Liverpool have been linked with a wide range of central defenders to replace the retiring Jamie Carragher this summer, despite the current season not having ended yet—and the latest name in the frame is Real Madrid's international centre-back Raul Albiol.
The Spanish defender is certainly a capable player and has gained a lot of experience in challenging for top honours, having played for the likes of Valencia and the Spanish national team during the successful World Cup 2010 competition. According to the Express, he is now being linked with a move to Merseyside, after failing to win a regular starting spot at the Santiago Bernabeu .
However, the central-defensive position is one that Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers absolutely must get right this summer, for both the short and long term, and the signs are that Raul Albiol perhaps doesn't quite tick all the boxes to be Carragher's replacement.
Requirements to Replace a Liverpool Great
It's easy to say that Liverpool can't replace Jamie Carragher, but the fact of the matter is, they have to. They are losing an experienced, proven, loyal winner at one of the most important positions on the field this summer, and without a fee as well.
In terms of playing style and mentality, there are of course aspects of Carragher's play that any new signing should aim to have.
A will to win is a must for any strong central defender, as well as the strength to bounce back from mistakes or goals conceded without dropping his head. Carragher's organisation is something that the Reds are going to miss considerably on and off the field, and they need to replicate that somewhere in the team, even if it is not in the new, incoming centre-back.
Of course, it has to be a right-sided defender to play alongside Daniel Agger, and he needs to be very strong in the air—skill defending set pieces would be a bonus—and be comfortable playing out from the back. Although with Agger in the side, the predominant issue would be that the second centre-back was the big competitor, capable of winning the ball, making clearances and holding a firm, high line.
Where Do Albiol's Strengths Lie?
Raul Albiol is a proven defender whose honours list reads like a wish list for most English footballers: His club career has seen him win two domestic cups, a domestic league title, a European trophy and, on the international scene, the FIFA World Cup once and the UEFA European Championships twice.
Quite obviously, he is a highly regarded player who has deserved his place amongst the greatest international team on the planet over the past few decades, where he has won almost 40 caps to date.
Albiol is known as a composed and intelligent defender, able to read the game well and play more or less anywhere across the back line, as well as in a defensive midfield role. His in-game reading ability allows him to make countless interceptions and clearances, while he is also relatively strong in the air—though one-on-one marking is not perhaps his greatest strength.
As with pretty much every player in the Spanish squad, Albiol is comfortable in possession and is happy to receive and distribute the ball from deep in his own half. Despite this, Albiol is not the first choice for Real Madrid and has made only 16 La Liga appearances this season, with a handful of games in other competitions adding to his tally.
Why He's Not the Right Call for Rodgers
Albiol is certainly a fine defender, and if the Reds were searching for someone to play alongside Carragher, he would likely be a decent call. However, Liverpool need someone to come in and be the aggressive, proactive partner to Daniel Agger in the centre, and that natural willingness to step out of the defensive line and force an opponent to make his move isn't really part of Albiol's game.
He's not a big tackler and doesn't possess oodles of pace, and he is used to playing (at club level) primarily on teams with a deep line and fast transitions in both directions. That is not what Liverpool are trying to do with their own tactics.
At age 27 (he turns 28 just into the new season), he's not likely to improve on the areas of his game which are weak, and perhaps some of these are going to be key to the Reds' fortunes at the back next term. As an established international with a long-term contract until 2017, Albiol is unlikely to come cheap either, and though spending heavily on a first-team centre-back is not out of the question for Liverpool, it has absolutely got to be the right one.
Communication with Pepe Reina, a fellow Spaniard, would obviously not be a problem at the back, but Albiol has never been recognised as a big talker, so the Reds would still be looking to take their on-pitch leadership and organisation from elsewhere.
Certainly Raul Albiol is a very good defender, and in other summers, his name being linked to Liverpool might be seen as a good thing for fans—but this year he is simply not the right man at the right time for the Reds and Brendan Rodgers.