Inside Line: Liverpool's Transfer Committee Has Been a Spectacular Failure

Duncan CastlesFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14:  Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on December 14, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

How do you spend more than £215 million on transfer and loan fees and sign 24 footballers but end up with only two who have significantly improved your first team?

You hire Liverpool's infamous "Transfer Committee."

Established in the summer of 2012 to introduce science and collective decision-making to the club's recruitment policy, Liverpool's committee is formally composed of four individuals—Brendan Rodgers (manager), Ian Ayre (chief executive), Dave Fallows (head of recruitment) and Michael Edwards (head of performance analysis).

Their collective conclusions have been little short of catastrophic. More than half of the Transfer Committee's spending occurred this last summer, when Rodgers boasted of having a "different vision" and a clear transfer "strategy" to Sky Sports (h/t ESPN FC). Yet with that spending, Liverpool have descended to ninth in the Premier League, scoring just seven times in eight home games.

As they were outplayed and ousted from the Champions League by FC Basel on Tuesday night, Rodgers chose to start just two of Anfield's high-tariff summer recruits.

One of them, Rickie Lambert, began at centre-forward despite, as captain Steven Gerrard put it, having "ran himself into the ground the last five games."

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09: (R-L) Dejected Liverpool players Rickie Lambert and Steven Gerrard look on after conceding the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League group B match between Liverpool and FC Basel 1893 at Anfield on December 9, 2014
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Rodgers had such little faith in his other strikers that he named no backup to the weary Lambert for a must-win game.

Watching from the stands were two Transfer Committee specials: Mario Balotelli (read about his LFC contract here), who was still sidelined with the peculiarly intransigent injury that brought a halt to the Italian's embarrassing barren spell leading Liverpool's attack, and Fabio Borini, the €13.3 million acquisition from AS Roma who Rodgers told the club's website "the supporters will love" in his first spell at the club.

Between them, Balotelli, Borini and Lambert have delivered just two league goals in 40 Liverpool appearances.

Forwards are by no means the sole area of underperformance. Simon Mignolet is a £9 million goalkeeper for whom Liverpool were scouting replacements before his first season was even complete.

More than £45 million in fees have been spent on three centre-backs, yet Rodgers still frequently pairs the error-prone Martin Skrtel with the greatly declined Kolo Toure (brought in for free but with high wages).

Still more money has been spent on midfielders, only for Rodgers to use four inherited players for five starting in midweek.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09:  Brendan Rodgers the manager of Liverpool reacts during the UEFA Champions League group B match between Liverpool and FC Basel 1893 at Anfield on December 9, 2014 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Laurence Griffith
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The Northern Irishman's apologists like to use the committee to absolve him of blame for many of these signings. The truth is more insidious.

Rodgers has the power of veto over any transfer target proposed by Ayre, Edwards, Fallows or chief scout Barry Hunter. The rest of the committee can veto any player proposed by Rodgers.

In the manager's first summer at Anfield, for example, he asked for a cavalcade of his former Swansea City charges, including Leon Britton, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Neil Taylor and Michel Vorm. Purchases were restricted to an inflated £15m fee for Joe Allen.

In May, Rodgers explained his significant role in the Liverpool transfer process to James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo:

Obviously, I am involved heavily in the identification of the player.

The principal idea when I first came in was that like any manager you will have the first call on a player and the last call. 

That's the call on whether he's good enough to continue to look at and try to organise a deal and the last call to say yes or no.

There is a big part that goes on in between. In modern football you need to trust other people to do the work. That's something we do here and that's why we have had the success we've had.

Edwards is the committee's other main protagonist. A former video analyst whom Damien Comolli brought with him from Tottenham Hotspur, Edwards gained the trust of Liverpool's principal owner, John W. Henry, by presenting a statistical model for analysing potential signings.

Famously enamoured with Billy Beane's sabermetric approach to hiring baseball players, Henry believed that in the young Englishman he had a football equivalent.

Edwards was invited to spend time with Henry at the businessman's Florida mansion. His guidance was taken seriously when Henry and the rest of Fenway Sports Group sought a replacement for former Reds manager Roy Hodgson.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 18:  Liverpool co-owner John Henry looks on with wife Linda Pizzuti prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Aston Villa at Anfield on January 18, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Ge
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Aware that numbers mattered to FSG's vision for the club, Edwards appointed Ian Graham as Liverpool's director of research. Holder of a PhD in theoretical physics, Graham had developed a computer programme designed to add discriminative value to player performance statistics provided by companies such as ProZone.

When Rodgers, a scout or an agent suggested Liverpool sign a particular player, Edwards would have the player's numbers run through the Graham model. If the computer said no, the deal was off.

When Red Bull Salzburg were looking for a buyer for Sadio Mane in the summer, Liverpool were one of the clubs approached. Graham's analysis indicated the Senegal international wasn't good enough, so Mane ended up at Southampton instead (paid for with a fraction of the money Rodgers channelled to the South Coast club for Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Lambert).

Mane's new club currently sit fifth in the league table, five points ahead of Liverpool.

Edwards' backing of a "moneyball" approach and Rodgers' limited knowledge of non-Premier League players has led to several standoffs.

Oussama Assaidi and Nuri Sahin were Edwards' men whom Rodgers assented to signing then hardly used in their preferred positions.

After seven league appearances in five months, Sahin's loan was terminated. The Turkey international ended the 2012-13 season playing a Champions League final for Borussia Dortmund.

Assaidi, recently identified by Raheem Sterling as his most skilful team-mate, per Sky Sports, was permitted a total of 83 minutes in the league before being loaned to Stoke City for the last two seasons.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02:  Oussama Assaidi of Stoke City competes with Antonio Valencia of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on December 2, 2014 in Manchester, Engl
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

In their first summer working together, Edwards pushed for Fiorentina centre-back Matija Nastasic to be recruited. Rodgers wanted a player with Premier League experience, but during the standoff, Manchester City bought the Serb instead.

Nastasic was named Manchester City's Young Player of the Year during his first season in England, while Liverpool still hasn't found a reliable central defender.

For another Premier League manager whose club also utilised the Graham model, part of that comes as no surprise. 

"That guy was a serious nerd," he says. "And the program was ridiculous. The parameters were set from his own view of what a defender, midfielder or attacker should do. They were ludicrous and inaccurate."

For two Anfield years, Luis Suarez's unalloyed excellence compensated for a multitude of recruitment and coaching sins. Yet between Edwards' faith in analytics and Rodgers' poor eye for a player, Liverpool have managed to blow well in excess of £250,000,000 pounds once payoffs and agents' fee are factored in.

Even the committee's conspicuous success, Daniel Sturridge, was recommended by an unconvinced Rodgers to only be brought in on loan. 

If you were the man who paid this pair to run your football club, you'd be forgiven for wondering if you might not be better off replacing both of them.

Duncan Castles writes for the Sunday Times, Sports Illustrated, UEFA Champions magazine and others. A respected figure with an inside track, he has built a reputation for breaking transfer stories.


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