Why are Liverpool messing players about with "unacceptable" contract offers?
Reds defender Martin Skrtel says Liverpool “failed” last season and have made him a contract offer he says is “unacceptable”. After finishing sixth with a depressing 6-1 defeat away to Stoke on the last day of the season the Reds can’t afford to mess about over contracts for established starters.
MARTIN SKRTEL, often derided in his time at Anfield, has become one of the first names on the Liverpool team sheet in recent seasons and – unless there are dramatic moves in the transfer market – will go into the new season as an essential part of Brendan Rodgers’ squad. Essential, yet getting messed about over his contract.
It’s the new Liverpool way.
Skrtel, 30, cost the Reds just £6.5m when Rafa Benitez bought him from Zenit Saint Petersburg and spent most of the early years of his career vying with Daniel Agger for a place alongside Jamie Carragher in the back four. Carragher retired in 2013 and Agger left in 2014, but Liverpool went out each time and bought new centre backs, spending a total of £38m in total on the two new faces. Despite that, Skrtel established himself as first choice in the middle of the back four.
Yet now, with just one year left on his current deal, the only offer the club have made is one he describes as “unacceptable”.
Skrtel was speaking to media in Slovakia and, whilst acknowledging the club had made him an offer, the impression he gave was that it was a derisory one.
“It’s unacceptable for me,” he said, adding: “I think that contracts like this are offered to players who are much older than me, or to a player who has had some health problems.
“The contract which has been offered to me is unacceptable, so I didn’t sign it,” he said.
The player is aware of interest from other clubs and thanks to the efforts of Jean-Marc Bosman 20 years ago he’ll be able to talk to those clubs in six months’ time. Unless Liverpool have made him an offer he feels is suitable by then.
“I have one year left and there has been some speculation about the interest from other clubs. We will see what happens,” he explained.
This isn’t the first time Skrtel has been linked with a departure but rumoured moves never materialised and seven and a half years after joining he now finds himself one of the club’s longest serving players. “There is always talk about my position and my future,” he said.
“Almost every single transfer window there is always talk about me leaving Liverpool and interest from other clubs, but, as it stands, I still have a contract with Liverpool.”
Skrtel quite clearly doesn’t want to leave and expects talks over a deal to continue: “I have an offer from Liverpool and we’ll see where we finish.”
The interview sends a clear message back to whichever FSG-led committee deals with contracts at the club’s Chapel Street corporate head office, but whether it will be heard or acted upon is another matter entirely. It also adds more weight to supporters’ doubts about the running of the club, at least on the football side.
At least the player can’t be accused of agitating for a move – he just wants a fair deal and as he points out: “I am fully committed to Liverpool.”
Skrtel also discussed Liverpool’s season and suggested the campaign was a failure and would have been one even without that final day 6-1 collapse at Stoke that meant the Reds finished sixth when fifth was in their own hands.
“We failed because we did not meet the targets we have set. If we finish fifth or sixth it doesn’t matter, we would still not have qualified for the Champions League.”
A year before, with no European football and as a result more coaching time for manager Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool finished second. Then in the summer came the £75m exit of their top goalscorer to Barcelona and a handful of new faces.
“The significant factor was the exit of Luis Suarez and too many errors on the field. The squad was big enough.
“New players arrived and it is not always easy to acclimatise to a new club, so the first half of the season was difficult. The second part was an improvement, but in the end we didn’t reach our targets.”
Yesterday Liverpool confirmed they had agreed terms with James Milner, who will sign officially on 1st July, but any good work done to bring new names into the first team could quite easily be undone by yet more failure to deal correctly with players already at the club.
Much is made of the transfer committee, the group of men who seem to avoid the acceptance of any individual responsibility when targets are missed or those actually acquired turn out to be below standard, but who deals with new contracts? Who decides who stays and who goes, who decides how hard to try and keep the players the club don’t want to lose?
A number of players had been told they would get new deals this year, only to find those promises broken, and the disillusionment this brings shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should the way that disappointment spreads to other members of the squad and to friends at other clubs. Clubs that might have one or more Reds targets playing for them.
Raheem Sterling’s agent is making his client look foolish at the moment but the underlying truth in that unseemly tale is that the player does have a point when he questions Liverpool’s ability to win major honours. As Sterling claimed in the BBC interview he was criticised for, had the club made him an offer a year ago he may well have signed it.
The same kind of complacency eventually saw Steven Gerrard leave the club he’d joined as a boy. Had Liverpool offered him a new deal last summer, at a time when he was preparing to announce his retirement from international football to prolong his Anfield career, he also would have signed it. Instead they waited until it was heading for its last six months and made him an offer that it is understood was way below even his lowest expectations. With Brendan Rodgers pulling him to one side around the same time to say he’d finally worked out the captain couldn’t play three games a week it’s no surprise at all he left. Perhaps that was intention.
Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho got new contracts, in the end, but all the time they were waiting there was an opportunity for another club to turn their heads with the offer of either more riches, more silverware or both.
Liverpool have way too many problems to be in a position where they can cockily experiment with pay-as-you-play contracts for established and fully fit players, especially when those players know they can’t be certain of a regular place as the manager looks for a playing system that works. Performance-related pay is fine when the recipient can directly influence what he gets, but it’s exactly the kind of offer that will influence players to look at other options – not to mention the lack of respect it shows to players who stayed loyal to the club despite the largely barren FSG years.
For all the criticism Martin Skrtel gets from a number of Liverpool fans he’s probably the most reliable central defender the club has right now, given Lovren’s difficulties adapting to life under the Anfield microscope and Mamadou Sakho’s misfortune with injury.
This next season is make or break for Brendan Rodgers and his staff – whoever his staff end up being following reports of Mike Marsh’s departure – and it could also see owners Fenway Sports Group come under the kind of pressure they’ve so far managed to avoid in their five year tenure at Anfield.
When Melwood reopens for pre-season training next month it’s vital that not only are there some quality new signings in place ready to build an understanding with their teammates but also that the existing players don’t return from holiday feeling disillusioned about their futures.
The time for messing about has long since passed.