Sadio Mane joined Liverpool in the summer of 2016 and became the latest in the comically long line of players to join from Southampton, over the last few years. The deal, which was worth £34million, made Mane the most expensive African player in history and the pacey winger immediately lived up to his price tag. He scored on debut during the thrilling away win over Arsenal, his first goal was ultimately the decisive one in the 4-3 score line. Mane quickly became an indispensable member of the first team squad, as his prowess going forward helped make Liverpool’s attack one of the deadliest in the Premier League and led the side to sit at the top of the table at Christmas time. However, it was only Mane’s absence from the team that just showed how vital he was. We all remember how Liverpool’s title bid dramatically unravelled at the turn of the year, while Mane was representing Senegal in the 2017 AFCON, and how they desperately limped into fourth position at the end of the season when the main man was missing with injury. Mane was rewarded for his efforts when he was named in the 2016/17 PFA Team of the Year and was voted as Liverpool’s Player of the Season. Also, he is currently the owner of the fastest ever Premier League hat-trick, when he netted three times in just 2 minutes 56 seconds while playing for Southampton against Aston Villa. Let’s see how past Liverpool players have fared in the number 19 shirt.
We’ll start with two goalkeepers, the very well-respected Brad Friedel and the much less respected Pegguy Arphexad. Remembered mainly for his spells with Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspurs, many would be forgiven for forgetting that Friedel started his Premier League career with the Reds. The American himself would’ve perhaps forgotten as it took him four years to make his league debut, waiting patiently behind David James. Friedel struggled with inconsistent form, which never allowed him to break into the first team for a significant period, but once he moved on to pastures new, he enjoyed a very successful career on this side of the Atlantic.
Arphexad won four trophies during his time with Liverpool, but played very little part in any of them as his role was mainly first choice benchwarmer…and the less said about him the better.
Moving onto the defenders of the shirt and I’ll start by using the term ‘defender’ very loosely. In the midst of the 2015/16 season, Liverpool were struggling dreadfully with injuries to their centre-backs so, in January 2016, Jurgen Klopp made the inspired decision to sign Steven Caulker on loan from QPR as temporary cover. He went on to make three substitute appearances, one in the 87th minute and the other two in stoppage time when he was used as a striker in all of them…one of the most bizarre signings of all time.
Javier Manquillo was another loan signing, this time coming from Atletico Madrid on a two-year-deal in 2014. His biggest contribution came in September of that year when he won a 93rd-minute penalty in the Champions League against Ludogorets. Steven Gerrard scored from the spot to win the match 2-1. Manquillo’s loan deal was terminated early after he didn’t play in the Premier League once, in 2015.
Stewart Downing was one of the disastrous players bought with the Fernando Torres money. The undisclosed fee was believed to be around £20million, so you can understand why Brendan Rogers desperately stuck by him, despite getting absolutely no reward in return. Downing’s penalty miss against Chelsea in May 2012 gave him the unwanted title of being the first player to miss three consecutive penalties in the Premier League, a streak that started during his time with Aston Villa. Criticism for the Englishman only increased once he finished his first PL season in red, with the record of zero goals and zero assists. By the time he was sold to West Ham in 2013 he had scored just three goals in his 65 top flight appearances.
In 2007, Liverpool signed Ryan Babel from Ajax for a fee that was estimated to be in the region of £11.5million. The Dutch international was often referred to as “the next big thing” as his pace and skill was a major threat to most defences in the Premier League. He was occasionally criticised for his work rate, although this was something that he worked on a lot during his time with the Reds. Despite all his ability and creativity going forward it was clear that he was never going to make it as a Liverpool player, due to his frequent disciplinary problems. Babel was one of the first players to interact with fans on Twitter and this proved to be his downfall. In 2010, he was fined two weeks wages for tweeting that he had been dropped for a match with Stoke City, before the official team sheets had been announced. A much more severe incident occurred almost exactly a year later when he posted a photoshopped picture of Howard Webb wearing a Manchester United shirt, after Liverpool were knocked out of the FA Cup by United, a game that Webb officiated. Babel was reprimanded by the FA and fined £10,000. It’s a shame, that despite all his excellent performances on the pitch, this is what he will be most remembered for during his time in England.
We end at the top of the pitch with another disappointing player. Fernando Morientes joined Liverpool in the aftermath of the incredible 2005 Champions League Final, and subsequently won the resulting UEFA Super Cup. Even though he joined off the back of a red-hot spell with Real Madrid, Morientes became one of the many big-name signings that couldn’t adapt to Premier League life. His time with Liverpool has been described as “quiet” and “inconsistent” and he finished with just eight goals from 41 league appearances, not what you’d want from your new star striker. The Spaniard returned home in 2006 where he joined up with Valencia.