Jurgen Klopp was talking about this summer’s transfer market.
‘We invested money in this team, now it looks like we are not,’ he said. ‘But we are not in fantasy land where you just get whatever you want. It looks as if there are four clubs in the world who can do it constantly…’
He placed one English name in that list. Manchester City, naturally.
Jurgen Klopp said Liverpool cannot live in ‘fantasy land’ and always spend big like their rivals
Whenever there is talk of transfer inflation, City get the blame. They have broken their transfer record again this summer, for Rodrigo: £62.8m. And that isn’t small. But it’s still £12.2m less than Liverpool paid for Virgil van Dijk 18 months ago, still £26.2m under Paul Pogba to Manchester United in 2016 and £8.2m beneath what Chelsea gave for a goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, last summer.
If Arsenal complete the signing of Nicolas Pepe from Lille this week, City will be roughly £10m shy of that, too. Indeed, as it stands, City haven’t delivered a deal in the top five in England or the top 20 in Europe.
So is this the club whose transfers place them in fantasy land, or the one responsible for escalation in the market? It isn’t new money that began this trend, as any contextualised financial evaluation indicates.
Man City broke their transfer record again this summer signing Rodri from Atletico Madrid
It didn’t get much publicity at the time but this summer a group that analyses the economics of football — Play Ratings — produced a list of the most expensive transfers in history, taking into account relative inflation.
In pure numbers, Luis Figo moved from Barcelona to Real Madrid for £20m less than Manchester City paid for Aymeric Laporte. Yet what does Figo’s £37m in 2000 represent in modern terms? Play Ratings worked that out. And guess what? It turns out old money was inflating the market before new money had its nappy on.
Indeed, Neymar’s £198m move to Paris Saint-Germain only just scrapes into Play Ratings’ top five. The most inflationary transfers, it concludes, were conducted by those clubs that now moan loudest and demand greatest protection from new wealth. In a nutshell? Serie A.
Using a formula involving currency variables and comparative markets through time, according to Play Ratings, the period when Italian clubs were Europe’s biggest spenders saw the greatest extravagance in transfer investment — and one of the most inflationary deals involved the king of Financial Fair Play himself, Michel Platini.
Using the Play Ratings algorithm, the biggest transfer in history was Ronaldo’s from Barcelona to Inter Milan in 1997, worth the modern equivalent of £388m; after that, Platini from Saint-Etienne to Juventus in 1982, calculated at £299m. And on the list goes: Diego Maradona, Barcelona to Napoli; Christian Vieri, Lazio to Inter Milan; Marco van Basten, Ajax to AC Milan; Gabriel Batistuta, Fiorentina to Roma.
Accounting for inflation, Ronaldo’s move to Inter was worth the modern equivalent of £388m
And we can all argue about the formula, but not the basic principle. The idea that football’s market was tranquil or even deflated before clubs such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain came along is a myth.
There were always a handful of clubs pushing prices skywards, whether from Serie A or the big two in La Liga or Manchester United and, later, Chelsea.
Klopp placed Barcelona, Real Madrid and PSG in the same bracket as City as clubs that can do what they want, when they want — which is ironic as two of that number have recently operated with a transfer ban, and another two might soon be in a similar position.
Yet if Liverpool have not been spending big this summer it is more due to circumstance than being anybody’s poor relations. In 2018, they made Van Dijk the world’s most expensive defender and later did the same for Alisson, briefly, as a goalkeeper. Liverpool’s fee for Alisson is still only £6.5m short of City’s for Rodrigo.
And they have an excellent squad now, without the need for significant upgrades. The last weak link could have been the second centre-half but Joel Matip has grown into a fine foil for Van Dijk. Look at the first reserves across many positions, too, players like Joe Gomez and Divock Origi. Liverpool have strength in depth now.
Do they miss a playmaker like Philippe Coutinho? Yes, occasionally. Did they win the Champions League without one, however? Yes to that, too. And while every coach can think of a hole that needs filling, or a tweak that could offer handy variation, if Liverpool have had a difficult pre-season it is not because the squad is lacking.
Nor is it because Manchester City have priced them out of the market. Rodrigo may look big news on City’s balance sheet, but the clubs who sit in judgement have been there, done that and spent it much bigger, long ago.
Women’s game has to be more than a warm-up act
Arsenal will have been disappointed at the response to their first double header between the women’s and men’s teams, but what did they expect? Who wants to sit in a stadium watching football for five hours, no matter who is playing?
This isn’t just about the women’s game. Double header matches rarely work because fans don’t want to hang around that long. They like the game in short bursts.
It isn’t NFL, or cricket, where people come in for the afternoon, or the best part of a day, and stadium facilities are geared to the long haul.
Arsenal’s call to play their women’s game directly before the men’s game didn’t pay off
So when Arsenal’s women kicked off a friendly with Bayern Munich at 12.30pm — with the men’s match against Lyon beginning at 3.15pm — they did so before a largely empty stadium. Had the fixtures been reversed they would have encountered a different twist on the same problem.
When England’s women used to follow the men on to the pitch at Twickenham most of the capacity crowd hopped it to the bar. That’s what rugby fans want. A couple of hours of the sport, the same again for a jolly-up. Crowds cannot just be manufactured.
Chelsea plan to give all tickets away for their Women’s Super League match with Tottenham on September 8 and are expecting a ‘sell-out’.
But how can it be a sell-out when nothing is sold? How can the worth of the women’s game be established if tickets are free? One-off stunts are no replacement for organic growth, building a fan base, small at first but loyal and steadily growing. Boxing needs an undercard; football doesn’t.
