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MARTIN SAMUEL: Liverpool’s rivals must pay the price for Declan Rice, whatever it is

David Moyes was asked about the future of Declan Rice. ‘He’s not going anywhere, unless you get one of those steel vans that have the cash in it,’ he said.

That’s not the same as no sale. And Moyes could have said no sale. Instead, he indicated buyers would need a lot of money, which is no real deterrent at all because the type of clubs that should be interested in Rice have fortunes.

Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United. If there is a price for Rice, those that finished far away in Liverpool’s slipstream should pay it. He is what they need. A protector of defences, a centre half of immense promise.

Moyes said Rice was the best midfielder at the club and the best central defender, too. And defenders should be the premium purchase this summer. Defenders are what the chasing pack need — all of them.

Brendan Rodgers is a positive person but there will be quiet moments when he reflects on the season just gone and curses. It may not come around again, a chance like that for Leicester — a year when all of the elite clubs, bar Liverpool, are vulnerable at the back.

Chelsea, who reached the Champions League, let in as many goals as Brighton, who came 15th. Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United were widely considered as good as any back line in the country apart from the champions.

And Leicester had 14 points on Manchester United and Chelsea when 2020 began. They missed out on a top four spot because, had the whole season started then, they would now be 12th.

So while Liverpool made this a special campaign, in a league in which successful clubs are built from defence, it was a failure for most — one requiring resolution in the transfer market and swiftly. Given that Manchester United paid £80million for Harry Maguire and £30m for Victor Lindelof and are still far from convincing, this is hardly a buyer’s market. 

Manchester City are tracking Nathan Ake, who has just been relegated with Bournemouth. There is bound to be interest in Tyrone Mings of Aston Villa, too. Yet Rice, who has been consistently linked with Chelsea, could be better than them all.

He is one of only seven outfield players to have featured in every minute of this league campaign and only the fourth aged 21 or younger to do so in the Premier League era.

While he has played the vast majority of his football in midfield, many still see his best position as centre half, long-term. It is believed to be where Frank Lampard would use him if he returned to Chelsea, his club until age 14.

As for Manchester City, Pep Guardiola is on record saying his ideal team would have 11 midfield players. He’s backed that up at various times by playing defences featuring Fernandinho, or Javier Mascherano at Barcelona.

Rice affords the best of both worlds — a talent with the instincts of a defender, but the imagination of a midfielder.

He could become the player that John Stones never quite was. It’s moot, of course, because he’s not for sale. Unless you’ve got a steel van full of cash.

Something suggests Sheik Mansour or Roman Abramovich might.

Daniel Farke, Norwich manager, was reviewing his club’s dismal relegation season. ‘For us, it was the expected outcome,’ he said.

What a pity Norwich did not see fit to inform fans of this when they renewed their season tickets last year. A simple notice would have sufficed. ‘We won’t be investing and we expect to be relegated.’ 

Then an informed decision could be made on whether this was an adequate use of individual funds, as the club is so proudly mindful of its own.

There were eight horses declared for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes last week, but by the time the field set off on Saturday, there were three. It was the smallest turnout in the event’s history, after just five ran in 2011. 

Aidan O’Brien listed six horses, ended up with two. He is a force of nature in domestic racing, but this is not entirely uncommon. And it is a strange season, we know.

Even so, for the most prestigious all-age Group 1 over a mile and a half, to end up a three-horse race does the sport few favours. Enable went off 4-9 favourite and flew home under Frankie Dettori a record third time. It was a brilliant display. Yet surely mass withdrawals are damaging at a moment when all sports need to be at their best to ensure a well-supported return?

Jordan Henderson was typically self-effacing. Having passed his Footballer of the Year trophy around his Liverpool team-mates as if it were a collective prize, he was equally generous with his words. ‘You could pick anyone in that dressing room who would deserve it,’ he said.

Well, maybe not anyone, but plenty. Sadio Mane has been brilliant, while Trent Alexander-Arnold has created 13 goals from right back and had more touches of the ball than any Premier League player. 

In some games, he operates as Liverpool’s playmaker. Alisson did not miss as many matches in the league season as is imagined, and still played 29 out of 38. His awareness and athleticism is where Jurgen Klopp’s philosophy begins.

And then there is Virgil van Dijk; the first Liverpool player to feature in every minute of a title-winning campaign since Alan Hansen and Alan Kennedy in 1983-84, and only the fifth outfield player to do so for any champion in the Premier League era.

Van Dijk’s importance to the way Liverpool play is such he made the most passes of any Premier League player this season: 3,257.

Undoubtedly, his arrival marked Liverpool’s transition from a close second-best to the dominant force in English football. It has long been a source of debate whether the Footballer of the Year should simply be the best player, or the best player and man. 

Using the wider criteria it is easy to see why Henderson merited his award in this of all seasons; but in purely sporting terms, there has been no more important individual this season than Van Dijk.

