By Pete Martin and Nav Basi
From Issue 50, Winter 2001
I’ve tried to work it out, and I can’t. Maybe you can: you sign a generally unknown striker for £3m from abroad, he gets roundly condemned by TV gobshites before he even reaches the country. He arrives, becomes first-choice striker, excites the fans, scores some cracking goals, and does something no player has done for too long: scares defenders half to death with skill, pace and unpredictability. After scoring nearly a goal every two games, just over a year later, he does not start a single game, and leaves the club for half what he originally cost. Can anyone else understand it? The player of course was Titi Camara, and the fee of £1.5m that West Ham paid for him really sticks in my throat. Can anyone really say that Camara did so little in his time with us that he was worth half what we paid, at a time of massive transfer fee inflation? Or maybe the boss was just so desperate to get rid that he didn’t care (it’s not his money after all), and he wanted to show everyone else just how little he thought of Camara.
Either way, there’s no doubt Camara brought something new and unpredictable to our play, sometimes ineffective, often dangerous. Second highest scorer in 1999-2000 behind Owen, scoring superb goals against Arsenal and Leeds and that goal against West Ham, and putting defenders on the back foot simply by being there. Running at people, twisting, turning, shooting, dribbling, we had a little gem here. The first time I saw him live was the Arsenal 2-0 in August that season: true, Arsenal never showed up, Henry was an embarrassment, and we battered them into submission, but the way seasoned (if crap) defenders like Dixon and Winterburn literally bounced off Camara was incredible. Power, pace, genuine commitment to the cause: can’t ask for much more than that.
The West Ham goal was nothing to do with power, pace or skill, simply a four-foot tap-in, but it summed up his attitude. We didn’t know at the time what had happened to Titi’s father of course, but once we did, how proud were we? THAT is commitment to the Reds and no mistake. Seven bookings in that season also show something (apart from the fact that strikers are pretty clumsy in the tackle): it shows the effort and hard work he put into his game. Add the smile on his face, the outrageous bits of skill and the way he excited the crowd, and he was some player.
One year on, all change. Some strange episodes: the injury that Houllier claims to know nothing about. Obviously he’s been reading the Wenger guide to management. Page one, line one: see nothing. No opportunities in the first team, a public spat, and Titi to be sold off for the footballing equivalent of a bag of seven-for-£1 toilet rolls from Church Street. Even if he didn’t have a future ahead of Owen, Heskey and Robbie, why treat him like this? Why the ridiculous transfer fee? Ever heard the phrase “don’t wash your dirty linen in public”? There seems to be a nasty streak in Houllier, a ‘don’t fuck with me or else’ attitude. Shame of course, ‘cos it was Houllier who signed Titi, Houllier who signed Heskey nine months later, Houllier who showed Camara he had no future at Anfield, and Houllier who accepted Harry “cheeky chappie” Redknapp’s offer of a packet of jellied eels and a quarter of liquorice bloody all sorts! So where does the story come back to? Houllier.
Last time I saw Titi play was against United reserves in October against a shocking United side (fuck, if that’s how Steve McClaren organises and motivates a team, make him the next United manager tomorrow). Camara worked hard, ran hard and scored twice. If the reserves are there to give players the chance to impress the boss, Camara certainly did that night. You would hope that with a squad as large as ours, then the reserves would be taken seriously, and players who do well get a chance in the first-team squad. Not Titi. So why should a player who knows he has no future give a toss? He shouldn’t, and yet Camara did. Man-management is clearly not the strongest suit in GH’s pack. I like him overall, and as long as there is progress, I’m in no hurry, but I do worry. He doesn’t seem able to change a game, he has his favourites (who said Barmby??), and the idea of getting everyone to stand within twenty yards of each other in the middle of the pitch is not going to scare the likes of Roma.
If you ask most Reds, Hamann and Ziege would probably be on their list of forthcoming sales, so if you add them to Ferri, Song, Meijer and Camara, that’s an awful lot of players Houllier has bought and sold on (at a loss) in a short time. Camara had the most to offer of all of them, without question, which makes the decision to sell even stranger. Let’s face it, when he left, Owen and Fowler had had injury-interrupted seasons and Smicer can’t hit a barn door if you left him at it all day (though he is playing better right now). Our midfield has been too predictable all season (Litmanen aside): too often golden boy Barmby does not turn up (I don’t think he actually managed to get out of our half against Southampton!), Smicer is good right up until the moment when he should smash the fucking thing into the net, and our left-hand side has all the width of Sticky the Stick Insect after a month on Slimfast (Carragher and Murphy are excused, since neither of them have a left-foot). Compare that to the sort of damage Camara could cause. All gone now. Good luck mate, and hope to see you back at Anfield in February.
Every time Liverpool sell a player they never seem to make their money back or they will make a loss. I can understand it from a financial point that it is better to get a player off the payroll if he is not going to have a future at the club but why the hell can’t we ever make any money on the deals?
