Liverpool have embarked on an inventive and unorthodox transfer policy so far this summer and adding Christian Atsu would continue that. In the same way that Iago Aspas has come from Celta Vigo, Luis Alberto is arriving having been on loan in the Spanish Second Division and Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Shakhtar Donetsk, Atsu is a little off the beaten trail. Liverpool seem to have learned from getting their fingers not so much burned as torched by Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing at a combined £70m+ and are no longer looking at the nearest options. They are signing players to fit a specific philosophical approach that they have been scouting in unusual areas. Players that Brendan Rodgers, a noted coaching manager rather than distant selector, can work with. This is where Atsu fits in.
Atsu doesn’t come to Liverpool with any real pedigree; he is a project for Rodgers to coach. Unlike Mkhitaryan, who has shown his quality on a consistent basis in major European competition and strong domestic league, Atsu arrives with pretty much one and a half seasons under his belt. In 2011/12 he went on to Rio Ave scoring six and making four goals in 27 games before returning to Porto for 2012/13. He didn’t really make the impact expected, stuck behind James Rodriguez who has just cost Monaco £40m. He only appeared in 17 games, all but one of which he was either subbed off or on. Porto have been taking things steadily with and easing him in to the team. The sale of James Rodriguez perhaps makes it surprising that they would let him go as the spot in the team has opened up nicely for him. Is this something Liverpool fans should be concerned about?
Well, not necessarily. Porto and Liverpool play different styles of football for one thing. The pure physicality of Atsu is less of an advantage to Porto than it would be for Liverpool who need his pace and strength to compliment their little technicians. Not that they are in the same breath talent wise, but it’s a similar concept to Real Madrid operating with the physical prowess of Cristiano Ronaldo alongside the smaller technical players. This different angle of attack is needed in the Premier League where defences will be more rugged and against teams who will come out and attack.
In Portugal, Porto face only a few games a year where they are not camped in the opposition half. You don’t need a speedy, mostly counter-attacking player when you are against a brick wall. You need clever canny players. So Porto feel they can do without. Although Liverpool will primarily be looking to dominate possession and take games to the opposition, there were flickerings of Rodgers returning to his Jose Mourinho counter-attack routes, which they unleashed with devastating effectiveness on Newcastle and Fulham towards the end of the season. If they do sell Luis Suarez we will see this more and more.
Atsu fits in to this. He has the raw pace and has shown that he can get himself involved in goals during his loan spell at Rio Ave. He’s being brought in for Rodgers to coach up and refine. As long as he doesn’t try to force him in to a short passing technical game, he can flourish. With only a year left on his contract at the Estadio da Luz, a fee of around £3 million is being touted, which looks like excellent business for the Reds. If, as looks possible, Liverpool keep counter attacking, he could be polished up in to a diamond.