Masin-Moyer: Liverpool defies the odds
Lucas Masin-Moyer | Monday, April 30, 2018
“A selling club.”
It’s a term typically associated with not-so positive connotations in European soccer, and for a long time had been directed at Liverpool FC, mired in mediocrity for the last decade — bar runs at the title during the 2008-09 and 2013-14 seasons — falling from their title of kings of Europe.
Being called a selling club indicates a lack of desire to win, and only a desire by the owners to make as much money as possible by cashing in on the same talents who allow their club to win.
And, to be honest, over the past decade, Liverpool has kind of fit this definition.
The club goal-scoring engine behind their 2008-09 title chase, Fernando Torres, was let go a mere year and a half after he led them to within four points of dethroning Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. To make it worse, they sold him to Premier League rival Chelsea FC. It’s one thing to show a lack of will to win by selling one of your best players, it’s another level of prioritizing profits to sell him to your direct competition.
Immediately after finishing in second place in 2013-14, the club sold striker Luis Suarez to FC Barcelona, bringing in the unsurprisingly-awful Rickie Lambert to replace him.
This past January, as the transfer window re-opened, it looked like Liverpool was living up to this reputation once again, as they sold the “little magician,” Philippe Coutinho, to Barcelona for $192.7 million, the second-largest transfer ever.
At this point in the season, Liverpool looked stalled. Sure, Mo Salah was beginning to score goals in bunches, but they sat on the border of being in the top four in the league once again, and while their Champions League performances had been good, no one had any expectations for them to make it beyond the round of 16, maybe the quarterfinals if they were lucky.
But something strange happened after Liverpool sold Coutinho — they got better, or at least didn’t get as dramatically worse as you would have expected after letting go of the second-most expensive player in all of soccer history.
There are a few reasons for their surprising form.
First, they didn’t go out and spend the money on as many trendy players as they could find as they had in the past. They used some of the money to fill their biggest need, at center-back, on ex-Southampton player Virgil van Dijk, who has served as a rock in the back.
Second, the offense flows better without Coutinho. For as much credit as he gets for his stunning outside-the-box goals and pinpoint passes, the team often tried to force play through him, stopping any real flow from developing on the offensive end. And don’t get me started on how for every miraculous goal he scored he took as many ridiculous outside-the-box shots, really killing a lot of opportunities for the team.
With their major need addressed and an offense in which players could play with each other instead of having Coutinho try and do it all, the team has flourished, making even midfielder Jordan Henderson look great occasionally.
Also, having Mo Salah score more than 40 goals and arguably play as one of the best in the world has helped.
But for all the doom and gloom which seemed to surround Liverpool after they sold Coutinho, they have managed to make it into the Champions League semi-final, scoring a 5-2 win against AS Roma in the first leg.
So is Liverpool a selling club? Maybe. But at this point, they’re a selling club which is 180 minutes away from being crowned kings of Europe once again, while Coutinho will watch the remainder of the UEFA Champions League on his TV in the Catalan sun.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.