In almost every way, the 2013/14 season proved to be a watershed in Liverpool’s recent history. Of course, that was the season Brendan Rodgers’ side came within three points of winning the first Premier League title in the club’s history. That was the season the Reds exhilarated and entertained us all with their irrepressible swagger. That was the season everything changed at Anfield.
After a generation of looking upwards at rivals challenging for supremacy, Rodgers’ success in 2013/14 gave new pertinence to the idea that Liverpool could claim it for themselves. But with the sale of Luis Suárez to Barcelona the following summer, a more negative precedent was also set.
With Suarez’s exit, everything Rodgers built at Liverpool came crashing down. The Reds were so utterly reliant on the Uruguayan that not even the £75 million collected from Barcelona for him would help in compensating for his absence. The following season, Liverpool finished outside the top four and Rodgers would go on to lose his job soon after.
There was a lesson for all in the way Liverpool sought to make up for the loss of Suarez by spreading the load over a whole host of new signings. At £26 million, Adam Lallana was the most expensive arrival, and the England International has since enjoyed a fairly successful career at the club since. Beyond that, however, the success stories are harder to come by.
Dejan Lovren remains at Anfield, but is seen by many as a weak point for the Reds. Over £20 million was splurged on Lazar Marković, who has now become something of a forgotten figure on Merseyside. Mario Balotelli has been and gone, as has Rickie Lambert. Alberto Moreno, Divock Origi and Emre Can are all still at Liverpool, but only Can can truly consider himself a first team figure.
Liverpool vowed not to let the same thing happen to them again, but they could find themselves in a similar situation this summer. Once again, the Reds are following an upward trajectory towards the top of the Premier League, this time under Jurgen Klopp, and once again Barcelona are circling their best player, this time Philippe Coutinho.
Of course, Coutinho isn’t quite as influential as Suárez was, but the impact of losing the Brazilian, particularly at this juncture of Klopp’s tenure, would hit hard. The impact would be felt even harder should Liverpool make the same mistakes as last time, buying quantity over quality to replace him. Reports in Spain suggest the Reds could do just that.
It has been claimed that Barcelona will offer Rafinha and Denis Suarez as part of the deal they are proposing to sign Coutinho. When has a player plus cash deal ever worked, though? The last time Liverpool agreed to such a transfer they got Antonio Nunez as they watched Michael Owen disappear into the sunset.
It’s not that Rafinha and Suarez are bad players, far from it. In fact, there’s a case to be made that Barcelona need Rafinha in particular more than they need Coutinho. He offers them something different, an alternative dimension. To Liverpool, though, their signing would achieve little. They don’t fit Klopp’s system in the way Coutinho does.
Liverpool are still digging in their heels in their stance over Coutinho. “Yes (he is not for sale), but that’s not since this morning or yesterday, it’s not been any different,” Klopp explained earlier this month. “Phil is a very important player for us. He’s trying to get back his rhythm but there’s no doubt about his quality.
“He’s very smart both offensively and defensively. The nice news for us is that he’s still young. He has improved a lot since I’ve been here and he can still improve a lot. I’m not surprised that any club is interested in players at Liverpool. The very important message is that we are not a selling club and that’s how it is. We believe in working together and developing together.
“We want to make the next step together and for this we need to stay together. We have to create a situation where everybody is easily able to see which direction we want to go. It’s really positive. This is a fantastic club and it’s a good moment for Liverpool.”
Indeed, it is a “good moment” for Liverpool, with Klopp finally giving them a platform to build on. Coutinho is central to everything the German has built over the past two years. He is the wildcard in their system. Ultimately, Liverpool could survive without him, but taking on replacements just for the sake of it would only harm them further.