Signings aid Liverpool present, future
Despite the disappointment of having to cancel the deal for Loic Remy, Liverpool still managed to bring in two more new faces this week. Centre-back Dejan Lovren could prove to be Liverpool's most important signing of this summer, while according to Brendan Rodgers, Belgian wonderkid Divock Origi could one day "light up world football."
Both are exciting signings in their own right, but whereas one will be expected to make an immediate impact, Kopites will have to wait at least a year before getting a look at the other.
Rodgers was effusive in his praise for Origi, telling the club's official website: "For me, he can be one of the most exciting talents in world football; I genuinely believe that," he said. "He has everything to be world class. He's super fast, has a wonderful touch, he's a good size and is aggressive.
"What I like, and what I have in other players, is that humility to work hard. I've seen enough of him over the course of the last couple of seasons to think this is a kid who, coming into the right environment, can genuinely be world-class."
Admittedly, the Liverpool boss is known for occasionally going a little overboard in talking up his own players -- "the Welsh Xavi" immediately springs to mind -- but even by Rodgers' standards, that was high praise indeed.
The collapse of the Remy deal means the Reds could probably do with Origi right now, but his long-term development won't be harmed by another season playing regular football in France. It does mean that Liverpool still need another forward player, though, preferably one who is interchangeable between the central and wide berths, as Remy would have been.
Origi may still be in his teens but he ousted the more experienced Romelu Lukaku from Belgium's starting lineup during the World Cup. That's no mean feat, as the Chelsea frontman is a player who most teams -- although, strangely, not Chelsea -- would love to have leading their line. If in the long term Origi proves to be better than Lukaku then Liverpool have pulled off a masterstroke with this deal, especially for the fee they landed him for.
Lovren, on the other hand, is very much for the here and now, and is expected to slot straight into the team. Liverpool already possess good centre-backs -- very good ones, actually -- but they don't have a dependable pairing because they lack that commanding presence capable of not only doing his own job to a high standard, but ensuring that others do theirs too.
Jamie Carragher did that as well as anybody, but neither Martin Skrtel nor Daniel Agger have that in their lockers, and Mamadou Sakho is still new to the club -- and English football. Perhaps in time Sakho's leadership qualities will emerge, but for now that job will be entrusted to Lovren, it seems.
The 25-year-old Croatian has all the tangibles required in a top centre-back, but it's the intangibles that made him Rodgers' No. 1 defensive target this summer. Lovren makes those around him better because he's a talker, an organiser, a leader. The other central defenders at the club should benefit from his presence whenever they line up alongside him, but the downside for them is that securing a place in the side will be that bit more difficult as now there will likely only be one place up for grabs rather than two.
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An added attraction for Rodgers was that not only does Lovren bring that leadership and vocal presence to the back line, but is just as comfortable playing on the left or the right of the central duo. That's of great benefit to the Liverpool boss as it means Lovren can be paired with any of the other centre-backs at the club. That was not the case last season, and finding the right pair proved difficult as a result.
The "lefties" Sakho and Agger were never paired together as Rodgers didn't want to use either of them on the right of the two, and although the right-footers Skrtel and Kolo Toure did occasionally play together, neither look comfortable when left of centre, and the results were often catastrophic (see away games at Hull, Fulham and West Brom).
In Lovren, Liverpool have someone capable of forming a partnership with Skrtel, Sakho, Agger, Toure or anybody else for that matter. Perhaps Sebastian Coates will surprise everybody and finally show what he can do. Probably not, but the example of Jon Flanagan last season should provide hope to anyone on the outside of the team looking in.
Of course Liverpool could have signed Lovren a year ago for less than half of the fee they had to pay Southampton this summer. Rodgers spoke of having admired the player when he was at Lyon, and there were numerous reports linking the Reds with Lovren before he eventually joined Southampton. Those links came to nothing and later in the window Liverpool eventually moved for Sakho and Tiago Ilori. Sakho cost twice the amount of Lovren, and Ilori was only a fraction cheaper.
For whatever reason, Liverpool weren't completely sure about Lovren when he left France 12 months ago, but his performances in the Premier League last season have clearly dispelled any doubts Rodgers and his scouts may have had.
If he delivers the goods, then 20 million pounds will seem like a bargain. If he doesn't, then serious questions will be asked of those in charge of transfers, as Lovren was Liverpool's No. 1 choice. This wasn't a case of missing out on the two or three players they really wanted and then having to make do with someone further down the list; Lovren was at the very top of their wanted list.
Of all the defenders Rodgers could have targeted this summer, he chose the Croatian and he landed him. That has to be encouraging for Liverpool fans.
Carragher and Gary Neville know a fair bit about defenders and they were both raving about Lovren last season following his display against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Again, that's encouraging. Just as significant, however, is that no one will be more aware of Lovren's strengths and weaknesses than Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana.
They faced him in training every day and witnessed at first hand how he marshalled their back line when they came under pressure during games. Rodgers will surely have had lengthy discussions with both before finalising the deal, so Liverpool fans can be sure that plenty of homework has been done on this signing.
The Reds obviously needed to tighten up at the back and the recruitment of Lovren should go a long way to helping them do that. Assuming he is the player Rodgers thinks he is, then Lovren is the most important of all the summer signings to date.