Liverpool need a clear direction if they are to return to the top
For a period of time, Liverpool were the envy of world football.
They had a clear plan in place and everyone bought into it.
The data team would identify who they deemed to be value-for-money targets, the recruitment team would then do their due diligence on them as people before the Reds made their move.
Jurgen Klopp and his coaching team were tasked with ensuring that signings reached their full potential.
It sounds fairly simple and yet few were in a position to adopt a similar process, let alone execute it.
The Reds were nimble and aggressive in the transfer market, pivoting from one target to the next if it didn’t pan out while regularly convincing players to reject better offers to join their project.
This Liverpool team made up of players signed from the likes of Southampton, Newcastle, Hull, Schalke, Hoffenheim, Stoke and Roma went on to win everything. They spent money but often opted for smart investment over big investment.
Things are different at Anfield now though.
Liverpool missed out on the top four this season and had to settle for a Europa League place. A team that were two positive results away from an unprecedented quadruple during the 2021/22 campaign won’t be playing Champions League football in the 2023/24 season.
Jorg Schmadtke was named as the new Sporting Director this week on a short-term deal. He’s the third man to hold this position within the club in the past two years following the departures of Michael Edwards and Julian Ward.
Ward only succeeded Edwards last summer and he decided to step down after just six months in the role. Reports at the time seemed to suggest the 41-year-old wanted a break from football and yet earlier this year, he was almost named as the Sporting Director of Ajax.
Dr Ian Graham, the Head of Research at Liverpool, was the next to call time on his time with the Merseyside club. He was replaced internally, with William Spearman stepping up into the role.
The Reds have lost two Sporting Directors and their Head of Research in a little over a year. That doesn’t necessarily scream well-oiled machine, does it?
We can confirm Jorg Schmadtke has been appointed as the club’s new sporting director.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 30, 2023
Liverpool have known about Ward’s impending departure since October. The club had well over six months to appoint a full-time Sporting Director but have instead appointed the recently retired Schmadtke on a short-term basis.
The former Wolfsburg Sporting Director revealed what the set-up is going to be like at Anfield.
“The input of the coach in transfers is greater in England than in Germany, where a sports board or a sports director holds everything in one hand. Klopp sets the priorities.”
Schmadtke has been hired to help get deals over the line. Previous Sporting Directors helped shape things throughout the club, so his role is definitely different given the short-term nature of it. It was alleged Edwards used to work five windows in advance.
How are Liverpool supposed to plan for the long term with this current setup?
This is the latest in a long line of strange decisions over the past 12 months.
The Reds effectively opted to sit out of the 2022 summer window following the signing of Darwin Nunez. Klopp even joked that the midfield situation wasn’t an issue, even though the club had initially wanted to bring in Aurelien Tchouameni prior to his move to Real Madrid, before admitting that he’d gotten it wrong.
With just one week left before the window closed, Liverpool had to settle for Arthur Melo on loan from Juventus.
That didn’t exactly work out, did it?
Despite claims a midfield rebuild was on the agenda for the summer of 2023, a new deal was offered to Naby Keita but the midfielder turned it down while Klopp wanted to extend 37-year-old James Milner’s stay on Merseyside but the owners reportedly prevented that from happening.
The midfield overhaul that was suggested would’ve been somewhat underwhelming if two of the three departing midfielders ended up staying. The messages coming from the club via local journalists seems to be a little erratic.
Having publicly courted Jude Bellingham for well over a year, the club then decided they weren’t in a position to sign him.
On the one hand, this isn’t a huge issue. There is no shame in deciding the money would be better spent elsewhere and you could, in theory, bring in two players for the cost of the BVB starlet.
However, having implied that the reason for no midfield signings since 2020 was because money was being saved for the England international, it isn’t a good look to then turn around and say he’s too expensive.
The optics aren’t great.
The Reds look set to miss out on another top target too with Mason Mount favouring a move to Manchester United. Initial reports earlier in the year has claimed Liverpool were leading the way to sign the Chelsea midfielder.
It was almost positioned as Bellingham may be going elsewhere but a top midfield talent is still arriving at Anfield.
Midfield reinforcements will still arrive, but how far down the shortlist are Liverpool now shopping?
Whereas in previous years, when Paul Joyce of The Times named a player, that deal was practically guaranteed to happen. That is no longer the case.
Tchouameni, Bellingham and Mount were all named as top targets and it is unlikely any of the three will be calling Anfield home next season.
Liverpool used to be flawless in the transfer market and yet now, with the exception of Cody Gakpo, the last few arrivals all have question marks over them.
Darwin Nunez continues to look like a square peg in a round hole after the Reds went back to using a false-nine system. Even Luis Diaz doesn’t quite yet look to be on the same wavelength as Andrew Robertson on the left side.
Fabio Carvalho appears to be heading out on loan after struggling for first-team minutes following the move to Merseyside in the summer.
There doesn’t appear to be a clear plan, on or off the pitch.
Until there is, it is going to be difficult for Liverpool to be challenging at the top.