On Liverpool and the Tao of the Transfer Window
Background photo: Iwo00
The former United States President, Theodore Roosevelt was a man of action. He both embodied and endorsed aggressive behaviour. Before becoming President, he resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, recruited a motley collection of cowboys, roughnecks and indigenous Americans, formed the Rough Riders and took them to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War. He led them in the famous charge up San Juan Hill shortly before the Spaniards fled the island. Teddy could only have supported a top-six Premier League team, one that spends heavily to recruit top talent and continually fights for trophies and glory.
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
He would have had nothing but scorn for an owner whose sole objective to start a campaign is a mid-table finish or to avoid the drop.
"The only man who never makes mistakes is the man who never does anything."
Put your hand down, Mike Ashley.
Conversely, Roosevelt would approve of promoted Championship clubs like Fulham and Aston Villa.
"It is hard [painful] to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed."
The Cottagers and Villans both invested nine figures to upgrade their squad upon joining the Premier League. While the verdict is not yet in on Dean Smith's Midlanders, Slavisa Jokanovic’s Londoners failed utterly despite owner Shahid Khan’s investment. They died on their hill, but they charged nonetheless. Teddy could respect that.
On the other hand, the Rough Riders colonel would have only experienced immense relief and satisfaction watching Tottenham fall to Liverpool in the Champions League final. Spurs complete abstention in the previous summer’s transfer window was a serious affront to his philosophy.
"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing."
Most football fans agree with Roosevelt. They expect their team to be active in every transfer window, to do something. If their club sells a player, they take to social media to debate who should be bought to replace him. When their club appears to do nothing or simply not enough, they rise up in anger, hence the #GlazersOut movement.
There are others who understand why Daniel Levy stood pat in the summer of 2018.
"You have only to rest in inaction and things will transform themselves. Smash your form and body, spit out hearing and eyesight, forget you are a thing among other things, and you may join in great unity with the deep and boundless." -- Zhuangzi, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu
Even though others were concerned at the lack of recovery time for Mauricio Pochettino’s key players after the World Cup in Russia, that, at the very least, some depth should be added to carry them through battles on four fronts, the Tottenham chairman believed he had an ideal squad. He did nothing. The team gave everything it had, “smashing their form and bodies”. Harry Kane was lost to injury twice in the season’s second half. Still, Spurs refused to listen to critics or read columns of print on their supposed folly. They were a Premier League team but that didn’t mean they had to walk the same path as their 19 rivals, to be a "thing among things". In the end, they came up just short on the “deep and boundless”, losing to Liverpool in Madrid. Like Fulham, they died on their hill. The difference was the end came at the very top.
Canadian author Steven Erikson comprehends inaction as well.
"Children understood at a very young age that doing nothing was an expression of power. Doing nothing was a choice swollen with omnipotence. It was, in fact, godly. And this was the reason why the gods did nothing. Proof of their omniscience. After all, to act was to announce awful limitations, for it revealed that chance acted first, the accidents were just that, events beyond the will of the gods, and all they could do in answer was to attempt to remedy the consequences, to alter natural ends. To act, then, was an admission of fallibility."
As Spurs chairman, Levy is as close to a god as it gets the LilyWhite half of North London. He believed he’d done all he should and was content even though he could have done more, could have acted.
Those who believe in action might claim Spurs would have beaten Liverpool had he made even one important signing. But there is no proof. Juventus made the most important signing before the ‘18/19 campaign and Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t enough to bring the Old Lady to Europe’s summit.
Which, with apologies for the long, roundabout route taken, brings us to Liverpool’s inaction in the current window.
The Reds haven’t been completely idle. They signed 17-year-old centre-back Sepp van den Berg from PEC Zwolle in June for £1.7 million. The teenager is yet to clear FIFA’s eligibility requirements and kit up for the Merseysiders. Even if he were available during the preseason US tour, Van den Berg isn’t the mighty warrior who would have averted defeats to Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla. He’s a long-term prospect.
After falling a single result short of unseating Manchester City as Premier League champions, owner John Henry promised the Kop his side would focus on domestic supremacy in 2019/20. So far, that promise appears to mean only a slight alteration in Jurgen Klopp’s rotation even though the club must wait on several key players to return from late holidays following Copa America and AFCON adventures.
And maybe a slight alteration is all that is needed.
What more can you add to Liverpool’s attack to improve upon Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri and the emergent Rhian Brewster? Or at fullback, where Alberto Moreno amounts to an addition by his subtraction and Nathaniel Clyne may remain to add further depth to a group that includes Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson, Joe Gomez and James Milner? Simon Mignolet is happy to stay on, too, as Alisson Becker’s backup.
In the midfield, Naby Keita aggravated his injured groin at the AFCON but the revenant Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is like a new signing in the squad after being shelved for more than a year with a severe knee injury.
Some may think a centre-half closer to Virgil van Dijk’s level is needed to partner the PFA Player of the Year but Joel Matip made his case against Barcelona. You won’t find a second pair much better than Dejan Lovren and Fabinho to provide cover, either.
So, who is right? Should the Anfield mob listen to Teddy Roosevelt because the “worst thing you can do is nothing”? Or should they maintain their calm like Zhuangzi and Steven Erikson? There is no arguing that the Reds played like gods last term and gods have no need to act.
In honour of this year’s AFCON champions and the current World Cup holders, I’ll give the last word to Algerian-born French philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, Albert Camus.
"Idleness is fatal only to the mediocre."