Naby Keita, Bruno Cheyrou and what pre-season tells us about Liverpool’s transfers
It was a mesmerising performance that had Liverpool supporters convinced Gerard Houllier was right, the Reds had signed the next Zinedine Zidane.
Most Liverpool fans would deny it now, but Bruno Cheyrou was so good in a single pre-season friendly against Lazio in 2002 that hopes were very high for the Frenchman’s Anfield career.
We all know how that ended up, but Cheyrou’s performance underlined why it’s very difficult to judge new signings in pre-season.
So who else has impressed or failed in the summer, only to have very different experiences when the real business started in August?
There’s only one place to start…
We’ve just touched upon the ‘next Zidane’, but it’s an interesting story to tell in full.
Signing for the Reds in July 2002, Cheyrou arrived with plenty of hype – thanks in part to his manager – after a successful spell with Lille.
And he seemingly hit the ground running, impressing during a 1-0 defeat to Lazio at Anfield.
The Frenchman dazzled in white boots – back then a style only reserved for the very best of players – putting Lazio on the backfoot with a bagful of tricks and a touch to make supporters drool.
Fast forward six months and Cheyrou was struggling to get on pitch for Liverpool.
He simply didn’t settle and a pre-season full of promise turned into an Anfield nightmare, a match-winner at Chelsea aside, and a move back to France followed.
It’s fair to say that Cheyrou was not the next Zidane after all.
A recent example of the perils of pre-season, Naby Keita’s impressive form in summer 2018 had many fans, and reporters in this office, convinced he’d hit the ground running at Anfield.
Keita’s ability was there for all to see and the midfielder, who had waited a year to make the move to Anfield, was clearly well suited and up-to-speed with Jurgen Klopp’s way of playing.
One year later and it’s fair to say that Keita probably had the slowest start of all of Liverpool’s summer signings.
Fabinho found his feet to become a key man, Alisson enjoyed an excellent campaign and Xherdan Shaqiri justified his purchase with some key contributions.
Keita was just starting to get to grips with life at Anfield when he was ruled out of the end of the season through injury, and the Guinean clearly has plenty to offer, but his pre-season efforts are a cautionary tale that fans shouldn’t expect too much too soon.
Iago Aspas is best remembered at Anfield for one thing… a badly-taken corner as Liverpool chased the game – and the Premier League – against Chelsea.
But things could have been so different for the Spaniard had he managed to build on an impressive pre-season in summer 2013.
Aspas managed five goals in eight pre-season fixtures, with Brendan Rodgers side winning all but one of their friendly matches.
The slower pace of pre-season clearly suited Aspas, but when the Premier League got underway he seriously struggled with the speed and physicality.
Just one goal followed, against Oldham in the FA Cup, before Aspas returned to Spain – where he has become a regular scorer and Celta Vigo legend.
And so to Andriy Voronin, the ponytailed Ukrainian best remember for double denim and those flowing blonde locks..
He was also a regular goalscorer – but only in pre-season.
In fact, he scored as more goals in pre-season appearances for Liverpool than he did in 40 full games for the Reds.
Voronin notched eight goals in the three summers he spent at Anfield, and Liverpool fans would be forgiven for thinking Rafael Benitez had pulled off a bargain when signing the forward on a free transfer from Leverkusen.
Not so, and rightly or wrongly, Voronin ended up being a figure of fun at Anfield.
An impressive return of 33 goals in his maiden season at Anfield made Fernando Torres an instant Liverpool hit.
But some fans were concerned that the Spaniard, who had scored just 15 goals for Atletico Madrid before arriving, was going to struggle after a poor pre-season for the Reds.
Torres scored just once, against Shanghai Shenhua, and looked a little lost for the Reds at times in summer 2007.
Liverpool’s number nine even missed a penalty in a shootout loss to Portsmouth, seeing David James save his tame kick.
The Spaniard’s moody demeanor didn’t match that of a man who was about to enjoy one of the most impressive goalscoring returns in Liverpool’s modern history, but a goal against Chelsea on his Anfield debut set the tone for what was to follow.