At the start of the season we sold Davie Thompson for a fee that I still can’t believe. 2.5 million for a player who if he could control his temper will be going places. I think that he proved that he definitely had a future in the game at Liverpool and he is already one of the players of the season for Coventry. A friend of mine who is a steward at Coventry has nothing but good words to say about him and feels that they got a bargain. They sure did. Now I’m sure if Coventry were to sell Thompson tomorrow they would ask for 4 million, and not the 2.5 million that they paid only a few months ago, and more than likely in this inflated day and age they would get it! Thompson’s real value should have been closer to 4 million.
Then there is Rigobert Song, OK we didn’t exactly make a loss on him, I think we might have even got our money back, but then we paid 2.5 million for a player that at the time was a risk because as everybody knows playing in the Premiership is totally different to playing in any other league in the world. I think he did well (I’m a Song fan) and as Harry Redknapp said, he may make the odd howler but he plays with a lot of heart. I agree he did make the odd mistake and his positional sense could have been better but in my opinion he never let Liverpool down, there was many a time that Song was the last man clearing off the line when really he had no right to. A regular in the team, I don’t think so, but definitely a squad member. Another player I think that we sold on the cheap. There were talks that the Finish lad came the other way from West Ham as part of the deal, and he was valued at 1 million, but then there were reports that that deal was totally separate, which is more than likely. Song’s value should have been closer to 3.5 million.
AND, now we have Titi Camera, who for me has let Houllier and the fans down. Titi is/was a fans favourite and didn’t he just know it. He should remember that it was Liverpool Football Club and Gerard Houllier that made him a household name in the Premiership, because if anybody had seen him play in the UEFA Cup Final a few years ago they would have laughed at the thought of Liverpool paying 2.6 million for him. Many did, anyway.
He looks like he’s off to West Ham on the cheap as well. Figures ranging from 1.5 – 2.2 million are being talked about but again, he’s played in the Premiership and undoubtedly proved himself with his goals and work rate, so why aren’t we talking about 3 million and upwards? There is a genuine lack of striking talent around that is for sale, just look at Villa and their bizarre attempts to buy a quality striker. Tottenham are already having problems with Rebrov after having paid 11 million for him, as he can’t get used to the pace of the Premiership. West Ham are definitely getting a good deal, as the fans will love him, he’ll score the goals and the money that West Ham are going to spend will be recouped in no time. Titi will be a loss to us as he is someone who can turn nothing into something and in this day and age that is a priceless commodity, or you would think it would be.
Personally I would have slapped a 4 million price tag on him, if there were no takers then there would have only been two choices. One, rot in the reserves or two, to get his head down and try and get a place in the starting eleven or at least in the squad knowing full well that there have been no takers for him and that his only chance is with Liverpool.
In the 3 deals above, I think that Liverpool Football Club has lost more than 4 million pounds, nothing to snigger at really is it? Whenever clubs such as United, Leeds, Arsenal sell their youngster or players that no longer have a future at the club they always make sure that they get top dollar for them. Leicester have signed a young midfielder from Leeds recently for 3 million plus. I don’t even think that he has made that many appearances for Leeds, but then they can still command a fee that in these heady days is probably about right. When Southampton can put an 8 million fee on Kachloul head’s, is it really too much to ask for 4 million for Titi? There is talk of Leeds offering 10 million for Robbie Fowler, but what are Liverpool’s moneymen going to say? “Oh, please, that is far too much, just give us 5 million and we’ll call it quits”?
Lastly, can anybody out there please tell me what Jorgen Nielsen actually does? Yes I know he is a goalkeeper, but do we really need 3 keepers, surely we must have a 17 year old keeper that is as good? It doesn’t really matter if he’s brilliant or not, because he’s never going to get a game is he? What are the chances of Sander and Pegguy both being injured at the same time and even then I’m not sure if he’d play, and now he only gets a reserve game when Peggy is injured, so what is the point…….There you go, I’ve saved about 300,000 pounds at 6 grand a week already, now where else……………. How about Jamie, nah, I like Jamie (Redknapp), so I’ll keep him and let his biggest fan……… Steven Kelly try and get rid of him!
I’ve been trying to do that for four years, so if anyone has the solution I’m all ears. The recent success of Jari will no doubt stifle the criticism of the Titi deal. He hasn’t exactly set Upton Park ablaze (now there’s an idea), but I’m writing this before Feb 3rd and the word “oops” is on my mind for some reason. My reaction to Titi leaving was probably shaped by my being wrong about him in the first place. It seemed like an Evans-type move; once the fans loved him, that was the end of it. On the financial side, Houllier just wants rid no matter what the consequences are. If that tends to unify the squad in terms of spirit and camaraderie (ironic first 6 letters there!), then he’s in the right. If we get the flicks and touches from Jari Litmanen, and it’s more consistent, then he’s in the right. Time will tell. Initial reaction is that he’s made the right decision. When West Ham went to Old Trafford, Song and Camara were absent. African Nations Cup………I just think we could have kept Camara, especially when we’re crying out for someone to take defenders on out wide.