Football Manager, and before that, Championship Manager, was a massive part of many a football fan's formative phase. Hours upon hours could be and were put into micro-managing tactics, training, team talks, and player acquisition, manipulating your relationship with players and managers through press conferences and media statements, and indoctrinating young players into your favoured style of football through carefully planned mentoring programmes. The game consumed such vast spans of its players' time that later editions included a mockingly self-aware addictiveness rating that would tell you exactly how badly you were neglecting your corporeal life.
There were many approaches one could take to conquer the realm of fictional football management; some players would start from the bottom and work their way out of the doldrums of the Belfast Telegraph C2 division, switching teams as their reputation grew, others would pull their Blue Square North side up into the CL stratosphere over a period of decades, and others still would pick the richest team and just throw money at superstars from day one.
For the majority, though, it was always about leading one's favourite team to glory. With Liverpool, this meant starting at a financial disadvantage to other teams in the league, requiring a nuanced and clever approach to player recruitment. Realism! One of these methods was youth development, but you also needed players who could make an immediate impact. Enter the contracts expiring screen, which showed you which players were in the last year of their contracts and could be signed free of charge at season's end. With most contracts running till June 30th, January 1st was thus marked on many a calendar.
And with that date a mere 6 weeks away, we take a look at a few candidates real-life Liverpool might be interested in.
DOB: 8/8/91 (24) | Height: 6’5" (1.95 meters)
233 appearances, 22 goals
Martin Skrtel is Liverpool's default starter at right centre-back. Not many had expected that we'd still be saying that in 2015 when Rafa Benitez signed the Slovakian from Zenit back in 2008. In fact, the sentence seems equally surprising every year, as questions about both quality and fit have followed Skrtel since his arrival, yet here we are. With the club's only real option at the position turning 31 in a month's time, there's need for an upgrade, and Joel Matip ticks a lot of boxes.
The Cameroon defender has amassed a ton of senior experience for his age, including World Cup and Champion's League appearances, and seems custom built for the Premier League, displaying surprising pace in his 6'5" frame. He is dominant in the air, winning an average of 72% of his aerial duels, and offers a substantial goal threat on set pieces. On top of that, he is quite comfortable carrying the ball out of defense, and possesses a considerable passing range.
The only real drawbacks to the deal are the competition - Liverpool will not be the only team vying for Matip's signature - and injuries, of which the young defender amassed a fair few last season. It may be nothing in the long run, as the injuries have mostly been short-term niggles, but given Liverpool's injury issues in the past few seasons, it's enough to give one pause.
DOB: 29/6/88 (27) | Height: 5’8" (1.74 meters)
20 goals, 38 assists
The Rúben Neves of 2007, when he was the standout player in a World Cup winning Argentina U20 side that contained Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, things haven't quite turned out the way many expected for Banega. Sex scandals, hotel room demolitions, burning cars, DUIs and injuries all added up to what seemed another wasted career, but since his move to Sevilla last summer, El Tanguito has experienced a bit of a renaissance. The passes have been sexy, the tackles have been hard and the goals have been delightful.
With recent links to Granit Xhaka and the aforementioned Neves, it seems Liverpool are in the market for a deep-lying midfielder who can both build and destroy, and Banega certainly fits that bill, as the only thing that marks his game more than 50-yard slide-rule passes is his love of getting stuck in.
There are red flags with regards to his past controversies, whether he has the physical presence to make a mark in midfield in the PL, and the hair, but if funds are needed elsewhere, Banega could offer a low-budget solution for a position Klopp seemingly wants to fill.
DOB: 5/7/89(24) | Height: 6’2" (1.88 meters)
Liverpool's buy English policy under Hodgson, Dalglish and Rodgers, based in both homegrown player quotas and the idea that PL proven players will need less bedding in than international ones, has led to a bit of a pushback against signing players from within the Isles. Thus, when the club was linked to Charlie Austin last summer, the club's fans, yours truly included, showed little interest in the league's 4th highest-scoring player, feel-good story or not. In the end, and amid talks of exorbitant wage demands, nobody else did either, and Austin ended up following QPR back to the Championship.
He has continued his form this season, scoring a goal every 137 minutes and converting at a 20% rate, remaining a lone bright spot in what is turning out to be a rough season for the Hoops.
With Liverpool's strikers seemingly completely unable to stay healthy for any stretch of time and the reduced impact of Austin's wage demands on account of him being a Bosman signing, he might not be a terrible option for the position next summer.