The previous owners put the club back years, the only hope is that these US owners do not do the same.
So the King has gone. It was inevitable wasn’t it considering the club was led by US businessmen whose country does not enjoy monarchies. Yet regardless of Republican desire for change, Fenway Sports Group have made the correct decision in their removal of not just Dalglish, but of the hierarcy of Liverpool football club.
Kenny Dalglish was brought in as a stop gap after the turbulent managerial reign of Roy Hodgson. He was the easiest choice to usher in the new generation of the Fenway Sports Group. However he wasn’t the long term option and if it wasn’t for a successful end to last season, I do not expect he would have remained at Anfield in the role of manager. Removing him last summer would have probably received a serious backlash from the fans and would have been a poor business decision for FSG in their ability to win over fans. They decided to give him a season and see what he could achieve. Ultimately he failed; with transfers, results and his very poor handling of the media. As well as the poor PR which followed the Suarez Evra affair, it was perhaps his comment about 24 hour news reporting which showed how out of touch he was with the modern game.
John Henry has decided that the experiment this season was a resounding failure and that if Liverpool have serious ambitions of reaching the Champions League again then relying on the past is not the answer. You see, the problem with Liverpool, as a club and as fans, is that they still hold onto the belief that they are one of the world’s best clubs. In terms of history, Liverpool are very much one of the best, yet based on the modern era, Liverpool are nowhere the top of elite football. Not winning your domestic league for over twenty years is testament enough to the decline of this club. A Champions League success in 2005 enabled Liverpool to believe they were still one of the best, yet they failed to push on from this success.
Promises of success from the US
Although Liverpool reached the final of the Champions League again in 2007, losing to Milan, the worst possible situation in hindsight had already occurred; the acquisition of the club from George Gillett and Tom Hicks. They arrived with promises of spending big on players and investing in a new stadium. It all seemed positive with the acquisition of world class forward Fernando Torres in July 2007, however when a fall out between Rafa and the owners became public and then rumours of their interest in Jurgen Klinsman taking over as manager was also admitted by Hicks, then Liverpool supporters lost confidence in their new owners. What had seemed like the start of a new era for Liverpool had begun to become a nightmare for the fans, and when talks regarding the new stadium were put on hold due to financial reasons, then it appeared Liverpool were under the ownership of very toxic owners.
When Benitez was over ruled in his desire to bring Gareth Barry to the club, instead Liverpool bringing Robbie Keane to the club, then it seemed that behind the scenes the club had hit rock bottom. Although Liverpool came very close to winning the league that season, finishing four points off United in 2nd place, it was clear that serious issues were affecting the long term future of the club.
That following season Liverpool finished 7th in the league, a disastrous season considering the previous one; Alberto Aquilani replacing the impressive Xavi Alonso, a clear indication where the club was heading. The issues between manager and owners had become very public and the fans dislike of the Americans grew all season long. Liverpool were in crisis and in April 2010 Hicks and Gillett announced they had put the club up for sale. Inevitably Benitez left at the end of the season, to be replaced by Roy Hodgson. The clubs ambitions were only getting smaller and when Konchesky, Poulsen and Joe Cole were purchased that summer, then the American’s intentions to make Liverpool great again had clearly not materialised.
The issues on the pitch under Hodgson were nothing like the issues going on off it, a fall out between Hicks and Gillett, the loans being put in the toxic assets division with RBS and the ensuing battle between the Americans and Christian Purslow, the managing director and commercial director Ian Ayre over the offer to purchase the club from John Henry and the Fenway Sports Group. Eventually, FSG had their bid accepted and a new era appeared to be ushered into Liverpool.
New men, same problems
And so we are in May 2012 and the problems are surfacing again over the problems of US ownership and European football. Over Europe there appears to be consistent issues with American owners and football; United are struggling with the impact of the Glazers, Aston Villa have suffered from the impact of Randy Lerner, Roma’s ideas of “BarceRoma” have been a failure this season, Stan Kroenke seems less inclined to invest as heavily as the Russian Usmanov would be and the problems Liverpool have had with Hicks & Gillett and now FSG appear to indicate that US business does not correlate well to European “soccer”.
It appears that the problem with US ownership comes down to all that concerns North Americans, earning money. The purpose that these owners have bought these clubs is because they see an opportunity to make money. The thing is, it is very rare that you really “make” money from football. It is an expensive business, especially if you want to win things. Arsenal are a great model of a side who wish to make a profitable business from football, yet they have frustrated their fans in their attempts to succeed financially from football. Man City and Chelsea have shown that heavy investment results in success and with debts of £500 million with clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid, then the message is clear; if you want success, you have to accept it will cost money. United, who made their product into a marketing machine were seen as worthy investment in order for US owners to suck money out the club. The Glazers have taken something near £400 million out of the once debt free Man Utd in order to fund their other endeavours. This is quite amazing, shocking and somewhat unsurprising about US interests in business.
What of Liverpool?
Liverpool fans therefore should be apprehensive about their present owners, they need to know what the intentions of FSG are? Clearly their goal is to use the club as a marketing tool to spread their image globally. Football is the biggest game in the world, and the Champions League is the biggest tournament watched by millions. So John Henry’s goal is to get Liverpool back to these heights in order to use them as a marketing tool. That is all that concerns FSG; image and success.
