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Neil Humphreys
Tuesday, Aug 12, 2014

Sports

EPL: Why the stars are shunning Liverpool

The New Paper | Neil Humphreys | Tuesday, Aug 12, 2014

Reds no longer seen as a 'big club' despite their success last season

Bubbles are bursting around Liverpool. Egos are at risk of shrinking. Proud reputations are at stake.

The Reds seem unworthy of the world's greatest talents.

They are not quite big enough.

Anfield apologists may rupture spleens in outraged indignation, but overseas players are not viewing the Merseyside club through myopic, rose-tinted glasses.

Five European Cups, 18 league titles and the most spine-tingling song in the English game stir souls, but high-profile foreigners do not hear Gerry and the Pacemakers during preliminary transfer discussions. Nor do they recall sepia-stained images of Kenny Dalglish, John Barnes and Peter Beardsley.

They see an illustrious football museum.

Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani are the latest leading names to nod politely at Liverpool's offer, smile weakly before making their excuses and fleeing.

Luis Suarez spent most of last season angling for a move away from Merseyside, with cynical comparisons now being made to his previous biting incidents and how they coincidentally occurred just before he hankered for a transfer.

With Sanchez and Suarez out of the picture, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers may be compelled to keep throwing bundles of cash at either Falcao or Cavani in the hope that enough may eventually stick.

The Reds' global reputation is arguably on the line.

Liverpool's legacy will always fill venues from Melbourne to Miami in pre-season exhibitions. They put bums on seats.

Putting the biggest names on the backs of their jerseys is a far more challenging proposition.

Anfield's heyday means little to South and Central American players (and Spanish and Portuguese-speaking footballers generally), a rather unfortunate reality considering those areas provide incubators for much of the world game's talent.

Even Germany's World Cup winners were either in diapers or a glint in their father's eye the last time Liverpool lifted the old First Division title in 1990.

But Champions League qualification was expected to change all that. Europe offered a gateway to a reputation upgrade.

If history couldn't entice the game's greats to Merseyside then regular continental football and a post-Suarez kitty of around $200 million would provide enough carrots to clinch lucrative deals.

But none of Rodgers' pre-season signings have so far rivalled Suarez's pedigree.

CONCERN

Even the most optimistic Liverpool followers expected more than this, with some taking to social media to express their concerns. Back in May, the enticing equation appeared foolproof.

Liverpool's reputation plus European football plus a playing renaissance plus respected skipper Steven Gerrard had to equal the greatest number of the greatest talents.

But the thinking was flawed.

Oblivious to a club's history books, foreign players tend to favour the name on the manager's office door rather than the one on the stadium gates.

Robin van Persie signed for Sir Alex Ferguson and sulked for a season after the Scotsman left. Diego Costa joined Jose Mourinho. And Sanchez fell for the multi-lingual charms of Arsene Wenger, which was a crushing defeat for Rodgers.

Despite his remarkable strides at Liverpool, the Northern Irishman doesn't fully register across continents.

If managerial credibility was measured on the Richter scale, Rodgers remains a mild tremor until he wins something.

That's not casting aspersions on his sterling progress at Liverpool.

That's the thinking of others; the international superstars he seeks to sign.

He is handicapped by both his relative inexperience and geography.

Sanchez preferred London to Liverpool. The Chilean was also impressed by Wenger's ability to conduct all negotiations in fluent Spanish.

And he wanted to play alongside Mesut Oezil.

With Suarez gone, Rodgers has lost his main magnet to pull talent across the Mersey.

In the past, Gerrard's name sufficed. But his retirement after those dispiriting displays at the World Cup in Brazil seemed to mark the beginnings of the end.

FADING

The skipper's light is still flickering, but it's no longer the brilliant beacon it once was for others to follow.

So Rodgers finds himself in an unfortunate Catch-22 situation despite his superb second-placed finish.

Only a season of silverware success will lift his name to the level of global respectability enjoyed by Wenger, Mourinho and Louis van Gaal.

But Rodgers can't attract the players required to elevate Liverpool's status in the eyes of the average, short-sighted foreign superstar.

He has until the end of the month to make amends.

Like Suarez, Sanchez and Costa, Cavani and Falcao are interested only in big clubs.

If Liverpool are serious about walking with giants, they must sign one.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on August 10, 2014.
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