Brendan Rodgers has admitted it would be difficult to bring in players of the stature of Steven Gerrard to Liverpool but added that he was not afraid to try.
Rodgers’ time as Liverpool manager has seen the departure of some of the club’s biggest names – Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger and Pepe Reina. Their replacements have generally been young, technically gifted and relatively unknown.
Andy Gray, the analyst and former Everton striker, argued that Rodgers, a one-time youth coach, preferred this type of footballer and had difficulty handling big names – an accusation Rodgers denied.
“Some of our top players have gone out and nobody has noticed it more than me,” he said. “But I do want to work with this level of player.
“I enjoy equally working with the stars and world-class talent as much as I do with the young players. This is Liverpool and we have to be in the running for the best players,” he added.
And yet, although Liverpool are a club that can sell out the 95,000-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground for a pre-season friendly, attracting footballers who can fill an advertising hoarding has proved more difficult.
“For a lot of players it comes down to two things – game time and money,” said Rodgers. “That is the modern game – how often are they going to play and how much are they going to earn? There are cases where a player will forfeit the financial side to come to a project they can play a big part in.”
There have not been too many of those at Liverpool. Last summer, the club had come within an ace of winning the Premier League; they were competing once more for the European Cup, a trophy they had won more times than any other English club. The applause was still ringing out for their football – and Suarez’s move to Barcelona for £75m had given them spare cash.
They were in for Swansea’s Wilfried Bony. They were linked with Victor Valdes and negotiated long and hard for Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez. The last was offered more money by Liverpool than he accepted at Arsenal, but Bony is one of the highest-paid players in the Premier League on £150,000 a week and will have to take a pay cut to join Manchester City. For Liverpool he was a non-starter. Valdes ended up at Manchester United.
“I understand that [big players did not come to Liverpool] and it has been true over a number of years,” said Rodgers. “Some people prefer to go to Spain, others to London but we will keep working to get the players.
“We have to believe that the status of this club and the idea that it is moving forward is a challenge players will want to take on. The players may have changed but the great name of Liverpool hasn’t changed. If we can keep moving forward and if we are in the Champions League next season, we will still be a big attraction.”
The reason why there are fewer big names at Anfield may not be because Rodgers cannot handle them. Liverpool under John W Henry is a club that likes value for money and the big names are also big earners. One of the reasons why Glen Johnson will not be offered a new contract is he is paid more than £5m a year.
“There is always a bigger picture,” said Rodgers. “But the owners do want to invest in the team and have made a commitment to that. Then, it is about getting those [big-name] players and that is something we will strive to do.”
Daniel Sturridge, one of Rodgers’ biggest and most successful buys, will return to England today after undergoing rehabilitation for a persistent hamstring injury in Los Angeles. The striker has not played since August but Rodgers is hopeful he could return later this month.