Liverpool have wrapped up their signing of Glen Johnson from Portsmouth. The lingering doubt, though, is how much of a role can arguably Britain’s finest full-back play in transforming Liverpool into Premiership champions.
On last season’s form, Johnson is certainly England’s best full-back. His attacking raids invariably result in finer distribution than, say, Ashley Cole, he’s more Situs Bandarq trustworthy than Micah Richards and probably now edges a fully fit Gary Neville for his country’s No.2 shirt.
Whether he is the best full-back in England, however, is a far more complex debate.
Chelsea must believe so or why would they risk losing Portuguese Jose Bosingwa (who cost £16m from Porto last summer). Meanwhile, it is Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna who this month took steps to deny publicly reported interest from Real.
What’s certain is Johnson appears a more supreme Premier League athlete than Liverpool’s current first choice right back Spaniard Alvaro Arbeloa, who now looks destined to return to Spain as a makeweight in the Johnson deal.
But, £18.5m remains an incredible transaction for Liverpool’s first piece of transfer business of the summer. Of deals involving right-backs, only Barcelona’s purchase of Dani Alves from Sevilla for £24m and Lilian Thuram’s move to Juventus for £23m have come at a greater cost.
(Intriguingly, Sevilla agreed to sell Alves to Liverpool three years ago, but Benitez refused to stump up the £10m asking price.)
When it’s remembered that Liverpool refused to meet Aston Villa’s £18m asking price for national team midfielder Gareth Barry a year ago – a player that has since moved for two-thirds of that amount – spending more than £18m on Johnson seems generous.
The Indepedent’s Ian Herbert branded the amount “extraordinary”, although like others did concede that the financial blow is softened by the remaining debt, thought to be £7m, for Peter Crouch’s move in the opposite direction last summer.
In a transfer market within a constant state of flux, and one so currently dependent on the financial clout of clubs’ foreign owners, recent deals perhaps provide the only prudent comparison.
In pre-season to date, Johnson’s sum mirrors the price Manchester City splashed out on Roque Santa Cruz while Arsenal are thought to have spent £11m on Ajax defender Thomas Vermaelen.
It’s been said that Liverpool’s bold move for Johnson shows a statement of intent.
They haven’t been prepared to wait and miss out such as in the Barry saga. They’ve moved swiftly in the wake of champions Manchester United losing first Cristiano Ronaldo and then Carlos Tevez.
The Reds have also purchased a player at the top of his game, but still with plenty of scope for improvement.
The 24-year-old was man-of-the-match in England’s 6-0 hammering of Andorra earlier his month, setting up goals-a-plenty against the amateurs.
But following the national side’s win in Kazakhstan, his defensive acumen had been questioned and his place on the right debated.
Benitez has placed an enormous amount of faith in Johnson. With the club under some financial uncertainty, the manager was only expected to enter the transfer market for two major acquisitions, and a second striker appears top of the Spaniard’s shopping list.
But the outlay on Johnson doesn’t stop with his purchase. He is reportedly commanding a £80,000 per week wage at Anfield, an amount only eclipsed by Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. The Sun said Johnson’s weekly earnings would be closer to £100,000.
That’s left some Liverpool fans wondering whether his expensive signature adds any great dynamic to the squad pipped to the post last season.
“Sometimes you have to spend a little more,” Benitez argued. “You can’t compete in the top four of the Premier League unless you spend some money.
“We were looking for a player of quality and also somebody who is British because of the new Champions League rules.
“Glen Johnson fits both categories.”
Chelsea decided that such an outlay for a player they sold to Portsmouth for £4m two years ago was too high. Manchester City were never interested.
So, Johnson’s arrival at that price is a calculated gamble. As a teenager, he failed to secure a regular first team place during Jose Mourninho’s reign at Chelsea after being signed for £6m by Claudio Ranieri.
He made only 41 appearances in his Chelsea career and was loaned to Portsmouth before making the move permanent in 2007.