Liverpool fans on social media have reacted strongly to the news that this season's domestic cup semi-final specialists will not be signing PSV Eindhoven's Memphis Depay. The Dutch international has agreed a deal with Manchester United to join them for around 30 million euros. This is what many fans had expected with rumours that Liverpool were looking to strengthen a desperately inadequate attacking unit with a left-sided player who could score goals regularly from that position. Recent links to Bayer Leverkusen's Heung-Min Son, a player who also displays sharp finishing from the left, make such move seem even more likely when a deal can be agreed with an appropriate target. At least some uncertainty has been banished concerning the plans of the club, but why are many passionate Reds are extremely disappointed and angry at the news of a transfer that was not predicted to occur in Liverpool's favour?
There indeed has been cause to question the actions of Liverpool in the transfer market over the past few seasons, and this has been continued problem for a side seeking to close the gap on rivals ahead of one of the most historically successful clubs in football. However, choosing to take a transfer that was commonly agreed to be extremely unlikely as representative of the club's recruitment ills is perhaps a touch over exuberant, but this seems to be an increasingly default position for Liverpool fans to take irrespective of context. Such discourse is underpinned by conveniently forgetting other factors at play that made a move possible but unlikely. If Manchester United kept Depay waiting while pursuing other targets first, Liverpool's offer could have been viewed as the more attractive one. After all, it is flattering and heartening for potential recruits when any employer prioritises their arrival. In this instance, the alternative was more compelling for a number of reasons.
It is widely acknowledged that Manchester United have superior financial resources to call upon, probable Champions League football to offer, and the presence of a father figure. Liverpool FC are currently deficient in all three areas in pursuit of a deal in the making for Manchester United, probably from the moment Van Gaal arrived after his noteworthy World Cup campaign in Brazil, and it wouldn't be far-fetched to suggest that the Manchester United manager and Depay were at least in sporadic contact throughout the season. Perhaps it is too much for fans to endure after seeming to miss out on a good fit for the club once again. Their names are well known to all of us so to list them all may only inspire memories and feelings of disappointment, confusion, panic,and fury.
What should a club do in such a situation when a potentially affordable player, who appears to fit the needs of the club, is on the market? Stoke City admitted interest in former Liverpool target Xherdan Shaqiri in January before the Swiss player agreed a move to Italy. Should Mark Hughes and the Stoke hierarchy avoided moving for the player? Haven't there been transfers that instigate the most curious of eyebrow raises? Toby Alderweireld and Daryl Janmaat made surprise moves to clubs last summer without European football on offer, and other good players will be bought for reasonable fees this summer as fans will wonder in a year's time how and why a bigger club didn't make a move. Chelsea tried to get Steven Gerrard ten years ago but couldn't trump the pull of the heart. Sometimes a perfectly competitive, ambitious, and well-constructed move for a player doesn't come off. Closed mouths cannot be fed.
Detractors will claim that such a transfer failure should be criticised as it is yet another example of the club's torpor in improving its lot under FSG. Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson are leaving the club in the summer as their lucrative contracts run out, and in their stead, Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson will be the club's highest earners. Raheem Sterling was offered to join them, but how much should Liverpool offer a seriously talented 21-year-old? Should the club break its wage structure to sign Schalke 04's Julian Draxler, for example? There can be little doubt in offering players such as Marco Reus or Karim Benzema salaries that outstrip any member of the current squad, but what about the most talented young players in Europe? Luke Shaw can move to Manchester United for £100,000 a week in a £30 million deal as a teenager, earning one of Liverpool's highest salaries but still trail United's top earners by some distance. Rival clubs can't buy every player or offer as much playing time, so there is a market for Liverpool to operate in as illustrated by the purchases of Emre Can and Lazar Marković.
The problem for Liverpool is that the club is becoming characterised and defined by the players missed instead of those who arrive at the club. Of course there are other players out there who are technically dazzling, quick, and capable of scoring goals, but will Liverpool sign them? That's a fair question to ask. If one is generally happy with the current state of affairs, the mind is unlikely to wander to what could have been with increasing regularity. Arsenal have been praised for signing talented young players who regularly became stars, but once fans became disgruntled with a perceived lack of tangible success and player sales, more focus was placed on the array of continental household names that calm and erudite Arsène Wenger turned down.
Liverpool missed out on Alexis Sánchez last summer but ended up with Mario Balotelli, a talented player who has been ineffective and inappropriate for the needs of the manager. If Liverpool signed a striker who had a similar initial impact to Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suárez, or Fernando Torres, loyal Reds would only take a cursory glance in the energetic Chilean's direction. Nearly two years ago, I questioned the concept of "marquee signings" with weeks to go in the second summer transfer window of the Brendan Rodgers era. I still question whether making statements and breaking wage structures is the way forward.
Dejan Lovren was signed last summer for £20 million but cost less than half that the year before. Marquee fees don't always result in marquee players, although the pressing need for forwards is likely to be expensive. Last summer, Liverpool secured the overwhelming majority of targets but missed out on the one player who could have made a difference. The general plan is open to question, but that should not obviate the need for perspective and reason in assessing the competence and effort in attempting to secure a player. This isn't to claim that the club is blameless, but surely judgements should be delivered on a case by case basis instead of tenuously drawing parallels between two or three very different scenarios?
Brendan Rodgers denied that Liverpool attempted to sign the young Netherlands international, asserting that a move "wasn't something we were ever interested in" with "four wingers" at the club and "other priorities" to contend with. This has contradicted information from various journalists connected with the club and PSV's sporting director, but should the club recruit a reliable goalscorer from the left in support of a striker? It could be a clever move as there should be two or three players who can be counted on to provide results in the final third in support of what should be an effective striker. Frank Lampard was that player for ten consecutive years in a midfield role with scope to regularly break forward, and Eden Hazard is both provider as well as goalscorer cutting in from the left on his right foot for three seasons running.
Examples of effective attacking support for a single striker can be seen with the players Merseyside's finest have been linked with. Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum have supported Luuk de Jong in a title-winning attack, while Heung-Min Son and Karim Bellarabi have contributed to a successful top four campaign where the usually prolific Stefan Kießling has found the net a lot less than he's accustomed to. This is the richer and more pressing discussion especially with the number of attacking support players currently in the first-team squad. How will other positions be affected if goalscorers on the left and in the centre of the attack arrived during the summer?
The reaction by fans can sway flagrantly and understandably in the afterglow of immediate disappointment, but much of the outrage has unfairly centred on the club's aims. Showing ambition for the most wanted players in a competitive market is apparently just as unwise as targeting those the biggest clubs don't want to go for, either way damnation awaits.