He changed Liverpool’s history.

Now that everything is decided, and there can be no accusations of self-interest, it is time to say: Karren Brady was right.

If a season cannot be completed, it should be null and void. Nothing should get won or lost on a guess.

After 40 games in the Championship, the bottom five clubs were Huddersfield, Middlesbrough, Stoke, Barnsley and Luton. Notice anything? Not one of them went down. The relegated teams, on that day, Charlton and Hull, were sitting safely 18th and 19th. Wigan were 14th and yet to receive their points deduction. To remove the most vital part of the campaign was always a terrible judgment.

For the record, Brady never called for the season to be cancelled. She merely said it was the only option if the games could not be played.

‘What if the league cannot be finished?’ she wrote. ‘As games in both the Premier League and the EFL are affected, the only fair and reasonable thing is to declare the whole season null and void. Who knows who would have gone down or come up if the games have not actually been played in full?’

Try arguing against that now with supporters of Aston Villa, Luton and Barnsley, who would all have been relegated, or Manchester United, who would not have qualified for the Champions League, or Cardiff and Swansea, who would have been stranded outside the play-offs.

And yes, as West Ham were among those threatened — relegated if the Premier League had introduced a weighted points per game system based on lockdown positions — she was looking out for her club. But considering what the relegated clubs are now falling into, is it any wonder? 

Here is one executive’s definition of the Championship: ‘A league which seems to want to operate for the benefit of the lowest common denominator not the highest, and will impose impossible conditions and fines which only impact when you least need them to.’

No prizes for guessing the author. And she’s right about that, too.

Followers of Watford are very loyal to the Pozzo family. Understandably so. Under them, Watford have enjoyed their longest run in the Premier League, and their second longest in the top division. 

Even now, newly relegated, it is argued a strategy that has burned through six permanent managers in five Premier League seasons — including three in this campaign — is not to blame.

Look at Bournemouth, runs the argument. They were promoted the same year, have stuck with one boss throughout their time in the Premier League, and were relegated, too.

There is a difference. For a start, Watford are a bigger club than Bournemouth, attracting close to double their attendance each week during a normal season. 

The top division was not virgin territory to them, either. Bournemouth had never been among the elite before 2015-16; Watford had spent eight seasons there, across three spells, and were runners-up in 1982-83.

Bournemouth outspent Watford in the Premier League and finished ahead of them in three of five seasons — by eight places in their second campaign. Yet they did so while establishing a positive philosophy. Bournemouth have shown they will place faith in a good manager and a group of players. If Howe does leave, his replacement will know his employers are patient and loyal and will expect that in return.

What does a contract at Watford tell a manager? There is no trust, no vision to be shaped. He gets the players he is given, makes it work immediately, or is sacked. So the club feels transient. Everyone is passing through. And if a manager does well and a better offer comes along, well why shouldn’t he be interested when all that awaits him is an inevitable parting?

So, yes, Watford and Bournemouth with polarised strategies both went down. A club of Watford’s size, however, should be considerably better equipped to bounce back. So why doesn’t it feel that way?

VAR has not had the best season but, even when it works perfectly, managers still see what they want. 

Anthony Martial of Manchester United was felled by a dual challenge from Leicester’s Jonny Evans and Wes Morgan. Martin Atkinson gave a penalty and booked Evans, with a VAR check happening as a matter of procedure. 

Atkinson was wrong. Evans narrowly got the ball. It was Morgan who took out Martial. So a penalty just the same. Yet Brendan Rodgers remained in denial. ‘Jonny has got a touch,’ he insisted. ‘I know there was contact, but it could easily have not been a penalty.’

Further proof that, video evidence or not, managers watch a different game. Their own.

Sport England will invest £1million of National Lottery funding into hosting the women’s European Championship in 2022, in a bid to increase the number of adult female participants. Yet there is no problem with participation numbers in England. 

Indeed, in May, it was announced that 3.4m women and girls were playing football, doubling participation in three years. Equally, if Sport England has £1m spare, surely it could be better used improving facilities for women’s football at grass roots level, rather than investing in an elite event in the hope of inspiration. 

The 2012 Olympics surely proved that watching and doing are different animals. It is not as if the England women’s team will be short of visibility in two years’ time, either.

Sir Clive Woodward reiterated his displeasure at seeing Joe Marler and Dan Cole larking around at a press conference on the eve of the Rugby World Cup final — and drew a churlish response. 

Replying to Woodward’s comments during a question and answer session at St Mary’s University Twickenham, Marler said: ‘Change the record, Sir Clive — you should be grateful you can milk the cow for another three years.’ Actually, Woodward didn’t milk any cow. 

He won a World Cup, which gives him the right to say what he damn well pleases. It was Marler and friends who had the chance to change a record in Japan — and they blew it. 

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