your opinion on Skrtel, the ineluctable truth is that if he were to go to Italy or elsewhere, Liverpool Football Club would be left with only Daniel Agger as a first-choice centre half. That is not evolution or development, that is revolution and genesis. Enjoyable rumours about Greek mentalists and Portuguese starlets are all very well, but the reality is yet another fresh start. Perhaps that's best, I don't know, but I hope Brendan Rodgers does.
And so it goes. A summer of such deliberately ambiguous and murky statements lies ahead. For the love of Fowler, read a book, begin that box-set of Mad Men, discover the wonders of expressionistic interpretive dance, but do something that will represent a tangible experience in the midst of the nebulous, elusive reality of the transfer window.