Liverpool have already had a self-imposed summer transfer break. An enforced armistice would suit them down to the ground.
Football has never coped well with the idea of stability as a virtue. Its graveyard is littered with clubs – Leeds, Charlton, Wimbledon – that were encouraged to reach further over the precipice, only to unceremoniously crash to the ground. They were told that the glass ceiling could be broken, that their spot could easily be taken by someone with more ambition or money, that standing still is moving backwards.
One would be forgiven for thinking that some owners and fanbases would draw an ace and a 10 in Blackjack and still say twist, but sticking is not always a disaster.
Perhaps the greatest achievement in Premier League history provides a case in point. Arsenal had finished second in 2003, pipped by Manchester United to the title after a difficult final few months. But while the new champions spent upwards of £25m on squad renovations, the Gunners brought in Jens Lehmann as a cost-efficient replacement for David Seaman, and Philippe Senderos, Johan Djourou, Gael Clichy and Cesc Fabregas all arrived for less than the gold Premier League trophy they lifted the following May cost to manufacture.
Arsene Wenger instead focused on retaining what he had. By July, he was publicly defending his stance and insisting he “won’t be bringing in anyone else”. As an attempt at placation, Arsenal announced contract extensions for Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires three days before the start of a campaign for which The Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Independent had them finishing third, behind United and a Chelsea side with the lavish backing of new owner Roman Abramovich; The Independent on Sunday forecasted fifth.
Each struggled with the concept of improving on the pitch without explicitly doing so off it. They were not alone. But Arsenal’s invincibility was founded on familiarity and a frugality enforced by rising stadium costs, not thriftlessness and fanciful spending.
Not until Liverpool this season had their unbeaten record been in such jeopardy, Jurgen Klopp proving that imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery but often the most effective method for success. Against a backdrop of rivals investing millions last summer, he signed two teenagers and a pair of veteran goalkeepers; their combined contribution has been minimal.
Klopp instead refined the ingredients already at his disposal to improve the recipe. Liverpool concentrated on expiring contracts instead of extravagant signings, leaving Georginio Wijnaldum as the only legitimate starter whose deal runs out in the next two years. They focused on future-proofing when the demand was – and always is – to try and ensure advancement in the present.
That such prudence will be mandatory in the upcoming transfer window puts them in a remarkably strong position. It really is a situation “that in many ways suits Liverpool”.
Liverpool were the first club to properly fight the overwhelming tide of transfer speculation, privately conceding that their plans would have to change in light of the global pandemic. While Europe’s elite might wrestle with strict financial limitations, Liverpool’s self-imposed sensibility of 2019 bodes well for the harsh realities of 2020. Most other sides are venturing into the unknown but Klopp and his players have already emerged from this precarious transfer route for the better.
A club whose top six appearance-makers this season are between the ages of 21 and 28, whose squad is happy and settled and whose record-breaking season was achieved through stability, has nothing to fear. Liverpool already proved that standing still is not moving backwards. And that was when everyone else thought their own signings were moving them forward.
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