x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Liverpool stand at a crossroads after the sale of Fernando Torres

It is one to suggest that Liverpool are a selling club. Yet, like in 1977 and 1987, with the record fees from selling Keegan and Rush re-invested in reinforcements, the team suffered on neither occasion.

Kenny Dalglish, centre, is flanked by Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll last week.
Kenny Dalglish, centre, is flanked by Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll last week.

Opinion can be disguised as fact when football clubs' identities are discussed.

There are big clubs and great clubs, buying clubs and selling clubs. The views are underpinned by the assumption of permanence, as though status is unchanging.

More than most, Liverpool have reason to know that is not the case. There was a time when the Big Four exerted a dominance that lured some, not least those in the Anfield boardroom, into the supposition that it was never-ending.

Last season, Liverpool's membership of that particular cartel was revoked.

Perhaps there is a Big Three, perhaps a Big Five, but neither includes Liverpool.

Now they arrive at Stamford Bridge at the culmination of an extraordinary week. It is one to suggest that Liverpool are a selling club.

Fernando Torres has emulated Javier Mascherano (who joined Barcelona in August) in heading for the exit, leaving in the search of the championships that eluded him on Merseyside.

Each traded up when joining Liverpool but each seems to believe the five-time European champions now are a stepping stone.

That, of course, is not "the Liverpool way", a phrase that has regained currency with Kenny Dalglish's return as manager.

Yet, in one respect, they always were sellers. Kevin Keegan, in 1977, and Ian Rush, in 1987, both left Anfield for record fees.

With the money reinvested in reinforcements, the team suffered on neither occasion, which rather justifies Dalglish's mantra that the club is bigger than any individual.

History is a permanent reference point for Liverpool. Should it repeat itself, they will have few grounds for complaint.

Keegan's sale paid for Dalglish himself, the club's greatest player; Rush's exit financed the arrivals of John Barnes, John Aldridge and Peter Beardsley, who gave the attacking thrust to the finest team Dalglish managed.

Then, admittedly, Liverpool were selling from a position of strength. That might not be the case now but Torres has enabled them to afford Andy Carroll as well as Luis Suarez.

That Carroll is sidelined prevents direct comparisons today, which may be preferable.

Torres against Carroll is acceleration against aggression, World Cup winner against raw material. It is an unfair contest.

Hence, perhaps, Dalglish's explanation that Carroll has been bought for the five-and-a-half year duration of his contract.

Torres will be 32 at its end, while Carroll should be at his prime.

The broader picture is altogether different.

If the combination of Suarez and Carroll proves more profitable than the two departing strikers, Torres and the eternally frustrating Ryan Babel, who joined the German team Hoffenheim in the transfer window, then Liverpool can reason they have emerged stronger.

Reducing the reliance on any one forward, especially one whose mood has been questioned and whose level of fitness has varied, fits in with Dalglish's fondness for collective responsibility.

But emotion tends to precede rationalising, as the sight of supporters burning shirts with the Spaniard's name shows.

Torres's preference for Stamford Bridge grates, especially given the rancourous relationship between the two clubs over the past six years. That he thinks a team deemed over the hill offered a better chance of realising his ambitions was damning.

Under the circumstances, the timing of the move for the injured Carroll was as much statement of intent as actual necessity.

As the chances are that he would have commanded a lower fee in the summer, it was a question of perception.

Neither Dalglish nor the owners New England Sports Ventures wanted to be seen as lacking ambition.

That is not the Liverpool way. But while clubs remain fixed to certain principles, identities can nonetheless evolve.

Dalglish's brief second reign has contained an emphasis on combination play and short passing; his sides have been younger and brighter. Now the differences are exacerbated.

Chelsea are no strangers to reinvention themselves. Under Jose Mourinho, a flaky flair team were rebranded to exercise domestic dominance.

Now the intention is to bring about a sea change in descriptions, from ageing and declining to dynamic and destructive.

Having reclaimed the title of big-spenders, they are out to retain the trophies Torres covets.

 

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