When Argentinian winger Maxi Rodriguez made his debut for Liverpool seven years ago, on January 16, 2010, few supporters knew quite what to expect from their new No. 17. Signed on a free transfer from Atletico Madrid four days earlier, Maxi joined as an established talent with proven pedigree in La Liga, but given the host of failures that preceded him on Merseyside, there was a certain sense of trepidation around his arrival. But over his two-and-a-half years with the club, Maxi proved his worth—and remains a model for Liverpool in the January transfer market to this day.
During his six seasons with the club, Rafa Benitez saw a number of attacking midfielders come and go, with many failing to produce what was expected of them at Anfield. Antonio Nunez, Mark Gonzalez, Jermaine Pennant, Nabil El Zhar, Ryan Babel and Sebastian Leto had all disappointed for a variety of reasons, and while Dirk Kuyt, Yossi Benayoun and Luis Garcia were among the Spaniard’s successes in the department, the second half of the 2009/10 campaign prompted the pursuit of another star in the final third. Maxi arrived having already played with Fernando Torres at the Vicente Calderon, and having taken the captain’s armband when the striker left for Liverpool in 2007, had gone on to cement himself as a key fixture under Javier Aguirre.
For Argentina, Maxi quietly established himself alongside the likes of Juan Roman Riquelme, Pablo Aimar, Lucho Gonzalez, Javier Saviola and a young Lionel Messi—his wondergoal against Mexico sealing progress to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 2006. By the time he made the switch to Liverpool, he had amassed 30 appearances for his country, scoring nine goals and assisting another six. But still, when he joined the Reds five-and-a-half years after his international debut, the Kop still needed some convincing from their manager.
“We were looking for players with character and a good mentality. He has played for Argentina and Atletico Madrid and is a player with personality,” Benitez explained on Maxi’s arrival. “He can play in three positions—on the right, left or as a second striker—and is someone with a very positive mentality, which is what we are looking for. He is comfortable on the ball, can pass and keep possession. He is good at getting into the box and scoring goals and a good finisher. Every year he gets five to 15 goals from the right side of midfield.” Supporters were promised positivity, flexibility and, most importantly—having seen Liverpool score just 12 times in eight Premier League games in the two months before his arrival—goals; and Maxi certainly provided this.
Maxi played under three different Reds managers, with Benitez followed by Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish, and while he could never be considered a key player, he gave Liverpool consistency and maturity on the field. He scored 17 goals for the club over 73 appearances, with his most memorable run coming with seven strikes in three games in 2011, including hat-tricks against Birmingham City and Fulham; with his trio at Craven Cottage solidifying his status as one of Merseyside’s cult favourites. A testament to his quality, Maxi was the subject of a fervent plea from Brendan Rodgers to stay with the Reds for his first season as manager in 2012/13, when the winger was considering a return to his first club, Newell’s Old Boys. Rodgers’ efforts proved to be futile, and Maxi’s spell with the Reds ended prematurely, leaving alongside Kuyt and Craig Bellamy in a questionably busy period that saw experience make way for youth.
Pound for pound, Liverpool have made few more impressive signings than Maxi since his arrival at the beginning of 2010, and still plying his trade with Newell’s in the Argentine Primera Division—as well as turning out for his country up to 2015—he deserves to be recognised as such. His versatility, consistency and reliability were invaluable during a tumultuous period for the club, and Maxi undoubtedly played an important role in aiding Luis Suarez’s transition into life on Merseyside.
This brings him into relevance to Liverpool’s current incarnation under Jurgen Klopp, and the German’s options during the January transfer window. The Reds are certainly in a better position than they were when Benitez signed Maxi, but it can be argued that they remain a distance away from the complete package. Klopp’s approach to youth development is admirable, and the squad’s average age of 26 is the second-youngest in the English top flight, but that he can call upon just three outfield players aged 29 or over highlights a lack of experience in Liverpool’s backbone. Furthermore, with Lucas Leiva currently considering a move away from Merseyside, this number could soon drop further, leaving Klopp with just Ragnar Klavan and James Milner. The ability to call upon another player like Maxi, content with playing a squad role but able to perform when required, would be invaluable as Klopp leads his side through their Premier League title challenge.
In every sense of the word, Maxi was a throwback, and it is unlikely Liverpool will find similar value in the current market, but the presence of an old hand or two, able to coax regular quality out of Klopp’s young squad and cover for the absence of key players, could prove vital. The perfect example of this came in 2000/01, when a 36-year-old Gary McAllister joined to help lead Gerard Houllier’s Reds to an FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup treble, and 16 years later, replicating this would be hugely significant.
A wonderful player who seared himself into the memories of the Anfield faithful over two-and-a-half years, Maxi remains fondly remembered on Merseyside, and his short spell in a red shirt should still serve as a useful model for the club in the transfer market.