JOHN HENRY — who remains the Principal Owner of Liverpool Football Club — once said: “I think the biggest issue was the sense of disenfranchisement and their sense of not being a part of their own club, so that’s what we discussed. This was a big first step.”
He was speaking in October 2010 after meeting Liverpool supporters groups following what was then known as NESV securing a takeover of the club.
If Henry found fans to be at a low ebb back then it was understandable. Shafted by Hicks and Gillett. Managed by Hodgson. Beaten by Everton. Nineteenth in the table. Dark days.
“We realise the challenge that lies ahead if we are going to go toe to toe with the other big clubs,” added Henry then.
“We are not asking for a long honeymoon. This is a contact sport we are in and the going can get rough sometimes. We realise that.”
Let’s leave the turd unpolished — lately, the going has been rough. Not 2010 days, of course, but enough to have swathes of Liverpool’s support questioning the club’s direction again.
Two wins in nine at the end of the season. Weak performances against West Brom, Hull, Palace and — of course – Stoke; a day best forgotten, a match easily remembered. In your nightmares.
Add just one win in a relatively easy Champions League group, the Europa League exit and the dismal FA Cup semi against Villa.
Given the unprecedented £117million transfer spend on nine players the previous summer, and a record reading nine seasons with only the League Cup to show for it, it was no great surprise when the bookies made it a banker that Brendan Rodgers would soon be clearing his desk when Tom Werner and Michael Gordon came to town.
After all the Americans had form.
Instead, after a couple of hours of what were described as “good and productive” talks it was revealed “a comprehensive plan for improvement” had been agreed.
The phrases favoured by men in suits, shirts and ties arrived in the public domain encased in quotation marks but attributed to nobody. Nothing more has been revealed about that “comprehensive plan” since, although it soon became clear it included P45s for Mike Marsh and Colin Pascoe.
Since then, silence. John Henry seems to have lost interest, the visits curtailed, the tweets no more, and Michael Gordon, FSG’s Liverpool man, favours the low profile and even knocked back an interview with the Boston Globe, a newspaper owned by Henry.
It’s left a vacuum, a gap. A place where supporters are speculating what the plan is, or indeed whether there is one. It seems unlikely Rodgers bulleted his coaching staff, particularly given his close relationship with Pascoe. So why was the decision taken? What is Rodgers’ role now? Is the coaching the only aspect of football operations where changes are being considered? What about the transfer committee? If the No.2 that is chosen — by ‘mutual decision’ of Gordon, Werner and Rodgers, according to the local press — is too strong, too purposeful, are we about to usher in another Roy Evans/Gerard Houllier situation?
These aren’t the only questions circulating on a daily basis. There’s the bigger picture stuff, too. Are we walking the walk of a big club? Going toe to toe? If it’s a contact sport it feels like we’ve been on the canvas after swinging some pretty big punches the season before last.
But right now the corner man isn’t offering any advice as we prepare to go back out for another round. And as talent and experience continues to leave Liverpool with alarming regularity, fears increase that we’ll be fighting with one hand tied behind our back.
More than two weeks have passed since Marsh was told to take up walking the dog full time. Pascoe was left examining his shorts collection shortly after.
No explanation. No announcement. No justification. Nothing. Zilch. Silence. Nada.
Rewind back to 2010. One of the perceived plus points of the arrival of Henry and Co. on these shores was their willingness to communicate. They were seen as open and honest — the polar opposite of their hated predecessors from the Land of Opportunity.
Email Q&As, breakfast with supporters, phone-ins on LFCtv — we had communication from the owners coming out of our ears. It felt fresh. It seemed positive. The mood lifted.
It carried on for a time. Open letters. Statements. Interviews. Tweets.
But all of a sudden the silence is deafening. Henry was last seen in L4 in February. No asking what City, United or anyone else interested in Raheem Sterling is smoking. No show for Steven Gerrard’s last game and a similar noticeable by absence moment at Wembley.
So what’s changed? When did saying nothing become the strategy?
Henry has in the past praised the city of Liverpool for ‘a culture of toughness, intelligence and creativity’. Equally, he is an intelligent man. You would presume Gordon is too.
That being the case, and aided and abetted by the club’s communications team, you would guess that they have predicted the reaction, and the accusations, that have followed their decision to stay schtum.
Why would they say anything, you might ask. Why should they say anything, some people say. What other owners would speak in these circumstances, others have said.
How about John Henry?
Three thousand miles from Anfield, Henry is watching over another sports team’s crisis at the Boston Red Sox. They recently lost seven in a row, and unrest among fans has been building for some time.
Christopher L. Gasper wrote in the Boston Globe: “How bad does it have to get before someone in a position of authority or influence on 4 Yawkey Way decides to act, whether that’s changing the manager, recalibrating the roster or altering philosophical course?
“The Sox appear stuck in a state of organisational inertia, preaching patience, spouting platitudes, clinging to hope, and losing games. Rinse and repeat.
“There has to be an attempt to shake this team from its torpor. It’s not about finding a fall guy. It’s about trying to salvage a season that is quickly slipping into irrelevance. Trying anything is preferable to doing nothing.”
Within that climate, did Liverpool’s principal owner adopt the ostrich approach? Pull down the shutters and offer the bird? No. He faced the music and answered questions direct in front of an army of reporters.
Ballsy. Bold. And evidence of leadership and direction.
Is it too much to ask to see something similar at Liverpool sometime soon?
“Reversing the errors of previous regimes” no longer washes as an excuse. This is FSG’s club, with FSG’s players and FSG’s manager, transfer committee and executives.
Five years into Liverpool under FSG, we’re seeing a new Main Stand rise above The Kop but the people who regularly grace the former famous terrace wonder how soon the clapping executive-types paying thousands of pounds to fill the structure will see silverware paraded on the pitch in front of them.
To say supporters again feel ‘disenfranchised’ is perhaps a bit much, particularly as generalising about the feelings of thousands is always a dangerous game. But what many fans — myself included — would like to see is more evidence of a ‘club’.
Early in his time at Liverpool Brendan Rodgers said: “The template I will put down will be about organisation, on and off the field. What we are trying to do is organise the club so there is a one-club mentality and one shared vision going forwards.”
He also said: “When I became a manager I always wanted to go into a club with a clear philosophy, so it’s clear in terms of where everyone is heading.”
Does this describe Liverpool FC right now? From the outside — because that’s where fans have been left on this — it looks to be more ideal than reality.
What’s the plan? It would be lovely to hear it. Mr Gordon? Mr Henry? Mr Werner? Anyone?
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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