More money than sense?

Im gonna put you on the bench, Robbie. Haha, good one Boss. No, seriously...

"I'm gonna put you on the bench, Robbie." "Haha, good one Boss." "No, seriously..."

The expression that one has ‘more money than sense’ is fairly liberally used, but realistically, it doesn’t often apply. For one to garner a reasonable amount of money indeed takes a reasonable amount of sense, and though on the odd occasion, someone may luck-out and end up with a disproportionate brains:cash ratio, you generally earn your loot.

In football though, we find ourselves in the peculiar situation where people with lots of money (and therefore, usually lots of sense – though anomolies seem surprisingly regular) are forced to trust their hard earned cash to someone else to spend. This obviously complicates matters, because the third party has no bearing on the garnering of the said cash, and so his sense may indeed be far less than his money.

What I am trying to say, in a roundabout sort of way, is that investors in football teams take a big gamble when they appoint a manager and license him to spend their moolah. Of course, it is the right way to do things – situations where the chairmen picks the team and buys the players have proved only that the ‘sense’ in the above expression is merely shorthand for ‘financial sense’ and certainly not for ‘football sense’. But sometimes it doesn’t work out too well for the money men.

The point of this all is to become clear very soon, when I reveal my inspiration for the above ramble is none other than Rafa Benitez, Liverpool’s owners, a certain striker (price tag still attached) and a certain bench. I think this is the sort of situation where a man can be said to have ‘more money than sense’ even though the money is not his, and the ‘sense’ alluded to is in fact ‘football sense’.

For Rafa Benitez payed twenty million pounds for Robbie Keane in the last transfer window. Twenty million. That is a lot of money and so should surely have been backed up by a lot of sense. For twenty million pounds one would assume that Rafa was absolutely certain he was onto a winner. He must have been 100% confident that Robbie Keane was the right man for the job, that he was the missing piece of the puzzle. But that doesn’t seem to have been the case.

Despite regular injuries to Fernando Torres, Keane has yet to be given a fair run of games in the Liverpool side. Torres cost more than twenty million, and he paid off, and so rightly, he is above Keane in the pecking order. But questions must be asked when players like Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel, who cost considerably less than the well travelled Irishman, are taking to the pitch while Keane watches miserably from the side.

So what went wrong? Well for a start, it was too much money. Twenty million pounds for a 28 year old forward with little European experience. I’m not saying anything against Keane here, I think he’s a very good player, but for twenty million quid, you should be able to do far better. But still, that is the way the game is going, you want players, you’ve gotta pay over the odds. The thing to do then, is to make sure that the players are the right players. Because paying over the odds for the right players is OK in the long run. But paying over the odds for the wrong players is just bad, bad, bad.

The sense then, is the bit that we must question. Was it sensible for Liverpool to buy Robbie Keane, for twenty million pounds? I don’t think that it was, I think that Rafa has paid over the odds for the wrong player. I do think that Liverpool needed another striker, as I have little faith in Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel is still learning his trade. But I am not the Liverpool manager, and I wasn’t planning on having them play with just the one out and out striker week in week out. If I had been, I’d have thought: ‘my one striker is Torres, if he gets injured, I’ve got Kuyt and Babel, maybe I could get one more youngster with good talent to be sure’.

Rafa must have thought though: ‘I want to play Torres as my lone striker, but just in case he gets injured, I have Kuyt and Babel, but I’d like one more to make sure, so lets sign Robbie Keane for twenty million pounds’. And that doesn’t make much sense. For one thing, Robbie Keane is not a back up striker. He’s a top notch Premier League striker who is never going to be happy on the bench. But also, from Liverpool’s point of view, he is not the sort of player who is going to do well when given a chance only here and there.

Keane is a worker, a player who runs his socks off, and plays for the team. More importantly, he plays in the team, and to do that effectively, he needs to consistently be involved with them. To know where his team mates are going to be, how they like to receive and play the all, and they need to learn for him. That is something that doesn’t just come in training. It needs a decent spell in the side, and if Rafa didn’t plan on giving him that, it makes the signing even more idiotic.

Then there was the whole Gareth Barry saga too. They went and spent a lot of money on Keane, a player who they arguably didn’t need, and then Benitez goes and throws a bit of a hissy-fit when the board don;t back him with the money to sign Gareth Barry from Villa. Barry was a player that I think would have made more of a difference for Liverpool than Keane. He could have been accommodated in the first eleven for a start, and would give them something different, and take some of the creative burden from Gerrard. But of course, Villa held them to ransom, but they couldn’t pay it because they’d already given in to Tottenham.

So all in all, I think the current situation with Robbie Keane not being played at Liverpool is an utter mess. He should not be on the bench with Torres out, but he shouldn’t really be at the club in the first place. At the end of the day it seems to me that Benitez thought ‘Keane looks a bit tasty’ then was given the backing and without stopping to think it through, went and splashed the cash, even though it would have been much better spent elsewhere.

Benitez has had some success at Anfield, but many of the supporters are not really behind him still (many are don’t get me wrong) and that is not because they are a notoriously fickle bunch (see: BBC5 Live: 606, every week). From where I’m standing, it is because he makes a lot of questionable decisions. Rotation policies – why play your best players? Players out of position – why pay good money for a player just to waste them somewhere else. Signing players – let’s face it, he’s spent a lot of money and hasn’t had a proportionate return, especially looking at league form.

So does Rafa Benitez have more money than sense? No, he doesn’t have much sense, but it’s not his money. Perhaps it is Liverpool’s owners who have more money than sense. They certainly have lots of money, and maybe in trusting it to Rafa Benitez, they aren’t being very sensible. But then, maybe that’s what you get when you have American owners. No disrespect to Americans, some of them are hugely knowledgeable on the game, but many of them just don’t understand football.

And that’s where the problem truly lies. These yanks have more money than sense. But football now has more money than sense. All of these foreign owners come in with their millions and their business plans, and their financial sense and cents. But football doesn’t make sense, especially not financial sense. We fans put ourselves massively out of pocket for the love of our team. We follow them round the country and we clothe ourselves in their merchandise. We pay the constantly rising prices because we are hooked. Addicted beyond all reason. Those who aren;t fans don;t understand because it makes no sense.

Perhaps this situation will become the first of many then. The product of an imbalanced equation, of the bringing together of opposites. The financial world is all about sense and cents, whereas football doesn’t make sense – it isn’t supposed to. And so out of these polar opposites we find these strange situations and these strange decisions. Robbie Keane will continue to sit on Liverpool’s bench and wonder why he’s not playing, as will Liverpool’s fans. But he will find comfort in his enormous paycheck, and I’ll find comfort in the fact that it means Liverpool won’t do as well as they could. The losers here, as ever are the fans. They’ll pay their money, fund the transfers and make profit for the businessmen, hoping against hope that one day, their team will win something. Anything. But not the lottery. Football doesn’t need any more money.


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