“At Liverpool there’s a strategy behind what we are doing,” said Brendan Rodgers, explaining why Liverpool were absolutely, definitely not ‘doing a Spurs’ as they spent £117m on eight new signings following the sale of Luis Suarez in the summer of 2014. Unlike Tottenham, they had genuinely sold Elvis and bought The Beatles, and got the Bootleg Beatles thrown in for good measure.
There was a strategy. There was a plan. “I am confident we will improve the team further and will be stronger for this coming season,” said Rodgers, who – to insert a critical caveat – probably expected to bring in a striker he liked rather more than Mario Balotelli.
It took just months for Liverpool’s summer business to be default-prefixed with the word ‘disastrous’, with most pundits and fans concluding that only two of the eight – Alberto Moreno and Emre Can – could be filed under ‘possible success’. By the end of an astonishingly poor season, only Moreno of Rodgers’ summer recruits had started more Premier League games than a captain being phased out of the club.
By the beginning of this season, one fan website judged the signings ‘one year on’ and used phrases like ‘just hasn’t done a whole lot right’ (Adam Lallana), ‘a disaster from start to finish’ (Dejan Lovren), ‘slack defending’ (Moreno) and, pretty damningly, ‘the best of a bad bunch’ (Can). They admitted they were ‘still none the wiser’ about £10m striker signing Divock Origi. Rodgers had of course already lost faith with Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic and Balotelli.
Now Liverpool are about to face Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of a Europa League quarter-final and all five of the current Liverpool players mentioned in the last paragraph will start in the biggest game of Jurgen Klopp’s reign. Six months after just two (Can and Moreno) started Rodgers’ last game in charge against Everton (Origi and Lallana were on the bench, Lovren was injured but had recently been dropped), they are key members of a far better Liverpool side. Klopp is belatedly making that disastrous summer only look disastrous under Rodgers.
Lovren’s transformation has been nothing short of extraordinary, while Lallana was named PFA Player of the Month for March after his guile and graft combined to make him an unlikely fans’ favourite. “You see what confidence can do,” says Klopp when asked about Origi, who has transitioned against all odds from gangly laughing stock to first-choice striker with a puffed-out chest filling a bigger shirt. Confidence? You see what Klopp can do.
“I’ve had a few very, very nice surprises,” said the German when asked about the form of Lallana after presumably hearing mixed reviews from afar. He could have said the same about Lovren or Origi, and even – to a certain extent – about Can and Moreno, whose performance against Stoke was hailed as the finest yet by Klopp himself. The signings of that disastrous summer could conceivably be Champions League players again two years later.
Will it stop any of us judging new signings within months of their arrival? Probably not, it’s a national sport. But it might make us sometimes wonder whether the manager is the problem. What would Klopp do? Probably make them better.