27 April 2010

On Jonjo, Sideshow Raheem, and Young England

Contingent on tomorrow's medical and negotiations, we've seen Liverpool sign two highly-rated English teenage midfielders within the last two months: Raheem Sterling and now Jonjo Shelvey. Not only was I told Liverpool were a sinking ship without money, but I thought Benitez never bought British. And yes, I'm aware I'm basking in the arrival of two youngsters whose combined fee is less than £3m, but any silver lining during a monsoon.

It wasn't long ago Liverpool were memorably missing out on the likes of Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey. Both went to Arsenal, and while both cost a good deal more (and were further along in their development) than Sterling or Shelvey, it's been far too long since Liverpool were snapping up some of Britain's best and brightest.

It's yet another sign that Liverpool are restoring from the foundation and fixing the vaunted assembly line. It sputtered to a halt under Evans and Houllier, but we're seeing it rebuilt little by little, as Ed and I discussed in March. We've seen Liverpool recruit potential talents from across the universe – the likes of Insua, Pacheco, and Nemeth, among others – but few from the UK.

Thanks to recent UEFA and Premier League regulations, "homegrown" players are utterly necessary. Any nationality counts as homegrown if trained by the club – or any English club – for three years, but an English passport removes all barriers. And buyers pay well for it, as we found out when Liverpool "chased" Walcott and Ramsey. £5m for Ramsey or the £8m Aston Villa paid for a 19-year-old Fabian Delph could make the fee for Shelvey or Sterling look like peanuts. Pity the emphasis is on "could."

There's no guarantee either player will turn out a star, let alone feature for the first team. I do think Shelvey will be in the mix next season – he's already played in the lower leagues, so there's little use in sending him on loan (as Darby, Spearing, and Eccleston currently are) – but my best, barely informed guess is that he'll mainly see time in the Cups and for the reserves. And regardless, there's no guarantee any signing will work, whether the fee is £2m or £20m (wave to the nice people, Robbie).

Shelvey is 18, costing an initial £1.7m. While he was Charlton's youngest player, debuting more than two years ago, and has made 48 appearances for the Addicks, the majority of those came in League One. Sterling is only 16, costing an initial £500,000, and has mostly played for the U-18s since his arrival. As tempting as it is to go overboard, both evoke the phrase "hope" as much as Obama (and now Nick Clegg!). But both are laden with potential, with other big clubs sniffing for their signature, and English. "God Save the Queen" singing, smog breathing, blessedly English.

Even if we're only familiar with these kids from Football Manager and FIFA 10, it's satisfying; a sign that Liverpool's competitive in this crucial market, and that King Kenny Dalglish is earning his paycheck. I doubt it's coincidence both Sterling and Shelvey will arrive the same year that Dalglish returned to head up youth development. But make no mistake, Rafa must of had his hand in this signing – Shelvey should get some first-team opportunities next season, and I doubt Liverpool would be negotiating signings, even if they're only £1.7m, if Benitez were on his way out.

Unless that's the summer transfer budget gone (can't rule anything out with the Chuckle Brothers still in control), there are few ways for Liverpool to lose on these deals.


Mike Georger said...

I just read an interesting theory on the LFC forum that said the team has a separate budget for buying prospects. Which would make sense when you consider the fact that Rafa has brought in loads of young players since the team basically went broke.

Even if that is the case we probably spent the entire senior squad summer budget on Jovanoic.

Mike Georger said...

Well it's official. Cannot believe they agreed to let him leave before the Playoff takes place. Seems ridiculous (unless they're trying to avoid some triggering clause in his contract) to ship him off after our season is over but theirs is in the most vital stage. Oh well!

nate said...

Yeah, I'm stunned he'll move before the playoffs. I know he hasn't seen as much time in the latter half of the season, and even Charlton fans seem somewhat befuddled as to why, but letting him leave before the end of the season seems madness.

Not that I'm complaining.