The Euros are almost here, and with it distraction from the offseason doldrums and transfer market lunacy. But they aren't here quite yet and Liverpool's had its manager sorted for a week now. Which means it's beyond time for the club to be linked to 37,581 players who will never arrive and half of whom nobody was previously aware existed…
Brendan Rodgers has agreed—though whether it's in writing or a handshake agreement is unclear—that Liverpool won't raid Swansea for players for a year. Sigurdsson, however, isn't a Swansea player, having been on loan from Hoffenheim after earlier playing at Reading under Rodgers. There is an obvious connection between player and manager in this case, and when he agreed to move permanently to Swansea shortly before Rodgers moved to Liverpool it was by all accounts because of Rodgers' presence. That with rumours about his manager swirling he then held off signing the contract—and is still yet to do so—has led to massive and seemingly well-founded speculation that a permanent move to Wales is no longer on the cards.
It has also meant that many have managed to put two and two together and get Liverpool, with the only stumbling blocks being that Hoffenheim may well try to get more from the Reds than the paltry £6.8M fee that had been set for Swansea and that Sigurdsson grew up a Manchester United fan. Though of course if the likes of Michael Owen can play for Manchester United, it's hard to believe a 22-year-old Icelander would balk at following his favoured manager to Merseyside. In a bit of an unusual move, too—though to be fair, the case itself is far from usual—Rodgers has gone as far as to publicly comment on Sigurdsson's situation and his stalled Swansea move:
If he comes onto the market, I have to be interested. His initial chat has to be with Swansea, because he had a good period there. I said to [Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins] if I speak to the kid I’ll tell him to make sure he certainly comes down and speaks to the new manager, whoever that is, and that if he’s still not comfortable with that, he’s in the marketplace then—and then I have to look at him.
As the most advanced of Swansea's midfield trio, Sigurdsson scored seven goals and three assists in 18 games after arriving in January, and at Liverpool he would seem perfectly suited to becoming Steven Gerrard's long term replacement. He has managed to produce at every stop in his young career, scoring ten times in 29 appearances with Hoffenheim in 2010-11 and 21 times in 44 appearances with Reading in 2009-10 as a 20-year-old. Even if Hoffenheim were to significantly raise their asking price he would likely represent good value as well as providing an instant impact, and luckily for Liverpool there appears to be a very good chance of the club actually getting a deal done for him.
With European league football in the rearview mirror, it means that last season's loanees are officially back with Liverpool. And that means Joe Cole is back, and with him has come an odd and foolish belief in some quarters that this time around he might be able to make a difference at Liverpool Football Club. While it's true that Cole did score a few goals at Lille, and while while four extra league goals for Liverpool last year might have made a difference for the English club, in the context of the club Cole was actually playing for at the time—and where he finished seventh in scoring—and the league he was playing in it is a far less impressive return. More than anything, it's almost impossible to get past the fact that Cole only started 28 times in all competitions for Lille, and only 20 of those starts came in the league. Chelsea's new signing Eden Hazard, by comparison, started 35 of 38 league games and 44 overall for the French club.
That isn't to say that Cole was poor by any means. In fact, by most measures he had a quite decent season as a useful squad player who chipped in with a few goals. It was hardly great and worlds away from dominant, though, and he was certainly nowhere near being a guaranteed starter for Ligue 1's third best side. Given the anemic pace of the French league, it's also unlikely that being a squad player there last season will have greatly increased Cole's fitness levels, and had he been in a faster or more physically demanding league there's nothing in his play from last season that suggests he would have looked any better than he did at Liverpool the year before.
Joe Cole went down a couple of levels to a slower and less physical league. As a result he managed a decent but unspectacular season as a utility player. He may feel he has something left to prove at Liverpool, but about the most useful thing for the club would be for West Ham or Reading to take his massive wage bill off the books.
Along with Cole, Pacheco too returns on loan after Atletico Madrid and Rayo Vallecano both declined the buy option inserted into his odd loan within a loan journey to Spain for the 2011-12 season. Many will suggest he's a player well suited to Rodgers' approach, and in theory at least there seems some weight to that, but that he's been seen as not quite good enough to make the cut now by three Liverpool managers and two separate Spanish clubs doesn't bode well for his chances.
Previously there were strong rumours that Norwich City, where he spent the second half of 2010-11 on loan and a club which had made no secret of its disappointment at not being given the chance to take him again last season, would be his most likely destination for the coming year—and that this time around the move would be permanent. However, with manager Paul Lambert moving to Aston Villa, it's unclear if Pacheco is still a name the Canaries would have any interest in or if instead his name might begin to be linked to Aston Villa.
