philblundell

FENWAY Sports Group seem to be the hottest topic surrounding Liverpool Football Club at the minute. There are plenty of people who are against them and have a problem with anything that they do. I can kind of see why that would be the case.

We’ve won one trophy since they came to the club, our net spend isn’t huge, and at present we have had a bad run of form that has led to us dropping out of the title race and two cups in a very short period of time. We’ve had a January window where they’ve decided that we can’t spend money and don’t care about improving.

The club is in a rut, they are absentee owners who have no interest in winning and as long as they can spend money on a yacht they aren’t bothered.

There are also plenty of people who are vehemently behind them and will defend pretty much anything that they do. They saved the club from bankruptcy, they’ve backed every manager with money, they’ve gone out and brought in one of the best managers in world football to the club and given him supposed free reign to do exactly what he wants. If the manager wants to buy a player, he’s got the money.

They’re great, they have our best interests at heart and we’re going places.

Two completely different viewpoints of the same situation, with the exact same evidence. How can people hold views as polarised as this when they are both looking at the exact same thing? It is a little bit strange really.

Me? To be honest, I’m somewhere in the middle. I can see their failings and things they’ve got wrong and I can see good things that they do and continue to do. The problem with having a categorical opinion either way for me is that I don’t really know what people are hanging their hat on exactly. Every interpretation of pretty much anything that’s going on at the club is subjective. It isn’t like Tom Hicks and George Gillett who could be criticised for taking £1 million out of the club every nine days to pay off a loan that would line their own pockets over time. There isn’t any hard evidence, just speculation.

Liverpool, England - Tuesday, February 6th, 2007: American tycoons George Gillett (L) and Tom Hicks (R) proudly hold up Liverpool's famous red shirt after announcing their take-over of Liverpool Football Club in a deal worth around £470 million. Texan billionaire Hicks, who owns the Dallas Stars ice hockey team and the Texas Rangers baseball team, has teamed up with Montreal Canadiens owner Gillett to put together a joint £450m package to buy out shareholders, service the club's existing debt and provide funding for the planned new stadium in Stanley Park. (Pic by Dave Kendall/Propaganda)

I could sit here and have an argument with myself against them and then 10 minutes later argue for them. The net spend argument is back and our net spend recently isn’t huge. It basically means that money has come into the club via TV revenue streams or other revenue streams and hasn’t left the club for the benefit of strengthening the squad. On the face of it, that looks a problem.

As with every piece of praise or criticism there’s an obvious rebuttal. If we are able to get £30m for Joe Allen and Jordon Ibe, and we choose to spend it on Sadio Mané then we have strengthened as a side for no financial cost. Why is being able to sell players that we don’t want for good money seen as a problem?

Didn’t like what we did in January? We behaved in the same way as every top club in Europe – I think that, whether there was money or available or not, there was very little chance of us signing anyone because the calibre of player we were after just wouldn’t be for sale.

My main concern with FSG is that they’re a bunch of people who don’t know the subject they’re involved with and are trying to be experts in a subject they know nothing about. I know nothing about how you would go about running a tobacco company and if I decided I was going to buy one then I’d probably not try and get my hands dirty, I’d go out and have a look at finding the best possible people involved with tobacco to come and work for me. That’s how I would expect to get my tobacco business to perform as well as possible.

FSG on the other hand have decided that the best way to go about things is to place Mike Gordon in charge who has decided that he’s going to have a crack, if talk is to be believed, at operating in a Director of Football type of role. If that is the case then we have a Director of Football with precisely no background in football. Sport? Yes. Baseball? Yes. Football? No.

Why are they so insistent that they’re so clever? Jürgen Klopp couldn’t turn up at Fenway Park when the baseball season starts in a few weeks and manage the Red Sox to the World Series so why do FSG think that a man with a background in baseball can turn his hand to football? The answer is that he can’t. People criticise them for being absentee owners – well maybe they should try a bit harder at being absentee owners?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, October 22, 2015: Liverpool's co-owner and NESV Chairman Tom Werner, Director Michael Gordon and owner John W. Henry before the UEFA Europa League Group Stage Group B match against Rubin Kazan at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I think it’s fair to break the criteria for judgement down in the following ways. Investment in players, achievement on the pitch, performance of the club from a business point of view, the state of the ground and the general happiness you get as a fan.

There are counter-arguments for all of these subjects. It explains the obvious polarities.

In terms of investment in players we have spent a lot of money. In the current side we have a midfielder who isn’t guaranteed a starting spot who cost £25m and in our first choice front line we’ve got a £29m man and a £32m man. Money has been spent. But has enough been spent? Having consulted Transfermarkt, last summer we made a profit of just over £5m. That’s £35m short of the previous season and the last month would suggest that over the course of the last month that we could have used a stronger squad.

And then this is where it gets a bit grey. If the manager is happy with his squad and there’s no-one he feels is available that would fit into this side and be happy with the role that he’s looking for, what do we do? Do we just spend money for the sake of spending money so we can say ