Unsurprisingly, and much like the Voronin transfer last season, it’s prompted a range of reactions. Just surf message boards like RAWK, RAOTL, and TLW for starters.
Despite seeing most of Switzerland’s games at the World Cup, I can’t say anything concrete about Degen. If not for seeing pictures of him with every article I couldn’t pick him out of a line-up. But I also absolutely detest seeing players criticized before they’ve even pulled on a shirt.
Liverpool needs help at full back on both flanks, which was highlighted in the season review. However, Arbeloa (plus Finnan for at least one more season) is more than a capable defender and will continue to play a number of games. Which is why it’s reassuring to see the quotes from Benitez in today’s piece.
"He [Degen] is an offensive player with great energy and a winning mentality. His strength is going forward and I am confident he will be prove to be a quality addition to our squad."
He added: "Sometimes you can find these players on the market. When you find a player like him who costs no money it means you can use money for improving other parts of the squad."
Liverpool needs a player like that, especially in the 4-2-3-1, where much of the width is provided by the full backs. Of course I’m not convinced he’ll settle or slide right into the side, but the fact that Benitez wanted the player and that he’s more an attacking full back (in contrast to Arbeloa) are good signs, no matter the player’s transfer fee. To paraphrase a favorite Benitez euphemism, 'he will provide possibilities.'
Plus, and as noted by Benitez, signing the player on a free leaves the transfer budget (whatever it may be) intact for other signings. And no matter the ownership uncertainty, it appears there will be some funds. Everybody’s probably seen the Bentley, Barry, and Dossena rumors, among others, and I’d be very surprised if Liverpool doesn’t sign at least one (if not more) of those players.
Admittedly, Benitez doesn’t have the best record with free transfers (Pellegrino, Zenden, Fowler, Aurelio, and Voronin), but who does? While none of those players were world-beaters, all filled a needed role (and some were shipped out when Liverpool bought better replacements).
Pellegrino was essential in spelling Hyypia for the Champions League in 04/05, Zenden and Fowler played their parts in 06/07, Aurelio has the potential to be a world-class left back if he can stay healthy, and, well, we’ve debated the merits of Voronin all season long. Free transfers may not be the big name signings we’ve hoped for, and won’t win the league on their own, but more often than not they fill a valuable purpose.
No one’s pretending Degen’s going to be the end all, be all of summer signings. But he has a role to play, in a position where Liverpool’s lacking, and I’d hope he at least gets the chance to show what he can do before he’s derided from all corners of the internet.