Liverpool’s season has been depressing. Technocratic construction without an ethos. Great expenditure resulting in spectacular, protracted disappointment. This is the soccer equivalent of the movie Troy.
With just 47 points through 33 matches, Liverpool is on pace for arguably its worst year since it became Liverpool. The projected point total would match the club’s lowest in the three-point-per-win era. The league finish would equal the club’s worst since 1955. They won a Carling Cup, though as recently as 2007 they were in a final for a European one.
Such a calamity required a scapegoat. With blame particularly focused on the club’s poor signings – $113 million thus far fruitless spent on Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson – it was no surprise Damien Comolli, the unpopular director of football, was forced out.
Comolli was the “director of football.” In theory he controlled the club’s transfer policy. In practice, there was interference. Liverpool’s owners insist decisions were made collectively. Manager Kenny Dalglish went a step further, insisting Comolli bought players he told him to, but, of course, the transfer fees were all Comolli’s fault. Multiple cooks contributed to this unpalatable stew. Most of them remain.
Liverpool sold Comolli as their soccer Theo Epstein. He was, on paper, fit for this role. His MO, instilled during seven formative seasons as a scout for Arsenal, was finding stars to develop and exploiting inefficiencies in the transfer market. Comolli gets reamed for a few past mistakes he made at Tottenham, such as David Bentley, Darren Bent and Alan Hutton. Though, his successes – buying Luka Modric, paying just $11 million combined for Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale and turning a $32 million profit on Dimitar Berbatov – seldom get mentioned.
Selling Torres was vintage Comolli. He withstood pressure, sold a superstar on his own terms and earned the club a massive return. The $80 million on the table was worth more than Torres. He sold. The trouble is what happened afterward.
Liverpool had that $80 million and immediately squandered most of it. The shrewd play was to lock down Suarez and save the rest for a bold coup in the summer. Instead, Liverpool did about the least shrewd thing possible. They bought a risky player, at peak value in the most inflated point of the transfer market (just before the end of January). They ended up paying $55 million, which, conservatively, was three times too much for him.
The Carroll signing seems out of character for Comolli and has more than a faint whiff of Fenway Sports Group about it. The Red Sox make a number of public relation signings. The owners have money. They fear not spending it will depress interest and cause their business model to collapse. John Lackey $85 million! Similar reasoning could have happened with Liverpool, with the poisoned climate after the Hicks and Gillet debacle. Fearing the fallout from not replacing Torres, after selling him midseason in the midst of a top four race might be the only plausible justification for such a bold stroke (and not an especially compelling one).
Controversial summer signings by Liverpool also appear discordant with Comolli’s track record. It is a stretch to believe the man who made his name scouring Europe for Arsene Wenger finding cheaper sources of talent had some spreadsheets that told him to overpay for established British players. It makes little sense to spend $70 million on Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam, unless ordered to buy them and handed the funding.
Comolli may have done little to help matters, but much of Liverpool’s rot is not his responsibility. Collective decision-making hasn’t led to a wise consensus. It has led to incoherence, caused by conflicting philosophies and motivations. Instead of finding a new director of football, Liverpool should be questioning whether to have one at all. Unlike their counterparts on the continent, English managers sort of resemble college football coaches. They expect autonomy. A diarchy very rarely works in English soccer and when it does (Clough/Taylor or Wenger/Dein) it’s due to a close, complimentary personal relationship. That can’t be imposed.
Liverpool need a strong manager and a lucid rebuilding plan. Kenny Dalglish is no longer the former and can’t provide the latter. Staying the course with Dalglish for another season would be foolish, because the club does not appear to be on one.
[Photo via Getty]