Ronnie Whelan, Nigel Spackman, Kevin MacDonald, Xavi Alonso, Joe Allen. What do they all have in common? Well, according to some fans of Liverpool football club, they are all players who were not good enough to wear the Liver Bird on their shirt. That was, until those fans saw them play. All of those players were signed by managers who had an insight into how they wanted their team to perform, and they had a plan. The managers who signed them for Liverpool, if not the fans, knew exactly where those players would fit in and exactly what they would bring to their teams.
Brendan Rodgers has now done likewise with the signing of Joe Allen. Before the Olympics, when the Liverpool interest in Allen was first being discussed, most Liverpool fans could be heard saying 'good player' or 'would be okay for a few million to add to the squad', or perhaps 'at least he is better than Charlie Adam.' Now Liverpool have allegedly spent £15 million on Joe Allen and the same fans can be heard saying 'too expensive', 'we were robbed' or 'Brendan Rodgers is out of his depth'. If you take a glance into the most successful periods of Liverpool FC history, you might just see that Brendan perhaps knows something those fans don't.
When Xavi Alonso signed for Liverpool, in August 2004, the then Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez spent £10.5 million on a player who had only ever played for his local team and who had just had one really good, if not prolific season at Real Sociedad. At the time fans wondered whether that sort of transfer budget could have been invested more wisely in a 'top player'. Twelve months later, and with a fifth European Champions title secured just 9 months after signing Alonso, Liverpool fans were in no doubt what Xavi had brought to the team Rafa Benitez was building.
If we cast our memories back even further, to the days of Ronnie Whelan, we remember a hostile kop often asking 'what he brings to the team', 'what does he add?' and 'does he deserve a place in the side?' These days, Whelan is rightly remembered as a Liverpool legend and was even voted 30th in a fans poll of 100 players who shook the kop.
The Liverpool team was missing something last season. Nobody seemed to be certain what it was but there was a vital cog missing in the machine. The engine sounded good and got rave performances, but it did not run as it should, the team could not close out games or get that second goal that finishes the opposition off. Missing this cog was making the engine run a little less smoothly than we all thought it should, including those at Fenway Sports Group who had invested heavily in the team during pre-season. The team stuttered, they were quick on the break but often gave away possession - a sin for any member of any Liverpool FC team. What players like Whelan, MacDonald, Spackman and Alonso brought to respective Liverpool teams was time, patience and consistency. These were vital cogs supporting the super stars that played in front of them in the trophy laden Liverpool sides.
It is these same qualities that Brendan Rodgers sees in Joe Allen. Allen will be charged with helping Liverpool play, keeping the game flowing and allowing others to shine by buying them the space and time to play in. It is not always the most expensive components that are the most vital to any slick piece of machinery; it is, in fact, often a small but vital part that prevents its smooth operation. Joe Allen is that small but vital part of Liverpool's future and at £15 million he is far from the most expensive part in that machine.
Xavi Alonso was also that small but vital cog in his Liverpool team and before leaving for Real Madrid, he had become an overnight legend for Liverpool fans, with his loss is still mourned today. When Real Madrid bought him, they knew what they were getting - a vital cog that enables players like Ronaldo to go and score a record number of goals. If Liverpool fans had thought Alonso was expensive when Rafa brought him to Anfield, that was nothing compared to the price Madrid paid when he left. During his time at Liverpool, Alonso had trebled in value and that is the kind of business that is music to the ears of Fenway Sports Group.
Liverpool fans may feel that Joe Allen is a little over priced but don't be surprised if Real Madrid come calling at Anfield again in a few years - this time for Joe Allen, at £45million, three times what Liverpool have just paid for Brendan Rodgers' vital cog.