Inquests into Liverpool's season began long ago, but for all the criticism that deals for Carroll, Henderson and Adam have attracted, a significant move may have been agreed on Kenny Dalglish's watch.
Many deals were struck last summer. Clubs in England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia spent big money on numerous players as squads were built to reach the different expectations set for them this season. One such side was Liverpool, who, since the arrival of Kenny Dalglish have been one of the highest spenders on transfer fees (outgoing - we're not taking into account the sales here) in world football. Nonetheless, the eighteen time English champions may well have made the most intelligent move of any club, anywhere in 2011, as they chose to forge ties with Uruguayan outfit Nacional.
"We now have strong links with them because both Luis Suarez and Sebastian Coates have come from this club and been developed by their academy" stated Liverpool Director of Football, Damien Comolli, back in September. "We are talking about a partnership with them that we would like to create over the next three, four or five years, to see if there is more talent coming through. Maybe we can help them to develop their standards and in turn have the ability to bring those young players here.
It is from Nacional that Liverpool purchased £7.6m Sebastian Coates, the highly-rated defender, named Young Player of the Tournament at the 2011 Copa America, and for whom Luis Suarez, the current darling of the Kop and Player of the Tournament in the same competition, was a fan favourite, prior to his arrival at Anfield, via Groningen and Ajax. There are high-expectations for the 21-year-old defender on both sides of the Atlantic.
Founded in 1899, the product of a merger between Uruguay Athletic Club and Montevideo Futbol Club, Club Nacional de Football are perhaps not the most illustrious in Uruguay having won the league title on seven occasions since 2000, whilst their academy system is the envy of many of their continental rivals. The club has an extensive scouting network and deploys scouts across the length and breadth of the country keen to identify the most promising young players for its academy, which currently coaches more than 120 players aged between 13 and 20. It won't have escaped the attentions of Liverpool, not to mention the other big names of European football, that of the 23 players taken by Uruguay to the 2011 Copa America, 14 had at some point played for or been developed by the Tricolores.
Prior to Uruguay's success last summer, Nacional's performance in the Uruguayan Championship - both in finishing second in the 2010/11 Apertura (Opening Championship) and in winning the Clausura - saw them take on Defensor Sporting in the Estadio Centenario in the Championship decider. A tight affair was settled by a single goal in the 19th minute from Tabare Viudez, his free-kick beating Martin Silva and earning Nacional their 32nd national title.
Nacional continued their good form in the 2011/12 Apertura, coached by the former Argentina, River Plate and Monaco playmaker Marcelo Gallardo, who, following his retirement, had taken the reins from Juan Carrasco. Playing with flair and attacking intent, Gallardo's mix of promising youngsters, such as left-footed forward Gonzalo Bueno and pacy winger Viudez, teamed with intelligent, experienced stars, such as former Bayer Leverkusen full-back Diego Placente and the mercurial former Internazionale and Venezia trequarista Alvaro Recoba, went into the final match needing a win away at Liverpool (Uru) to take the opening championship. After a difficult 78 minutes, it was Recoba, in the twilight of what has been a glittering, if often frustrating career, who scored the winner to clinch the title.
In 2012, Nacional have set about juggling their national campaign in the Clausura with an attack on this year's Copa Libertadores. In the national championship Gallardo's squad have proved dominant in Montevideo winning each of their opening three home matches, but have struggled on their travels, taking just one point from their first three away games.
Their foray into continental competition has also proved to be something of a mixed-bag. An exceptional opening day performance saw them win 2-1 in Brazil against Vasco De Gama, but that was backed up by a disappointing home defeat by Paraguay's Libertad. Marcos Aguirre had given Nacional a half-time lead, only for two goals in six second half minutes to give the away side the spoils. A 1-0 away defeat and subsequent 1-0 home win in the return match against Peru's Alianza Lima has left Nacional with six points from their opening four matches and third in the group, a point behind both Libertad and Vasco. With the top two sides advancing to the knockout rounds, Gallardo must do something about their inconsistency, or see their Libertadores campaign end in the second round for the second consecutive season.
Uruguay unquestionably has a rich heritage for producing talent. Whether it be 'El Gran Mariscal' Jose Nasazzi, the first man to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1930 or his team-mate, the great forward Hector Scarone. Obdulio Varela, the great captain of 1950 who led his country to a 2-1 victory over Brazil in front of 200,000 in the Maracana and a second World Cup success or the 1980's poster-boy, 'El Principe', Enzo Francescoli, even the explosive talent of Recoba, great players have always been nurtured and developed from within before being exported across the world, the vast majority to some degree of success.
In a nation as football-mad and with such a cherished sense of history as Uruguay, there is no reason for a slow-down in talent production. And recent history would suggest that the most likely source of future Uruguayan international footballers is Club Nacional de Football. As such, Liverpool's partnership looks like an extremely shrewd move.
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