THE first time Liverpool’s board floated the idea of appointing a director of football, Roy Evans was in charge and John Toshack — being a mate of his — was the target because it was believed they could work together.
There was a feeling inside the club that Liverpool were losing touch with European trends and Toshack, having managed in Portugal, Spain and Turkey, was considered an ideal recruit given his links with the club as a former player with six major honours won wearing a red shirt.
Instead, Liverpool’s eventual solution was to go to Paris and get Gérard Houllier without thinking first about a clearly defined role for him. In the end, a job share with Evans lasted less than five months with ‘joint manager’ Evans — a servant of the club for 33 years — deciding to call it a day.
It was much later, in 2010, when Damien Comolli became the first director of football in Liverpool’s history.
The Frenchman gained experience as a European scout at Arsenal before moving to Tottenham Hotspur, where his responsibility was almost total. He joined Saint-Étienne, where he lasted two seasons, until the call came from Liverpool.
At each of his clubs, Comolli’s success has widely been considered varied. At Liverpool, his signature was on the contract of 11 new players that would feature in the first team (selling 14), before it was ultimately determined by Fenway Sports Group that the failure of Andy Carroll as a record signing should earn him the sack.
Fenway considered directly replacing Comolli in the summer of 2012 and Louis Van Gaal and Johan Cruyff were among the candidates considered.
Yet Brendan Rodgers’ resolve to go it alone ended that probability and since the constitution has run from owners to manager, chief executive and transfer committee, though it was unclear while Rodgers was actually in charge who, below ownership level, held the most sway.
Fenway have been honest from the beginning about a lack of football knowledge and their understanding of the sport’s mechanics.
Yet they have since appeared to stumble between having faith in others with that knowledge and understanding — albeit through an unlikely partnership involving Comolli and Kenny Dalglish — and withdrawing their support of that structure altogether, instead creating an environment which in theory did not rely solely on the supposed football people but simultaneously made accountability blurred.
When it was announced this week that Ian Ayre will stand down in 2017, the immediate aftermath was filled, quite rightly, with questions as to why the development was being made public so soon before it becomes relevant.
Liverpool’s reasoning was simple and rational: Ayre’s contract was due to expire in 2017 and this gives ample time to consider what to do next.
To that logic, it reflects how much they realise just how important their next move is. Those who believe Ayre’s role is insignificant are wrong. Fenway have trusted him to run Liverpool.
The ultimate conclusions are made in United States between John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon. Although Gordon is involved day-to-day more than the other two, Ayre’s influence in their absence is critical. Behind every decision — whether it seems to be important or not — he is there, and ultimately that’s the way it should be for any chief executive when a football club is organised in this fashion.
Just as Ed Woodward’s personality is projected across Manchester United’s business offices, so is Ayre’s at Chapel Street in Liverpool’s city centre.
In the interests of continuity, it would make sense for Billy Hogan to step into Ayre’s shoes. The commercial director, who is based at the club’s London headquarters, already knows some of the ropes having been appointed commercial director in 2012. Few speak badly of him.
This, however, is a unique opportunity for Fenway to ease their way out of an era where the commercial director affects the most significant football-related outcomes.
Ayre will not be remembered by the lucrative and more respectable sounding sponsorship deals sealed under his stewardship — those with Standard Chartered and Garuda Indonesia. That’s because the sight of Pelé turning up at Anfield in a Subway t-shirt appeals more to the visionary senses.
Liverpool supporters do not care for what Ayre may call the more positive “details” of his reign because of all the failed signings, when he was involved at the business end of the process.
Maybe football clubs are such big multi-national companies now that it is unrealistic for a chief executive to do everything to the standard that is expected by the fans who part with so much money to be involved in the show.
It would be shrewd of Fenway, indeed, to recognise the marriage between commercial and football matters is an unhealthy one. It leaves the possibility that one morning a chief executive might be photographed agreeing a money-spinning sponsorship deal with an obscure car tyre maker from a foreign country only for a bad news story to follow in the afternoon, where the next big centre forward has signed for a club that is not Liverpool despite an attempted but ultimately hopeless pursuit.
For public relations, it affects how Fenway are perceived and they are clearly conscious of this, especially when you read back the statement on the club’s website after the ticket fiasco in February.
The most successful clubs set their agenda from within. They lead rather than copy. They are preemptive rather than reactive.
The rebuilding of the new Main Stand will be nearly five years in the making (or 20 if you consider the plans under David Moores), so the appointment of Jürgen Klopp has been the most aggressive and ambitious thing Fenway have done — dispensing with a talented, albeit unpopular, young manager in Rodgers while the season is still early and replacing him with a certified winner; someone with a huge personality who has the potential to carry an entire club and set the blueprint for subsequent generations.
It is going reasonably well under Klopp and so long as he is happy as he is now, he will remain. This is not a career manager who dreams of jobs at Barcelona or Real Madrid. He appreciates what he’s got at Liverpool.
If he is going to be here for a long time, it makes sense to appoint a director of football he can work with rather than one that is enforced upon him.
Fenway would be helping Klopp if they decided it was time to return to the idea they had at the beginning of their reign, one that was not necessarily wrong just because the appointment of Comolli did not work out as they expected.