Before Sunday's match against Manchester United, managing director Ian Ayre told Sky Sports that the idea the club had a youth-only transfer policy was a myth. To say it raised eyebrows amongst those who follow Liverpool Football Club would be an understatement, especially given that only days earlier captain Steven Gerrard had voiced concerns over what appeared a determination to only target players under a certain age.
Since Fenway Sports Group arrived at Liverpool, much has been made of the need for the owners to speak through their actions; to under-promise and over-deliver. Surely, then, it would have been far wiser for Ayre to stay quiet and let his and the club's actions speak for themselves. After all, coming out to insist such a policy does not exist will make little difference to to those who already have faith in the current owners.
On the other hand, to any inclined not to fully trust Ayre's competence or FSG's intent, such a statement seems only to be setting fans up for another window that will see no players over a certain age recruited. And now, not content to leave things where they stood following those earlier comments to Sky Sports, Ayre has now attempted to further explain his and the club's position on player recruitment.
"If you remember back to the sale of the club," he began in an interview with the Liverpool Echo, "John Henry said we want to win but we don’t just want to win once, we want to build something which keeps winning. If we’re going to do that then we need to do it from the ground up with young players, so that when you start winning you have still got the majority of that group to keep contributing over a period of time.
"It’s not a policy which is set in stone but it’s an aspiration. If we feel there’s a particular position or player who can contribute to the group and is over that sort of age limit, it doesn’t mean we won’t consider that player. As everyone saw in the summer we renewed deals with many of our senior player. So experience is vital and we will consider more experienced players where it makes sense.
"But where a player is younger and talented with the right level of ability, we will always go for the younger option because it’s a better long term investment for the club to have someone who will be here a long time hopefully."
All told, it's not an unreasonable stance to take, and his statement does add clarity to those earlier comments. Ayre, however, didn't stop there, looking to use the now more fully defined framing of the club's recruitment policy as a means of defending the club's failures in the August transfer window—failures that saw Ayre head home early with the Clint Dempsey deal dead in the water and no backup plan in place.
"The issue [in August] came down to a particular deal and a particular price or structure to that deal," he said. "It wasn’t right to do it. Sometimes you have to be stronger for the greater good. People may feel they want to criticise the fact we didn’t have an additional striker, but at what price would you sacrifice spending for something that is not in the long term interests of the club versus what we just did, which was getting a great price on a great player in Daniel Sturridge?
"If we had spent that money in the summer then we wouldn’t have done that trade recently. It may have left us short, but the pieces just did not come together. We’ve come through that period now. I still feel it was the right decision."
That Ayre's dereliction of his duties didn't subsequently leave the managing director in a completely untenable position is largely thanks to Luis Suarez staying fit and playing some of the best football of his career. What could easily have happened had things not, at least in relative terms, worked out makes Ayre's argument that in the end he has been vindicated more than a little disconcerting. Liverpool, in many ways, were quite lucky. Yet instead of learning from that narrow escape, Ayre has chosen to see it as a validation of the choices he and the owners made.
Suggesting that Liverpool surviving until January has validated August's choices also undermines any claim that the club is in fact willing to go after older players in the right circumstances. After all, if Liverpool being left with one senior striker under a new manager the owners have just gambled the club's future on isn't a circumstance that justifies bringing in an older player to fill a short-term need, one really has to ask if there ever will be a right circumstance.
"You need to have a mix in your squad and we have probably got the best balance in terms of any team in the league," was Ayre's conclusion. "Our two most senior players have spent their whole careers at this football club. At the lower end we have a bunch of five or six very young players who have come through our Academy process and are now contributing for the first team.
"Then in the middle of that we’ve got world class international players like Luis Suarez, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson, Pepe Reina and Lucas Leiva. Then we’ve got international players like Luis Suarez who could be playing anywhere in the world—but he’s playing at Liverpool FC. That’s the right mix I think."
The problem, of course, is what happens to players like Luis Suarez and all the others Ayre counts as world class internationals if the club is still stuck around the middle of the Premier League table come the end of the season. The problem is what happens if the rather hefty sums being spent to bring in numerous younger players rather than on one or two proven but more senior options doesn't lead to Liverpool being in all that much better a place at the end of the next.
In the long run, Ayre and FSG's plan may work. Under their guidance the club may improve enough to make a push for the top four by next season. In the meantime, though, pointing to players left from the Benitez era and that Fenway inherited, or pointing to the good fortune of not being punished more for their August transfer failings as somehow validatory, will do little to reassure anyone that senior management know what they are doing and deserve to be the ones trusted with seeing such long-term plans to a satisfactory conclusion.