Stepping into a club in the midst of a power struggle between unpopular owners and a militant fan presence does not seem easy for a man like Roy Hodgson. Not known as a man with the aggressive temper and iron fist of a Capello or a Ferguson, his seeming nonchalance in dealing with a missing, rebellious Javier Mascherano has done little to ease the fears of Liverpool fans, desperate to avoid another disastrous season like the last. However, one of the strangest transfer decisions of the summer seems to have slipped a little under the radar, and valid questions have been raised over how much Hodgson has influenced the transfer of a young Argentinian to the continent.
Emiliano Insua’s three seasons at the Merseyside club saw personal growth in all areas. The left-back began a loan-period with Liverpool in January 2007, after impressing with the Argentina Under-17 side during his spell in the reserves of Boca Juniors. An impressive eighteen months in the reserves led to a three-year contract offered by Rafa Benitez in July 2008, and in the coming season Insua leapfrogged an injured Fabio Aurelio and a highly disappointing Andrea Dossena to become first-choice left-back for Benitez at the beginning of the 2009-10 season. Thirty-one appearances in the starting eleven followed at the age of twenty, his first taste of first team football after missing out on ever starting for Boca. His confidence exuding, Insua earned a call-up (amongst many, many others) to the Argentina qualifying games against Peru and Uruguay under Diego Maradona, after winning the Under-20 World Cup in Canada two years previous, conceding only four goals in seven games in the process. A disappointing season followed for Liverpool, but with six assists earned in ventures forward and reasonable defensive performances, Insua would rightly not be blamed for such failures at the end of the season.
At the age of twenty-one at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, the progress shown above by the young left-back should surely cement his place as a cornerstone of a Liverpool side keen to put a seventh place finish in 2009-2010 behind them. However, for the relatively small fee of £5 million, Insua will instead start for Fiorentina in Serie A next season. His transfer seems to have passed with little noise exuding from the Anfield club, or indeed its support, but the timing of the move amidst the speculation surrounding the futures of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and the aforementioned Mascherano has baffled pundits.
Firstly, if nothing else, Insua seems to have left no-one behind to replace him. Once a position in which Liverpool were blessed with numbers, if not talent, has been left threadbare by his departure. Aurelio left the club at the end of last season, whilst Dossena left for Napoli in January, leaving only youth to fill the hole. Liverpool will now need to turn to the transfer market for a replacement, with names such as Paul Konchesky and Danijel Pranjic being circulated by the rumour mill. However, Liverpool will no doubt find themselves paying over the £5 million earned by the sale of Insua for an older player with less future potential.
There could be further side-effects on another key man of such a callous disregarding of a young talent. Fellow Argentinian Javier Mascherano has been the biggest cheerleader of Insua’s potential within the Anfield club, stating that “it isn’t easy to be playing for the Liverpool first team at just 20-years-old. I’m really happy for him. After just two years he is playing really well whenever he gets into the first team”. Considering that many suggest Mascherano’s future also lies in Italy with Rafa Benitez at Inter Milan, the transfer of Insua could be another factor that contributes to poking the defensive-midfielder over the edge and into the San Siro. Stacked with other potential losses including an out-of-form Gerrard and an unfit Torres, the loss of the Argentina captain could be the greatest this summer for Liverpool.
Finally, and most worryingly, it seems the transfer of Insua had little to do with incoming manager Roy Hodgson. The left-back was included by Hodgson on a pre-season trip to Switzerland before being sold, and appeared to hint that decisions involving the movement of players to and from the club would be handled by managing director Christian Purslow in a recent interview. In a club ravaged by debt, putting transfer decisions in the hands of a businessman instead of a newly-employed manager would seem a worrying development for fans, and indeed players, of the Merseyside giants.
Whilst not seeping into the regions of a Portsmouth fire sale, the transfer of such a promising youngster seems a decision steeped in short-term financial gain, instead of long-term football development. Emiliano Insua will look to prove his doubters wrong in Italy, and with Gabriel Heinze aging and a supportive Maradona remaining in charge, the 21-year-old could see himself starting for Argentina for many years to come should his development continue. Liverpool may look back in anger at one of the oddest transfers of the summer of 2010.