DO you know what you will be doing in 15 months’ time? Ian Ayre does. Or more accurately, he knows what he won’t be doing. Which is being the Chief Executive Officer of Liverpool Football Club.
And to think they said Steven Gerrard’s departure was a long goodbye. Liverpool Football Club now seem determined to create a new Raymond Chandler novel every time anyone leaves. The higher the position in the company, the longer the goodbye. It’s a wonder they didn’t make Brendan Rodgers work until Christmas carrying Jürgen Klopp’s coat.
Ian Ayre is officially stepping down. He says it’s someone else’s go. Making the job sound like a podium in Garlands (the Liverpool nightclub, incidentally, where Ian Ayre took Brendan Rodgers on his appointment. But more on that sort of thing later).
But do we believe him — or the club — on this? The timing seems suspect, so soon after a ticket furore that wasn’t all of his making but one he certainly managed to make worse.
Does it seem strange that he would tell his employers so soon before the end of a contract he planned on leaving? Isn’t it more likely that the club have indicated they want a new direction and this is a nicer, not to mention cheaper, story all round?
It seems suspect to me. Surely an announcement in the summer makes more sense and it would still give the club plenty of time to appoint a successor. It suggests to me that this is more club-led than the sugar-coated PR statements suggest. At the very least, is it the old football classic “mutual agreement”?
But I guess it doesn’t matter now, the point is he is leaving.
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) March 14, 2016
So what of Ian Ayre’s legacy? The club is right to point out that “under his leadership, we have seen Liverpool transform from a club that was on the brink of bankruptcy, to one which today enjoys strong financial and operational health”.
But how much of this is down to Ian himself? It is undoubtably the case that revenue increased when he was Commercial Director of Liverpool. But it is a bit like praising the first man allowed to sell ice creams on Blackpool beach for business acumen. The club had performed so poorly before he came that anyone could have improved it. And how difficult a sell is Liverpool Football Club around the world anyway?
Under his stewardship commercial revenue has continued to rise. But, as the excellent Swiss Ramble blog pointed out this week, we still lag way behind the other biggest team in Europe in terms of what we bring in. The piece says: “Granted, the £110million shortfall against PSG (£116million vs. £226million) is largely due to the French club’s “friendly” agreement with the Qatar Tourist Authority, but there are still major gaps to the other clubs in commercial terms: Bayern Munich £95million, Manchester United £84million, Real Madrid £72million, Barcelona £69million and Manchester City £57million.”
£57m behind Manchester City? I know they have been more successful of late, but their performances in Europe have been fairly average and you can’t tell me they have more fans worldwide than us. I am certain we have more European Cups than them. I’ve just counted — it’s five more. It still feels we are massively underselling ourselves commercially around the world.
In terms of other revenue Ayre has got himself into a mess, too. In trying to increase the money flowing into club coffers he has alienated at times both our own fans and other clubs. Some going. His “be careful what you wish for” line may well end up on his gravestone. But here are some other classics from Ian.
“If you are in Kuala Lumpur, there isn’t really anyone subscribing to Astro or ESPN to watch Bolton. Is it really right that the international rights are shared equally between all 20 clubs?”
How to win friends and influence people.
That was in 2011 and international rights are still shared equally between all 20 clubs. Because Ian Ayre doesn’t think before running his mouth off that the smaller teams in the Premier League have to agree to any changes for them to be passed and the probably don’t like people implying they are shite. Incidentally, the next time we played Bolton Wanderers in the league they beat us 3-1. Which made us look even dafter.
Here he is on the idea of a 39th Premier League game: “It’s fraught with lots of issues but somehow we have a duty to fans around the world to give them access to the product.”
Actually, Ian, your duty is to the football club and not making a mockery of the main tournament it enters. Quotes like this one also make a mockery of the idea the lad from Litherland was there to bridge a gap between local fans and American owners. He never seemed too concerned about us at all.
His transfer dealings were at best patch, too. For a while it seemed any player we went in for ended up elsewhere, with the sign of Ian Ayre getting on a plane less of a comfort and more of a kiss of death. Liverpool fans grew tired of seeing deals for targets including Diego Costa, Willian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan talked up only to break down. He couldn’t even sign Clint Dempsey.
Not every deal is possible, and sometimes you just get a Ukrainian owner who won’t play ball. But our strategy and execution — from the outside looking in — seemed generally worrying. Here is Mohamed Salah’s agent after we were linked with the player for a month only for him to sign for Chelsea.
“It was a long and fair negotiation with Liverpool, but it lasted two-and-a-half months — too long. Both clubs could not agree on terms. When Chelsea contacted Basel, he was happy and took his chance.”
Quite what we wee talking about for two-and-a-half months I don’t know. But Chelsea took him and we were left short. Again.
Throughout his time at Liverpool, Ayre has seemed like a man with a difficult job. Someone trying to please people on both sides of the Atlantic who often had wildly different ideas on how a football clubs should be run. Someone who always had to take the flak for decisions that were largely out of hands.
I just wish he’d taken himself a bit more seriously throughout the whole thing. Then maybe I could have taken him more seriously.
We’ve all seen the ridiculous clobber. We’ve all heard the stories of nights out and seen the pictures.
It was just a bit embarrassing at times thinking of him as your representative around the world. Making 69 jokes. Rocking around on his rented Harley. At UEFA conferences asking Franz Beckenbauer if he can go on his shoulders.
You’d hope that someone can come in now with real gravitas in football. Someone who can push the club forward, get deals done and be a representative for fans when necessary.
But I can’t celebrate Ayre leaving and the reason is that I don’t hold much hope for his replacement because of the people doing the recruiting.
Maybe I’m being unfair, they did hire Jürgen Klopp. But we should remember that the reason Ian Ayre is CEO in the first place is because they looked around for a year, couldn’t find anyone and so promoted him from within.
Who will we end up with? Maybe Billy “I’m not spending a minute more in Liverpool than I have to” Hogan. Or some fella with a great presentation and a fantastic track record in baseball. Who knows?
Maybe this is what Ian Ayre meant when he said “be careful what you wish for”. We’ll see, Ian. See you in Heebies, lad, yeah?