Finally, after close to eight years of dedicated service to Liverpool, Martin Skrtel has departed Anfield in a move to Fenerbahce for a fee of approximately £5.5 million. Despite being an everpresent in the Red’s defence since his arrival, I think it would still be somewhat of an understatement to say that Skrtel has received much criticism for his performances, especially during the later years of his tenure. Whether it was due to his frequent lapses of concentration, a tendency to commit unnessecary fouls and love of shirt pulling, or simply his inept defending, Skrtel has found it hard to escape the wrath of the Anfield faithful. The Slovakian hasn’t always been a figure of disdain though, having provided vital headed goals and produced moments of heroic defending, while his intimidating presence often helped to unnerve opposition attackers, which worked to Liverpool’s advantage. However, Skrtel’s dramatic decline throughout the last four years has been remarkable, having gone from a dependable figure who formed rock-solid partnerships with club legends Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger, to someone who had no trust from the manager and was even displaced from the squad by an ageing Kolo Touré. In spite of our regular defensive crises and although he has been an important player in the past, here is why Jurgen Klopp was right to sell Skrtel, someone who is evidently past his prime.
Rather surprisingly, if you look at Skrtel purely from a statistical point of view, you’d have thought Liverpool would have made a mistake by selling him on. According to Squawka, during his last two seasons at the club, Skrtel constantly ranked higher than both Lovren and Sakho in multiple factors, namely his clearances, blocks and interceptions, areas of the game where Skrtel seems to excel. Astonishingly, despite the fact that on the surface Skrtel seemed to be one of the most error prone defenders in the Premier League whenever he played, last season he made less errors leading to goal per ninety minutes than both Sakho and Lovren, which perhaps suggests that he was unfairly treated by the fans. Although on paper Skrtel seems to be a reliable and consistent defender who could have still have played a role in the Liverpool team, statistics fail to tell the whole story. What they don’t show you is how Skrtel failed to get close to Odion Ighalo when he scored against us for Watford and how Skrtel was humiliated by him and Troy Deeney when we lost to them in December or more memorably, when he was embarrassed by Anthony Martial after he turned Skrtel inside out and glided past him to score his first goal in a United shirt. Although not technically counted as defensive errors, moments like this show just how easily Skrtel could be bullied by strikers and how he could no longer keep up with the demanding pace that the Premier League possesses. This therefore suggests exactly why it was right for Liverpool to sell him on this summer, especially when taking into account the high pressing style implemented by Jurgen Klopp, which requires incredibly high levels of fitness, something that Skrtel seriously lacks.
However if you are looking for something that epitomises exactly why Liverpool fans wanted Skrtel out the door this summer, look no further than the 20th March of this year. With Liverpool coasting against Southanpton, with a two goal advantage at half time, Klopp decided to substitute on Skrtel in an attempt to assure the three points and keep us in the race for Champions League qualification. There should have been no problem with this. Albeit the fact that Skrtel had just returned from a muscular injury, Liverpool were bringing on an experienced and accomplished defender who should have been able to help see the game out for the team. Yet everything that transpired in the second half was essentially a compilation of all the defensive weaknesses and liabilities that Skrtel possesses in his game. Just moments after being on the field, Skrtel brainlessly tangled with Graziano Pellé in the box and gave away a penalty and although Mignolet fortunately saved the effort, Skrtel was then culpable for all three of the goals we conceded. Even though he was admittedly rusty after three months out with an injury, he was the complete opposite of what you’d expect from a once first-choice centre-back and reflected the fact he is longer dependable, as a starter or substitute. With the Liverpool Echo describing Skrtel’s appearance against Southampton as a ‘nightmare return’, was there really any point of keeping Skrtel in the squad? When you consider that displays akin to the Southampton one were a regular occurrence, with Skrtel being instrumental in costing us games against Stoke and Crystal Palace, along with the fact Lovren and Sakho were cemented as first choice and the impending arrival of Joel Matip, I didn’t really any point of Skrtel sticking around.
Typically, when a player has been at a club for almost a decade, they are viewed as somewhat of a cult hero to fans, even if their form starts to drop near the climax of their career. Similarly to Lucas Leiva though, despite his dedicated service to Liverpool, Skrtel was generally a figure of disdain and ridicule for the supporters. We blamed our defensive fragilities over the years on Skrtel, somewhat understandably as he has been the ever present in our weak defence over the past five years, while many thought he was one of the main culprits for preventing Liverpool from winning a first league title in almost 25 years. Even though Skrtel has evidently deteriorated over the years, the amount of disrespect Skrtel received from the supporters was in my opinion unjust. Not only has Skrtel been an incredibly loyal servant to the club since his arrival but also provided some magical moments for the team as well. Whether it was his goal scoring heroics of the title-chasing season, namely the two early headers during the thrashing of Arsenal or his perfectly executed volley against Man City back in November, Skrtel has given enough to be regarded in a positive light by supporters, rather than the disdain he receives instead.
In spite of all Skrtel has given to Liverpool over the years though, it was clearly time to move on. Not only was he evidently past his best, with him lacking the intimidation factor that was so prevalent early in his career, he can simply no longer cut it in the competitive Premier League. With Lovren and Sakho now established as a solid centre back partnership, with both looking weaker whenever patterned with Skrtel, the Slovakian had almost no chance of reestablishing himself in the starting team, despite being first-choice only a year ago. For a price of £5.5M, Liverpool have got an excellent deal and along with the departure of Kolo Touré and the arrivals of Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan, we look much stronger in defence than we did this time last year. His status at the club may have waned progressively but Liverpool fans should still be grateful for the dedication Skrtel has shown to the club, with Liverpool definitely holding a great place in his heart.
Thanks Martin and good luck!