Rounding off the returning loanees is Aquilani, who missed out on triggering his automatic move to AC Milan when with a month left in the season the club decided to bench him so as to avoid having to buy him. Of the three, he is the only one who has shown any kind of quality with Liverpool's first team, but that was two seasons ago and in the meantime he has been unable to convince either Juventus or Milan that he's worth taking on full time even at a drastically reduced price compared to what Liverpool originally paid.
In theory, though, he's another player who would fit in well with Rodgers' footballing philosophy, and in a world where the unknown will always be favoured over the known and mediocre, many will hope that Aquilani finally finds a place at Liverpool if only because some of the options currently available at his position have underwhelmed. Whether the club has any desire to keep him or whether he has any desire to stay in England is anybody's guess, though with rumours of Sigurdsson's imminent arrival and planned talks between Aquilani and Rodgers set for the near future things may soon become clear. Or they may not, because this is the case of Alberto Aquilani and nothing about it is ever clear and easy.
[Insert Name of Winger Here]
Liverpool need wingers, or at least wide forwards capable of effectively linking up with the wingbacks used in Brendan Rodgers' preferred system and who can support the primary striker in and around the opponent's box. That Liverpool needs a player or two to fill such roles is no secret, with last season's complete ineffectiveness from Stewart Downing and the recent departure of Dirk Kuyt to Fenerbahce highlighting the problem. As such, if you can think of a winger in European football between the ages of 20 and 26, then they've probably been linked to the club.
Longtime rumoured target Junior Hoilett, recently of demoted Blackburn and linked to Liverpool as far back as January, quickly took himself out of the running by signing on a free with Borussia Mönchengladbach of the Bundesliga. A very direct player—and also a very raw one at best a few years away from developing into the sort who could be an impact player on a counter-attacking side—Hoilett was likely a far better fit for the side Kenny Dalglish appeared to be trying to build than the one Rodgers will likely seek to develop, and for fans of smart pass and move football there will be little sleep lost after missing out on an as yet not fully developed player in the Theo Walcott mould.
Then there's Wigan's Victor Moses, another name that has been linked to Liverpool of late. Like Hoilett he's 21 years old and attacks from wide areas for a side that was near the bottom of the Premier League table all season, but unlike Hoilett he seems far more ready to make an immediate impact. However, while Hoilett's contract just expired, Moses would not come cheap. There is also a feeling that with Wigan's Roberto Martinez failing to become Liverpool's new manager while club owner Dave Whelan has consistently made a fool of himself by talking about his manager's situation in the press, Liverpool's interest in Moses has cooled—assuming it ever existed in the first place.
Meanwhile, Uruguayan Gaston Ramirez has managed stay in the picture through changing managers and back-room staff as a potential target for months, but with no signs that Bologna is eager to get a deal done quickly and Manchester City lurking in the background, his previously rumoured £8-10M pricetag has now doubled to £16-20M. The sometimes attacking midfielder, sometimes winger, sometimes wide forward Ramirez would be a good fit for the club, and that he plays with Luis Suarez on the Uruguayan national team would certainly seem a bonus, but if his price ends up being as high as currently rumoured then one would think the club could find better value elsewhere.
Another name that seems less likely as the weeks pass is Ryad Boudabouz, who has lingered in frame from the Damien Comolli days but continues to be connected to Liverpool. Part of this is because the Ligue 1 player himself suggested Liverpool are tracking him alongside a host of French clubs. Given that there seems little movement on this front and that using Liverpool to get a better contract or get a stalled transfer moving is a time honoured tradition in transfer season, this may not actually mean much, and a move to Lille, Lyon, or Montpellier seems far more likely—with the last even more likely should Manchester City splash their petro dollars on rumoured number two wing target Younes Belhanda since Eden Hazard is heading to Chelsea.
And finally there's Ibrahim Afellay, Barcelona's permanently injured winger. Afellay is a wonderful talent, but it's almost impossible to look past him being injured for almost his entire time at Barcelona since he arrived in January of 2011. It also has to be mentioned that at 26, he's a full four years older than any of the other mentioned wide attackers. Still, with rumours that Barcelona are trying to convince Arsenal to take him in an attempt to cover some of the remaining Cesc Fabregas fee and Liverpool in need of a winger, that he appears to be available has many scrambling to suggest a link. Given the situation at Liverpool, he won't be the last wide attacker linked to the club—and he likely won't be the least reasonable one, either.