The signing of Jari Litmanen was significant for a number of reasons. It was great to see the Reds sign a player of recognised ability, the kind of player that lesser clubs like Middlesbrough, Newcastle or Everton (whatever they might have thought beforehand) could ever hope to sign. By coming to Anfield he has allowed Liverpool corner the market in top Finnish talent. Rumour has it that the ‘Pool tried to sign Jean Sibelius to compose an orchestra version of Scouser Tommy, a deal only scuppered by the fact that he has been dead for 40 years.But the most curious thing about the whole affair was how quickly it happened. One day, we’re being linked with…someone. All rumours were based on Le Boss and Rick Parry being spotted at a reserve team match, having a pow-wow on the Normandy beach that is the sidelines at Anfield rather than chilling out in front of a roaring fire with brandies and cigars at the Officer’s Club. As speculative efforts go, it ranked up there with gambling your life on getting a hole-in-one. And yet the very next day, we had landed our fish. And cleaned him, gutted him, chopped off his head and lobbed him into the frying pan as well. This was a done deal, not the half-baked offal that passes for ‘news’ nowadays.
This isn’t the way it is meant to be. In these days of saturation media coverage, a player can’t sneeze without some hack being there to analyse the mucus for evidence of cocaine. The Paul Ince transfer saga typified the problem. We had been chasing ‘The Guv’nor’ (gagh) for months, convinced his tough tackling ways were the solution to our palsied midfield – hard to believe that was our attitude, but how were we to know that the real solution was barely out of nappies – and everyone was in complete agreement that he should join Liverpool. But the negotiations dragged on for an age as the club tried to bargain Ince down from his demand that the Centenary Stand be named after him.
Some of you may wonder what I’m raving on about. What difference does it make whether it takes one month or one day to sign a player? Lots of difference. For a start, this whole is-he-or-isn’t-he thing is traumatising in the extreme. I remember when we were first linked with Litmanen. This was the best news I had heard since they ran out of ink at The S**. I eagerly waited for news of us signing the Flying Finn (sorry, couldn’t resist). And waited. And waited. In the end, the ungrateful wretch turned down the joys of the Wirral for the dubious delights of Barcelona. And then there’s the aforementioned Ince fiasco, which went on longer than a Geordie stag party. The whole drip-drip manner of the signing meant that you couldn’t have a celebratory woo-hoo! at the end.
My point (there’s a point? – Chris Mc/James) is that there was time – once upon a time, kids – when signing a player meant something in itself. The transfer marathon meant several clubs vying for the signature of one player, not turgid negotiations over personal terms (that’s ‘money’ to you and me). As Alan Edge wrote about in Faith of our Fathers (have I mentioned that you should buy it? Oh, I have) the tug of war between Man Ure, the Arse and ourselves over Charlie Nicholas was invigorating. The feeling of betrayal when he chose Arsenal made you truly appreciate what being a fan was. And when Charlie failed to pull up any trees at Highbury, we all gloated like a rabbi at Hitler’s funeral.
And then, like with Litmanen, there’s the signing that comes out of the blue. Do you remember when Graeme Souness caught everybody by surprise and nabbed Dean Saunders for £2.9 million? We were all waiting to buy Mark Wright, then suddenly we had bought Saunders as well and the Derby chairman was changing his holiday plans from Skegness to Rio. The excitement was tremendous. It was a bold statement of intent, a message that, contrary to media reports, we did have the cash to splash. I, for one, was bouncing around the room when I heard the news.
The fact that Charlie Nicholas’ only noteworthy contribution to Arsenal’s fortunes was to score twice against us in the 1987 League Cup final, or that Dean Saunders lasted barely a year at Anfield is neither here nor there. They were exciting times! You’d get up in the morning during the close season and wonder who we were going to sign next.
But those days are long gone, and the odd throwback like the Litmanen signing only serves to emphasis that fact. There are no surprises any more because months of discussions akin to reading the telephone directory take place before every signing. Alternatively, websites and newspapers link everyone with everything, attaching a sense of disbelief to every potential signing – although that’s one accusation that this site can immodestly reject. But it’s one of the few sites that doesn’t engage in fabrication of stories on a scale that would leave Pinocchio unable to stand for the weight of his nose.
I have a dream. I have a dream that one day we shall stand triumphant over the battered and bloodied corpse of Manchester United Multiple Merchandise Megastore Monstrosity. But in the meantime, while I wait for the fulfilment of that dream, I’ll settle for a wee injection of drama into the transfer market. Jari Litmanen, thou hast shown us the way. Let’s hope it’s the start of something big.