The journey towards Liverpool’s and Tottenham Hotspur’s contrasting present positions began around this time two years ago when Brendan Rodgers implied he wouldn’t follow Spurs by wasting £100m on duff players. The next afternoon Liverpool thrashed Tim Sherwood’s team; setting Sherwood on a direct course for the sack and Liverpool, seemingly, to the title.
Six days later Rodgers met Dele Alli in London and did not have to work too hard to convince the player that Anfield was the place for him. Alli’s manager at MK Dons was Karl Robinson, a Merseyside native, a Liverpool supporter and someone who began his coaching career under the legendary Steve Heighway on the windy fields of the club’s academy in Kirkby. Alli’s hero was Steven Gerrard.
When Alli later travelled to Liverpool for a grand guided tour of the Melwood training complex, however, Gerrard did not know he was there because he was sleeping ahead of a game and nobody present considered it prudent to wake him.
The process of the transfer proceeded to drag for months, with Liverpool not willing to meet the asking price. When an agreement was finally reached in November 2014, the deal would earn MK Dons around £3million.
Suddenly, though, someone at Liverpool decided it was worth trying to negotiate the offer to club and player down by half and with that, discussions stalled again. The line of contact soon fell quiet, much to Robinson’s and MK Dons’ frustration and disappointment.
Alli has transformed Spurs’ midfield as well as England’s (Getty Images)
In the blurry world of recruitment at Liverpool where manager, transfer committee and chief executive all supposedly have equivalent input, it is a challenge determining whom, precisely, should be held accountable for what has proven to be a succession of errors.
What is certain, should Tottenham finish second this season, Rodgers’s 2014 claim will have transpired to be truer than he imagined, though certainly not in the way he expected.
Sherwood’s successor, Maurico Pochettino, appreciated he was behind Liverpool in the queue for Alli and yet, he stamped the midfielder’s enlistment with priority status. Alli’s subsequent development has made the £5m fee that took him to White Hart Lane seem like loose change.
Rodgers, meanwhile, paid with his job for a decline in results, which his critics attribute towards the creation of a squad with vanilla personality. By the summer of 2015, there was no Gerrard to fall back on and ultimately no Alli waiting for the chance to succeed him.
Rodgers failed to sign Alli, and paid with his job a few months later (Getty Images)
Jürgen Klopp’s first game in charge of Liverpool came against Tottenham six months ago and he has since been credited with instilling some fight into the Liverpool team. No side has recovered from losing positions as much as Liverpool since Klopp’s appointment, indeed, but with only six weeks to go, if Liverpool finish where they are in the table currently it will represent their worst Premier League campaign.
Victory for Tottenham at Anfield on Saturday evening would narrow the gap between themselves and Leicester at the top to two points, while a positive result for Liverpool might make qualification for the Europa League a realistic possibility again.
How times have changed.