Jamie Carragher’s revelation this morning that Liverpool sought to sign Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben, when he was at a low ebb at the German champions, symbolises the minuscule difference between winning a league title and finishing, as Liverpool did, in second place.
It is with relative conviction that that assertion can be made. Although Liverpool were never that far off the pace over the course of the league season, they only became genuine contenders with the true emergence of Raheem Sterling, who belied his age to propel Liverpool towards an unlikely title challenge.
Prior to Christmas, he struggled to impress. As the season wore on, he became the league’s form player, to the extent that he forced himself into England manager Roy Hodgson’s plans for the World Cup.
Carragher explained that Liverpool sought to sign him, telling the press: “Brendan Rodgers tried to sign him for Liverpool before the 2013 Champions League final.
“He wasn’t a regular for Bayern then but he scored the winner at Wembley against Borussia Dortmund and has since gone from strength to strength.
Robben, who has demonstrated his place amongst the world’s best players at this summer’s World Cup, would have added undoubted quality to Liverpool’s forward line. Played on the right, he would have given Liverpool an option before Sterling made himself undroppable. They would have undoubtedly picked up more points over the first half of the season, which would have been the difference between finishing below Manchester City or above them.
The utilisation of Robben at the World Cup itself also speaks for how he could have made a difference at Liverpool last season. Liverpool were utterly reliant on the twin striking talents of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, who scored 52 goals in the Premier League between them.
Second-choice talents like Iago Aspas barely made a difference over the course of the season. Robben has regularly featured as a striker in Louis van Gaal’s 5-3-2, performing exceptionally in the role. He has three goals in the four World Cup games that the Netherlands have played thus far.
Despite Liverpool’s reliance on Suarez and Sturridge, both spent swathes of the season out of action. Suarez was suspended at the start of the campaign for his bite on Branislav Ivanovic. Sturridge was injured over winter. The recruitment of Robben would have allowed Liverpool to maintain their form even in the face of these absences, given his ability to play in the same striking role both Suarez and Sturridge occupy.
His form at the World Cup demonstrates that he is ideally suited for what is asked of Liverpool’s strikers, with Rodgers requiring both goalscoring prowess and the ability to create chances for teammates to convert. This is, of course, aside from his ability to play in his natural role on the right, where he is similarly talented.
It would be unrealistic for Liverpool to come close to signing him now, given his importance to Pep Guardiola at Bayern and the fact that he has a deal with the club running until 2017, but the purchase, at the time, would undoubtedly have made a significant difference to the outcome of Liverpool’s season. Given how close Liverpool came to finishing top, it’s reasonable to suggest that if Rodgers had got his man, the Anfield club would have won the Premier League.