"What do you mean you've hurt 'your' knee, it's Liverpool's knee" - Bill Shankly.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Squad size facts

Extracted from Shearer's Courage, Lampard's Learning Curve and Squad Size Stupidity

 In what was a slow news week due to the internationals you may have seen a proliferation of stories fretting over Premier League squad sizes. I wracked my brain trying to figure out where this came from.  I suspect part of it may have to do with Uefa trying to limit squad sizes as a way to help clubs keep costs down. And part of it may simply be people with nothing to write about.  Because, frankly, this is the ultimate non-story.

For a start we don't live in North Korea.  Clubs are free to hire as few or as many people as they like, just like any other business.  Trying to control it is, at best, unnecessary, at worst damaging.  Indeed, sometimes players - especially young ones - benefit from a longer apprenticeship at a top club.  They actually develop better an learn more training with top players than they might if they were elsewhere.  That said, I figured I'd take a look at what was behind some of those "Liverpool in 62 man squad 
shocker!!!" headlines.

Thirteen of Liverpool's 62 senior pros are out on loan.  That means they're not actually there.  Of those thirteen guys on loan, eight are twenty years old or younger, which means that, presumably, they are simply youngsters who are clocking valuable experience elsewhere, rather than hanging out in the reserves.  Absolutely nothing wrong with that (indeed, most of them are British and home-grown; isn't that something that should be encouraged?).   Of the five who are twenty-one or older, David Martin, is a twenty-three year old goalkeeper who is starting for Leicester City in the Championship (surely a more useful way of passing the time than being third or fouth choice at Anfield.). Clearly he hasn't been written off by the club. 

The only "excess baggage" among Liverpool's on-loan crew is represented by Sebastian Leto (who is on-loan at Olympiakos), Jordi Brouwer (at RKC Waalwijk), Jermaine Pennant (whose contract expires in two months, at which point he'll disappear from Liverpool's books forever) and Andriy Voronin (who is doing very well at Hertha, leading their charge to the top of the Bundesliga: if worse comes to worse, Liveprool will have no trouble selling him on and getting some money back for him). 

But what of the other forty-nine "senior pros"? Nathan Eccleston, Steven Irwin, Martin Kelly, Martin Hansen, Daniel Sanchez Ayala, Vincent Lucas Weijl, Dean Bouzanis, Nikola Saric, Daniel Pacheco, Gerardo Alfredo Bruna Blanco and Gary Mackay-Steven are all eighteen years old. 

Vitor Coutinho Flora, Emmanuel Mendy, Mikel San Jose Dominguez, Andras Simon and Ronald Huth are nineteen. Victor Paisson is seventeen. Ryan Crowther (who, incidentally, was Stockport's youngest ever captain a few years ago), Godwin Antwi, Stephen Darby, Ray Putterill, Francisco Duran, Krisztian Nemeth, Jay Spearing and Robbie Threlfall are all twenty.   

You want to consider them "senior pros"? Sure, go ahead.  But bear in mind, just because Liverpool's website lists them as "first-teamers" doesn't mean that's what they are.  They are, essentially youth team players who play in the reserve team or the youth side while being evaluated by the club. Hopefully - from the club's perspective - they're learning something and will improve.  Maybe going on loan next year will help them do so.  If they don't, rest assured, Liverpool will get rid of them (and, probably, not lose too much in the process since they presumably cost very little). 

That leaves twenty-four players.  Of those, three - Damien Plessis (21), David Ngog (19) and Emiliano Insua (20) - are fairly marginal first-teamers, though the latter two have been getting increasing playing time of late.  Another, Philippe Degen, has basically been injured all season: not exactly his fault.

We're left with twenty guys.  Three goalkeepers (which is pretty much a necessity), seven defenders, five wingers, four central midfielders and one centerforward (Fernando Torres).  That - ladies and gentleman - is Liverpool's first-team squad. Seventeen outfield players.  (Twenty if you insist on counting Plessis, Ngog and Insua). 

Of all the things turning up in the media over the past week, this business with the squad sizes (from Liverpool's fictitious 62 to Bolton's 27), must be one of the most foolish.

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Quote of the moment

Defying belief however, is a market Benitez has cornered quite well. The moment you think Benitez is clueless, he defies it by pulling off a result of majesty, like the one achieved in Madrid. The moment he is hailed a genius, he masterminds toothless surrender to a team going nowhere. In the ongoing Anfield power struggle, just when he was cornered by the firing squad, the Spaniard's demise at Liverpool looking practically assured with the ominous suspension of betting by the bookmakers, he squeezes out through a narrow trapdoor and eliminates Rick Parry. Rafa Benitez is Keyzer Soze.
- Just Football blog: The Curious Beast that is Football 28 Feb 2009