LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 04: Fulham's Clint Dempsey.celebrates after scoring his second goal and Fulham's fifth goal of the match during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Craven Cottage on March 4, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
When a Monday press conference saw Brendan Rodgers announce that fans could expect an exciting new signing to arrive at Liverpool before the end of the week, it was only a matter of time before the mad speculative scramble kicked off. Though nobody has yet dared aim for the lofty highs of suggesting a double-swoop for Edinson Cavani and the unsettled Robin van Persie—and with most of the mongering falling back on past tenuous links to spin tales of renewed interest—there's still a fair bit of the highly unlikely to go along with a few small shreds of vaguely reasonable this week.
The closest thing to a new name emerging after Rodgers' press conference was also the oldest, as after barely being mentioned in connection with Liverpool this summer, Clint Dempsey's was the first out of the bag. He had previously seen himself linked when John Henry registered an admiration for his fellow American, but with Liverpool's interest not seeming to go beyond a certain fondness from the owner any speculation was short-lived. Now, though, he's back at the front of the line, though whether that has anything to do with a real interest or is simply a grasping at the superficially plausible is hard to tell.
When it comes to the plausibility of the link, however, the reality is that it doesn't go very far beyond the superficial reasoning that says because the club's owner is American and the player similarly American he'd make for a good fit who could sell a few extra shirts in America. Dempsey may score goals, but he's also very much a veteran who's only two years younger and less than 100 professional games played behind Dirk Kuyt today, while the Dutch attacker was considered too old to be part of the club's long-term plans as early as last summer. He also has a similar goal return in recent seasons as the far younger Gylfi Sigurdsson, who the club allowed to go to Tottenham because they wouldn't offer the kind of wages that Dempsey would expect as the starting point of any negotiations between club and player.
Over the past three seasons, the Icelandic attacking midfielder has recorded 0.44 goals per game with Swansea, 0.31 with Hoffenheim, and 0.45 with Reading when he broke into the Championship side as a 20-year-old. Over the same span, Dempsey has managed 0.46, 0.32, and 0.24 goals per game while developing into the centrepiece of Fulham's attack late in his career. Given that he's at the tail end of his prime, would cost between seven and ten million pounds by varying reports, and would demand relatively high wages, in the context provided by the cases of Kuyt and Sigurdsson it's frankly difficult to make much sense of Dempsey as a target for anything but patriotic reasons.
Elsewhere, news that a new signing was imminent had people putting two and two together and getting "winger." And with a handful of Premier League players having been linked off and on with the club in recent months, you didn't have to go far to find names. The biggest of them is perhaps that of Chelsea's Daniel Sturridge, a striker in his own mind who spent most of last year moping on the wing while more dangerous and proven alternatives filled the central role. He's been a name to fall back on for lazy journalists ever since Chelsea attempted to include him in the Torres deal three windows back, with the London club at the time reportedly only valuing him in the £5-10M range, and so it's little surprise to see him linked again now.
If they do still value him as low as that he could make for an interesting gamble, if only because it's unlikely his resale value could sink to the point where Liverpool wouldn't at least make a small profit in a few seasons should he not work out, but given he has since then worked his way into the fringes of the England set-up it's likely Chelsea would now demand a more robust domestic premium should they decide to sell the player. And at a higher fee and with fairly high wages already at Chelsea, it's hard to see him as a sensible purchase given his negatives. To date he has shown himself to be a fundamentally selfish player, continually putting individual glory ahead of the team whether through his refusal to pass to teammates when they represent the clearly better option or his public complaints over being played in an un-favoured position, and as his cost goes up he quickly becomes a gamble not worth making.
Then there's Theo Walcott, only 23 but having spent years hovering just on the edge of Arsenal's long-term plans, who now appears to find himself on the outside looking in. Walcott's brilliance as an athlete has had fans eagerly waiting for the day when his physical talents are fully matched by his mental game, but for every brilliant performance there has been one that shows a lingering inability to fully fit into Arsenal's pass and move system and another two spent on the trainer's table. With the younger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seen as the future at the London club, Liverpool has been the side most widely rumoured to be interested in his services—though just how much use an oft-injured winger who despite being at Arsenal since he was 17 still doesn't seem an entirely natural fit in their Barcelona-inspired approach would be to Liverpool is a valid question.
Also resurfacing is former Blackburn winger Junior Hoilett, whose seemingly certain move to Borussia Monchengladbach on a free has broken down over wage demands. Given Blackburn's agrarian approach, it can be difficult to judge just what Hoilett brings to the table besides speed. Unlike a player like the Chelsea-bound Victor Moses, who has proven his quality as both a top athlete and a solid football player with room to grow in a pass and move side, Hoilett is at best a mystery and at worst a player only suited to chasing balls down the touchline as he did at Blackburn. Given that reality, Hoilett seemed a far more likely target for Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish than he does today under Brendan Rodgers, but with Liverpool weakest on the wings and little solid information as to who the club is actually after, a return to the rumoured former target was always going to happen in the papers and on transfer sites no matter that it might make little sense for the club to still be interested.
With a full day having passed since the press conference, though, the most convincing and reasonable rumours revolve around Roma's Fabio Borini. The 21-year-old striker with the knife between his teeth, previously co-owned by Parma, had been strongly linked to Liverpool until a June 23rd blind auction saw his entire rights secured by Roma. With the player moving to Chelsea as a 16-year-old in 2007, he spent time at the London club's academy under Brendan Rodgers. In 2011 and with Rodgers having become manager at Swansea, Borini went out on loan to the Welsh side for the final three months of the season, scoring six goals in nine appearances before heading back to Italy that summer.
When Rodgers moved to Liverpool, then, it wasn't hugely surprising that Borini would be linked, and there were reports of a deal in place between the English club and Parma whereby if they won the blind auction to secure his full rights they would turn around and sell him to his former manager. In the end, Roma won the auction, paying a further €5.3M on top of the €2.3M they had originally paid for partial ownership of the player and an earlier €1.25M loan fee (HT: Stephen Schmidt), and with that it seemed Borini's future as an AS Roma player had been settled. With reputable sources like the BBC's Ben Smith reporting that it appears Borini is in fact the mystery "exciting" player talked of by Rodgers yesterday, though, all of a sudden a move to Liverpool seems rather surprisingly back on.
Given his age, potential, and past history with Rodgers, it certainly seems a far more reasonable target from a Liverpool point of view. Whether Roma is now willing to sell the player after it had been assumed Borini was part of their long-term plans, however, remains a trickier question, though at least it's one whose answer should become clear over the next few days.
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