- Kevin Keegan
Why Liverpool need to sign HuntelaarKevin Keegan December 22, 2012
There were gasps of surprise the country over when last week's Premier League results came in and Aston Villa had won 3-1 at Anfield, but it was just further proof that Liverpool are currently a club in transition. People seemed to assume when Brendan Rodgers came that he was going to turn it around instantly - that just isn't realistic. He's got a young team and I think the players and fans need to have maximum patience at the moment - there's no quick overnight fix. A match against notoriously poor travellers Fulham this weekend, therefore, comes at a very useful time for Brendan & Co.
The January transfer window will provide a good opportunity for Brendan to build some depth to his squad and I want to see the owners supporting him because they really dropped him in it at the end of the summer. January is never the ideal time to sign someone but Liverpool need to gamble because they desperately need a forward.
Daniel Sturridge is one name to have been heavily linked with a move to Anfield this week. He's a player I had as a young boy at Manchester City and I remember letting him train with Nicolas Anelka and the other first-team players when he was just 14. There's no doubt Daniel always looked like a player who could achieve a great deal in the game, but I'm among those now wondering if he can play week in week out at the very highest level.
Also, he's not the centre-forward figure that Liverpool need. He's like Theo Walcott in that he wants to play up top but I think he's not really suited to that as he's too lightweight and can't hold it up. What Suarez needs is someone in front of him to play off and Sturridge is just too similar. Daniel can definitely beat people, he has got an eye for a goal, and he'll improve the squad - but he's not the sort of player who will have Liverpool fans saying "Wow, he's the one".
Another to be mentioned among the transfer rumours is Thomas Ince at Blackpool. He's been tipped to return to Liverpool and I think he's a little more exciting for supporters than Sturridge as there's still a bit of the unknown about him because of his lack of Premier League experience. It must be very difficult for a club like Liverpool to bite the bullet and splash out on a player who they released 16 months ago. I've never re-signed a player before but, then again, if it felt right I wouldn't rule it out. Ince is an excellent prospect, a wide player who comes in and gets goals and can deliver a good ball, but although either he or Sturridge would improve Liverpool's current squad it leaves them with that same problem of a lack of a striker.
The player I'd love to see Liverpool sign is Schalke's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. He's a natural centre-forward and is considered to be on a par with Robin van Persie by many Dutch fans. He's 29 years of age, he's got the experience, so the Premier League is not going to faze him. Schalke are in a real slump, they've just sacked the manager, they're having a poor season in the Bundesliga and it might be a good time for Liverpool to get someone who is a proven goalscorer in a quality league. There's also the fact that Huntelaar played with Suarez to great effect at Ajax, which is another bonus. The only problem is that it seems this week he is set to sign a new contract, though that may just be an attempt by the club to squeeze out some extra value from him.
Suarez needs a partner to complement him as he's been carrying the scoring burden pretty much single-handedly for the past few months. The first show we did on ESPN this season, I said the player I was most looking forward to watching was Luis Suarez. He's certainly delivered so far and I think there's even more to come from him.
Last year, his contribution to Liverpool was massive but it got lost in all the controversy of diving. Diving's still a problem for him - 'simulation' seems to be his middle name - and of course there was also the Patrice Evra incident and the subsequent bad handling of it, not only by Suarez but by Liverpool as a club, but if you take all that away and just assess him as a player, his contribution was immense.
It's been the same this season, and what makes his achievements more impressive is that he has basically been playing football without a proper break for the past three years, having played in the World Cup in the summer of 2010, the Copa America in 2011 and the Olympics this year. I don't think anyone has played as many games as him in that time, yet he still looks fresh, he still looks eager and is playing like he has a point to prove.
Alongside Suarez, Raheem Sterling has been Liverpool's other shining light. He's by no means the finished article and could easily start to look like a kid again now that everyone's had a good look at him. That's the challenge for the young lad in the second half of the season, when you lose the element of surprise from your game. Yes, he's the most exciting player I've seen come through at Liverpool in the last ten years, but exciting doesn't mean proven. People have compared him to John Barnes because he has no fear and takes people on, but John was a very intelligent player, too, and I'd like to see more of Sterling before I make a comparison like that.
I'll definitely have the chance to take a good look at him when Fulham come to Anfield on Saturday, and another player I'm looking forward to seeing is Dimitar Berbatov. Watching him against Newcastle a couple of weeks ago, his vision on the ball was just wonderful. He links up play with one touch here and there, pushing it on - he's a complete player. Berbatov has the tendency to blow hot and cold but he has got very silky skills and a great football brain. When he's on his game, it's great to watch.
It was obviously a major surprise when he joined Fulham but it suits Berbatov better to be the main man. At Manchester United he was just another player, barely even a squad player by the end - at Craven Cottage he is the talisman. People seem to deem his spell in Manchester as a failure, but he won trophies and was the Premier League's top scorer only 18 months ago. As the heart of a team's attack, like he is now at Fulham, he's an unbelievable asset. Liverpool know all too well about his threat having been a victim of a Berbatov hat-trick in a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford a couple of years ago. The danger is there and if you stop him, you stop the flow of the team.
I'm expecting a scrap at Anfield, particularly with Liverpool's confidence as low as it is after that loss to Villa. They will be buoyed, though, by Fulham's poor away record - the Cottagers claimed a victory at Anfield last season but that was the first time they had claimed all three points in 42 top-flight matches on Merseyside. Though it should be a good battle, I expect Liverpool to prove that 1-0 defeat in March was just an anomaly.
Kevin Keegan is ESPN's Lead Football Analyst