The sacking of Kenny Dalglish is not surprising from a football perspective, he has made errors this season, yet owners who understood the club would have perhaps been more gentle and understanding about sacking a legend of the club. As it was, they treated him like any other manager, history and legacy was ignored. The key was that Dalglish had failed, he had painted a poor image of Liverpool globally and this was just not acceptable. I have no problem with Dalglish being relieved, yet the manner of it will affect the fans, and FSG need to understand this. The fans have had their fingers burnt by previous US owners, they took Liverpool from Champions League finals to the Europa League, they do not want this to happen again.
FSG have a major decision to make regarding what happens next. Effectively they have decided to change the power structure of the club, they believed that Dalglish had too much power and wielded too much influence and their Director of Football failed to implement their Moneyball model, this seasons performances meant heads rolled. It has left Liverpool devoid of any leadership and has left the fans worried about the future of the club. Former Barcelona Technical Director Txiki Begiristain appears to have been named as the new Director of Football at Liverpool, yet it seems chaotic behind the scenes at Anfield right now.
Youth is key for a global image
So who is the right man for the job and what do they want of him. A shortlist of 12 managers is rather a "longlist", the remit seemingly being the manager must be young. Their intentions seem clear, they want the new man to reflect their global image of Liverpool. The US mentality puts much emphasis on youth, it dominates the mentality of the country, youth in the US means exuberance, energy and signals good health. You just have to look at the Presidential race between Obama and McCain, youth versus old. Where once old age meant wisdom, today it means out of touch. FSG encompass these pro-youth views, knowing that their image is key for the progression of Liverpool as a global brand. This is why they are seeking a good looking, young manager.
It would appear they want someone who will not have the power that was given to Rafa or Kenny. This is the reason that Rafa will not return, he wields too much power over the club, and although it seems a smart appointment as his return will be welcomed by the fans, this is not what FSG want. This is why their approach is highly dangerous. What has Martinez, Rogers or Lambert achieved? They have done well with small clubs, have played attractive football and impressed neutrals, yet are they capable of managing Liverpool? Is Andre Villas-Boas’ reputation tarnished too much still from his time at Chelsea, which is unfortunate because if he was coming from Porto as of last season, he would be the ideal choice. Names like Guardiola, Mourinho and even Capello (too old) are not realistic; they want to work with in the top levels of the game, working with the best players and in the Champions League. The truth is, Liverpool are not a big club anymore and thus they cannot attract big name managers of the ilk being touted in the media. Right now Liverpool do not have the players or importantly the infrastructure in place to be an attractive proposition.
A long term plan
Many questions have been asked about who is advising the owners, many believing that David Dein is being influential behind the scenes. Even Paul Tomkins, a blogger on Liverpool has been accused of playing a part in advising FSG. What is important, and what they have seemingly failed to do, is show a knowledge of the club and it's history and a respect to the fans to instruct on what they intend to do and indicate that they have a plan for the future of the club.
Liverpool are very far off the top and the impact of US ownership has been a key reason for Liverpool’s decline in recent years. Although Arsenal fans will complain about lacking trophies, they can be proud that they have a world class stadium to allow them to compete with the top sides in the coming years. They have managed to maintain their ability to qualify for the Champions League too which is impressive, and this comes from the stability that Wenger has given the club. How much farther ahead are Arsenal to Liverpool! This means that if FSG are serious about wanting to make Liverpool great again then they need to look to invest in the players and importantly get a new stadium built in the next five years. If, for their own selfish reasons they want to make money then they need to build for the long term future of the club. The next manager needs to be given time, because if it becomes a 12 month job, then there will no stability and thus only years of mediocrity.
Fans need to be realisitc
The fans need to understand that success will not come overnight, and by this I mean challenging up the top. Right now they are in with the Everton’s and Fulham’s, this is not an incorrect assessment of where the club is. What the fans need to understand is that Liverpool is NOT a big club right now, they haven’t been for at least five years and fans need to understand that if they expect short term success then they will be disappointed. If they hound out the next man, if they protest against the owners, then they cannot expect to get back to the top. When Alex Ferguson took over United he did not win anything for five years, the board were patient with him and allowed him to build a side which needed work. Liverpool fans need to allow the owners to implement this with a new man.
In my opinion the best man for the job would be Paul Lambert; what he has shown is a drive and determination, a pragmatism and ability to bring out the best in players above what is expected of them. Whereas I doubt the ability for Martinez, Rogers and even Villas-Boas to impart their influence on the Liverpool players, I see Lambert being able to convince and impress the Liverpool players. Remember, he is a Champions League winner with Dortmund, has played at the top and comes across with a steel of that like Alex Ferguson. He is exactly what Liverpool need, and what FSG need also; they need someone who can impress the fans while they look to build the foundations for a new stadium and give the club the chance to get back to the top.
The journey won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight, yet Liverpool fans need to move on from the past, don’t forget the history, but accept the truth; the truth that Liverpool right now are nowhere a top club, they don’t have the quality of players to challenge for the top and that expectations need to be realistic. The previous owners put the club back years, the only hope is that these US owners do not do the same.
The Whitehouse Address covers stories from all over, anything which interests or is topical. Feedback is always welcomed as I do not profess to know everything. I just have a real love of the game and enjoy voicing my opinion.