Personally I have never understood why many Premier League clubs spend millions of pounds on players who are either on the treatment table or are likely to be there shortly. This season there has been some major money spent in the Premiership on players who are injured or unfit, with Liverpool and Aston Villa two of the culprits. In Alberto Aquilani and Stewart Downing, the Reds and Villa respectively have taken a risk on players who when they signed in the summer there was no prospect of them playing in the immediate future. Only time will tell whether they were risks worth taking, but surely with the amount of money involved it is important to keep risks to a minimum and not actively seek them out?
When Rafa Benitez forked out £20 million for the ‘Little Prince’ in the summer many football fans, Liverpool supporters included, thought that it represented a bad bit of business. Ultimately right at this moment it doesn’t matter how good Aquilani has the potential to be in the future, what Liverpool fans care about most is the trouble that their club are in currently. Aquilani could in time prove to be a shrewd purchase, but for this season at least Liverpool would have been better served to invest in a proven and more importantly fit star who could make an immediate impact at Anfield. Obviously you cannot say that one class midfielder would have prevented Liverpool from being in the predicament that they are currently in, but the longer Aquilani sits on the bench the more I wonder whether the Reds should have steered well clear.
Over at Villa Park, manager Martin O’Neill and the Villa fans were treated to a debut for their summer signing Stewart Downing, and he even chipped in with a goal in the Carling Cup tie against Portsmouth at Fratton Park. I am not a huge fan of Downing but I can see what attributes he brings to a team and the left footed winger must be doing something right to have played for England over 20 times. However, for Villa to pay £10 million for the injured midfielder in the summer, their biggest expense in the transfer window, surely it represents a bad bit of business? Or does his future potential mitigate the fact that he couldn’t play for over 3 months of the start of the season? It is a fine line between success and failure for Premiership managers at the best of times, so by signing an injured player are they not just making their job harder than it needs to be?
Signing injured players is one thing, but an even more common occurrence is for Premier League managers to sign players who are widely acknowledged to be injury prone. A clear example of this is when Harry Redknapp brought Jonathan Woodgate to Tottenham back in 2008 for £7 million. A bargain fee for a world-class defender many people may think, but with his previous injury record Spurs are unlikely to get value for money. To be fair to the lad, Woodgate has been fit for and played a higher proportion of games at White Hart Lane than at any time in his career, but once again this season when Spurs are trying to push for a Champions League place, Woody is back on the treatment table again. I am not doubting that when fit Woodgate is one of the best defenders in the country, but is he fit often enough to warrant the money that was paid for him?
Aquilani, Downing and Woodgate are all top-class players who would be assets for any Premier League club, but when signing a player their ability is not the only thing that has to be taken into consideration. If a manager was told that the player he wants to sign won’t be available for him for months, then surely the best course of action would be to not touch the player with a barge pole. While risk taking is to be admired, some risks will come back to bite managers and their decisions may well leave them with egg on their face. But is it ever worth signing a player who is injured long-term or injury prone?
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