Brendan Rodgers must spend wisely as Liverpool's nearly men seek to build on revival
The club's owners, Fenway Sports Group, are ready to invest in three to five players whom the manager described as 'starters'
The pretence that the fight is still within them has all but gone. For the city that has known Istanbul 2005, there will always be idealism and blind optimism but the world of Liverpool Football Club seems already to be reaching beyond the prospect of playing Newcastle United on Sunday and how to build on this extraordinary renaissance.
That there should have been anything less than euphoria around the Melwood training ground today, at the prospect of a Premier League table in which Liverpool can finish no lower than second, reveals the way that this sport can drag your ambitions higher and higher, and then – for all your accomplishments – leave you crushed.
What Brendan Rodgers can cling to is the fact that his club's owners, Fenway Sports Group, are ready to invest this summer in three to five players whom he significantly described as "starters" – individuals who will not adorn the fringes of a side waging a fight on domestic and continental fronts. He wisely acknowledges that this club must be equipped to do more than race ahead in their new, dizzying way and just hope to hold on.
"We have started games amazingly well," Rodgers reflected. "We have been up in a lot of games before the hour-mark and not been able to manage the games through. There are going to be games next season in all the competitions – Premier League, Champions League, whatever – when we're going to need to be able to change the game.
"I have tried to do that this year with systems and different tweaks but next year it will be with personnel and that will be important for us. This season we need to bring in starters. One of the things watching the Man City [versus Aston Villa] game the other night, they are bringing on [Stevan] Jovetic who scores the goal – £23-24m, Fernandinho £29m, [Alvaro] Negredo £20m or whatever he was.
"That level of player to bring into the game is massive for you and I think this year the reality is we've been unable to do that." That defence of his will certainly have a different complexion come August.
The test for Rodgers will be to make the right choices. His acquisitions of last summer – Iago Aspas, Aly Cissokho, Luis Alberto and Mamadou Sakho – were the big disappointment of this season despite costing more than £37m between them.
He characterised his club as pretenders, who will be struggling to deal with the commercial might of other billionaire benefactor clubs. "We are shopping at a different shop to Manchester City and Chelsea," he said.
Manchester United, with potentially £150m to spend against Liverpool's possible £60m, are actually the club whose spending may make life more difficult, though Rodgers and his managing director Ian Ayre both believe that the attraction of Champions League football will make the difference.
Rodgers said his recruitment team have already experienced a different reaction in Europe, when meeting agents and watching players. "It has been great," he said. "We have to work hard to make the right decision for the right type of player to come in here. But there is no doubt [Champions League] helps you a great deal. Last year we spoke to a number of targets and they wanted Champions League football."
And so it is that while the continued pursuit of young talent will continue, Rodgers wants the impact players. Adam Lallana is a seriously attainable target who feels that, at the age of 25, he cannot wait around for Champions League football, which Manchester United will try to persuade him they can provide soon enough.
His worry – and Liverpool's – is that Southampton may hold out for £25m. The summer will also offer Liverpool longer to pursue Yevhen Konoplyanka with serious intent, unlike last January's last-minute scramble. "We will get players in that I think can improve us. I know we will get players that will add to that," Rodgers said.
Hope will always spring eternal in a place like this and on Sunday will be a chance to pay homage to an extraordinary, beautiful nine months. There will be wide smiles, shrugs of consolation and the bitter tinge of regret at what might have been.
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