It’s Deserved, But Is It Smart? The Adam Lallana Contract Conundrum

Over the last couple of days, various media outlets have released reports that Adam Lallana is going to be signing an extended contract at Liverpool. The England international first arrived at Anfield in 2014 following a big money move from fellow Premier League side Southampton, and despite a slow start initially he’s gradually become an integral part of the exciting unit that Jürgen Klopp is putting together.

Assessing his performance during this campaign in particular shows that. He’s continued to build on his role as a great presser and attacking facilitator who links things together, while also becoming more consistent when it comes to his previously questionable end product. The total of 14 goals and assists (seven of each) that he has in the league, while slightly higher than you’d expect based on his figures for shots and key passes, is one that no other Liverpool player surpasses. Even when factoring in the lesser playing time of Philippe Coutinho, his nearest competitor when looking at it in ‘per 90 minutes’ terms, he still comes out on top. He’s been very good so far.

Lallana has been one of Liverpool's most important players so far this season.

Lallana has been one of Liverpool's most important players so far this season.

Seeing a team give one of their best performing, most important players a new deal is hardly an unexpected phenomenon. It’s not been long since Coutinho signed an extension there himself, the 24-year-old committing to staying until 2022 in a move that was heavily praised as a real statement of intent by Liverpool. Other, bigger clubs being interested in the Brazilian is no secret, and they’re doing what they can to fend them off for now. Nobody can argue that’s a bad idea. Nobody did.

With Lallana it’s not quite been the same though. Despite his undeniably big role in the side, a quite negative set of opinions has arisen since rumours of the contract broke: £150,000 per week until 2021, the terms which have consistently been touted, being the main reason for that. Currently 28, he’ll be 33 by the time that would expire. And it’s understandable that people aren’t overly keen, because that’s a lot of money and time to tie up in a player who, based on the general ageing curve in the sport, has a good chance of experiencing a natural decline over the next few years.

It brings up an interesting, general thing to think about. When a player is so vital, yet simultaneously has already entered (what is considered as) their prime period and as a result is probably going to be on that downward slope soon enough, at what time do you let go? Or do you do it at all?

It’s tough. Flashback to a year ago this month and a similar situation arose at West Ham with a then 28-year-old Dimitri Payet. Having joined the previous summer and enjoyed a superb start to life in London, his performances got him a big wage increase in February and an extended contract to stay there until 2021. We all know what’s happened with that since, of course. Even when he was by far and away the best player at the club though, there were plenty of notable pros and cons for West Ham to consider when thinking about what to do with him at a similar point in his career to the one Lallana has reached.

When he signed his extended contract in February 2016, Payet was one year older than the number on the back of his shirt. And however good he was, offering a long-term deal to a player of that age isn't necessarily a smart thing to do.

When he signed his extended contract in February 2016, Payet was one year older than the number on the back of his shirt. And however good he was, offering a long-term deal to a player of that age isn't necessarily a smart thing to do.

One option for the club was to just sell Payet back then. Cashing in on him after Euro 2016, when he was at the most valuable he’s ever been, would’ve provided a highly significant windfall – offering them an opportunity to reinvest a lot of money into the rest of the squad and thus ensure that him potentially ageing badly could never be a problem they had to deal with. On the other hand, though, this was their current star. A fan favourite, club player of the year, and one of the biggest talents Upton Park had seen for a long time. How could they sell him?

And they didn’t. At least, not in the summer anyway. But look at what happened between then and the moment he eventually re-joined Marseille in January. West Ham failed to use Payet staying as a catalyst for encouraging high quality players to join him, the club enduring a frustrating transfer window before then seeing their league form drop following an above expectations performance for long periods of the 2015/16 season. His own showings weren’t as consistent either, and then he was let go for a fairly significant amount less than West Ham might’ve got for him if he were sold in the summer.

Granted, Payet’s unhappiness and desire to move back home isn’t a factor to consider when it comes to Lallana. There are other differences too: like the stature and aims of the clubs involved, and the comparatively greater amount of interest (based on media reports, at least) in the Frenchman at the time of his renewal. As well as wage structures and contrasting views on how well either player might age. Or… well, yeah, there are plenty.

Liverpool's nine main midfield and attacking options, ordered by their goals and assists produced per 90 minutes in the Premier League so far this.

Liverpool's nine main midfield and attacking options, ordered by their goals and assists produced per 90 minutes in the Premier League so far this.

The point is, giving a player a big new deal at this point in their career isn’t as simple a decision to make as it’s often interpreted. A lot of ifs, buts and maybes end up needing to be thought about. Payet’s extension at the time was dubbed by most as a no-brainer, while right now there are plenty who feel the choice to give Lallana his is one that’s being made with no brain. That general consensus proved to be wrong with Payet. Who knows whether it will for Lallana?

What makes sense from a club’s perspective in these situations, though, if they want someone to stick around, is to do more to reduce the risk. Rather than tying ageing players into long-term deals that will take them into the latter stages of their career, be smarter about it. Use incentives to ensure that less damage is done if they do take an untimely downturn. Or attempt to be more on top of organising and scheduling renewals in the first place.

Giving Lallana a new contract of some sort is fair. It’s hard to argue against his performances since Klopp arrived justifying one, and it’s clear that the manager holds him in very high regard. If the reported £150,000 a week until 2021 terms are accurate, though, then they’ve got themselves into a quite precarious position. It’s not something that they – or other clubs for that matter – should look to be repeating.


This article was written by Daniel Butler, the editor of The Tactics Room and the owner of the site's official Twitter account (which you can follow here).