• Players gravitate to the biggest clubs, says Liverpool manager
• Rodgers targets a new striker as his side face Southampton
Liverpool lost at home to Southampton last season, though the summer’s transfer dealings appear to have reduced the possibility of such an upset happening again on Sunday. The south coast club have lost their manager to Tottenham and most of their best players to bigger clubs, with Liverpool responsible for spiriting away Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert.
Brendan Rodgers is unapologetic. “Southampton didn’t have to sell,” the Liverpool manager said. “Maybe their objectives have changed. I believe they were looking to be a Champions League club, and they were on course for that, but they obviously decided on a change of plan. I don’t have any sympathy for their situation. It’s just the way football works, it has always been the same. We signed three of their players because they play in a similar way to us and certain of their players fit the profile we are looking for but it wasn’t just us over the summer. Manchester United signed one of their players too, Arsenal took another. Players will always want to compete at the highest level they can and therefore gravitate to the biggest clubs.”
Rodgers has first hand experience of the other side of the coin from his time at Swansea. “When we were promoted some of the clubs that had been in the Premier League for longer came in for our players and I had to work hard to convince them to stay,” he explained. “As a manager you know there are other opportunities that your best players might find attractive. You fight hard against it but it is how football works. Even Liverpool know what it is like when other clubs have been able to offer Champions League football, but now we are back in that elite we have found it easier to attract players.”
Even so, there are some clubs within the Champions League echelon who are bigger and more glamorous than others and, though Liverpool only recently rewarded Raheem Sterling with a new contract for his improvement, they might have to sit down and talk again if Real Madrid are now monitoring his situation.
“It is something that will be done but what you have to remember with Raheem is that he is still only 19 and already a wealthy man,” Rodgers said. “He deserves his wealth because of his talent, which is getting better all the time, but it is important for us to keep him grounded. Too much money too early is a massive problem for British players in particular. When the reward is achieved they lose their hunger. You see young lads buying a new Range Rover before they have even passed their driving test, then they wonder why their careers fall away. It’s because they get rewarded too early, and get carried away with being involved in the most brilliant league in the world.
“Foreign players don’t seem to have the same problem, they keep their hunger. It’s a problem for everyone but at least there are some great role models for young players at this club, people who will keep their feet on the ground and make sure their focus remains on football.”
Liverpool have bulked out their first team squad in preparation for the Champions League, resisting the temptation to spend the Luis Suárez money on a like-for-like replacement because, as Rodgers admits, there is probably no such striker to be found. “There aren’t too many like him around which is why he was coveted so much,” he said. “We’ve had to piece the team together instead to get goals. I’m pretty happy with the strength of the squad at the moment, though ideally I’d like to bring another striker in before the window closes. Someone with experience who could go into the team straight away. Not necessarily someone for the future, someone who could make an impact now.”
Samuel Eto’o is one option Liverpool are considering, though his impact at Chelsea last season was not all that great and other avenues will be explored first. “We’ll continue looking right until the very end,” Rodgers said. “I’m as excited as anyone about being in the Champions League but you have to create a squad that can cope with the European challenge as well as the domestic one. I know how big the expectation is at this club when it comes to Europe but the initial task is to get out of the group stages and you don’t look any further than that. I see a parallel with the Dortmund model. When they were going well in the Bundesliga they couldn’t get out of the group stages in the Champions League, then the year they got to the final they faltered a little in their home league. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but it’s not worrying me. There’s no fear, it’s just brilliant as a young coach to be involved in something so exciting.”