The majority of fans don’t want to hang around all day; and women’s teams need their own identity, not a job as a warm-up act.
Tom Watson knew, sport just isn’t fair
Tom Watson, who retired from golf on Sunday at the age of 69, delivered one of sport’s most valuable lessons the day he explained how he came to be among the finest links players in history.
When he first came over to compete in the Open Championship, Watson said, he hated it. He couldn’t understand how he could hit what he considered a good shot, and it would get a kick or a bad roll, and end up in a disadvantageous position.
‘It took me a while,’ he concluded, ‘to realise that golf was never meant to be a fair game.’ Having done so, Watson went on to win five Opens and, later in life, three Senior Opens.
Tom Watson officially retired from golf this week, and taught us some wise lessons on sport
He played his final round in the latter competition this weekend, having never missed a cut in 18 visits.
He is only bowing out now because he no longer feels he can be truly competitive.
And he’s right. Sport isn’t meant to be fair. Not entirely fair. Handling those moments of adversity, or misfortune, or circumstances beyond control are what makes great champions. It wasn’t fair that Liverpool should have to play Barcelona 3-0 down without Mo Salah or Roberto Firmino — but they did, and won.
It wasn’t fair that Chelsea should take on Bayern Munich in the Germans’ own stadium, with Jose Bosingwa at centre half and a callow Ryan Bertrand at left midfield — but they emerged victorious in the 2012 Champions League final.
And it wasn’t fair that England had a goal not awarded against Germany at the 2010 World Cup, when Frank Lampard’s shot clearly crossed the line by a yard — but that doesn’t excuse the ridiculous, gung-ho display in the second-half that ended in a 4-1 defeat.
Watson’s words could apply to each of those instances. Sport is not just about excellence, but about the reaction to adversity, even in the harshest conditions.
He took his own advice, too. Watson was never in the least bitter about the eight-foot putt he missed at Turnberry in 2009 that would have given him a sixth Open title at the age of 59.
Watson was never in the least bitter about the eight-foot putt he missed at Turnberry in 2009
I was at Lord’s, covering the fourth day of the Ashes Test that afternoon, except England’s attempt to bowl out Australia was being played to a largely empty press box, with a significant number gathered in the back room to watch what would have been the greatest major win in golf’s history.
And when it didn’t happen, we felt heartbroken for Watson. But then we got on with it because, as the man said, it was never meant to be a fair game.
Don’t outlaw innovation
Facing AC Milan in a pre-season friendly, Benfica found a very novel way to utilise football’s new goal kick laws.
From this season, the ball is active once it leaves the goalkeeper’s foot and does not have to go out of the penalty area — although the team defending are still not permitted within the perimeter.
Benfica goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos was perfectly within his rights, then, when he chipped the ball up to his team-mate Ruben Dias, who headed it back into his arms. Vlachodimos then launched a quick counter-attack by throwing the ball, with greater accuracy, long to the halfway line.
Benfica’s Odisseas Vlachodimos found a way to manipulate the new rule to his advantage
Mark Clattenburg said the move should be banned because ‘uses of a deliberate trick to pass the ball to the goalkeeper to circumvent the law’ are outlawed — but why?
What exactly is the trick here, and why should a player or a coach be penalised for using a change in the law to his best advantage?
If it means the defending team has to be prepared for the ball being kicked long, or passed short, or rolled out, or chipped, headed and thrown, then that makes football more varied and interesting.
It benefits the smartest, most technically capable players too. And that’s no bad thing, either.
Beefy’s helping hand to Aussies
Considering Ian Botham is the chairman, it is fair to ask exactly whose side Durham are on in the upcoming Ashes series?
Having got Cameron Bancroft nicely up to speed in English conditions in time for the first Test, the county has replaced him with Peter Handscomb.
So if Australia are having any difficulties in the middle order, or even suffer an injury at wicket-keeper later in the summer, they know where to look.
No doubt Australia’s Sheffield Shield sides will be as accommodating when England next tour in 2021.
Given Ian Botham is the chairman, it’s fair to ask exactly whose Ashes side Durham are on
Stam should fear Fer effect
The 2019-20 campaign will be Feyenoord’s 98th consecutive season in Holland’s top division, but perhaps fans should make the most of that now Leroy Fer has arrived. The Dutchman has been nothing if not consistent in English football.
In 2013, he joined Norwich, who were promptly relegated in May, moving on to Queens Park Rangers and sharing in their relegation the following season. His time at Swansea was more of a slow-burner; making a loan move permanent in 2016, it took him until the 2017-18 season to steer them into the Championship.
Now Fer has returned to Feyenoord, who may feel bullish about their chances of survival having last gone down in 1919, when Dutch football was reorganised.
Still, Fer’s personal gravity is a powerful force and coach Jaap Stam should prepare accordingly.
Leroy Fer has seemingly made a habit in his career of getting relegated after joining a new club
Sin bin can be used to stamp out dissent
Sin bins will be introduced in grass roots football this season, specifically to target dissent. An offending player will be sent to the touchline for 10 minutes, and cannot be substituted in that period. It is an idea that is long overdue.
Sin bins work perfectly in hockey and address a variety of misdemeanours. So much so, in fact, that red cards are rare and carry sanctions that can last a month or more. That is where football needs to be: very little dissent and red cards a last resort.
Dortmund missed a trick
Everton’s new stadium will include a 13,000 capacity Blue Wave. What’s a Blue Wave? Well, it’s like Tottenham’s White Wall which was in turn copied from Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall.
The Germans missed a trick not patenting that idea. They’d be almost as rich as Bayern Munich now.
Everton will look to emulate a feature of Borussia Dortmund’s stand, as Tottenham have done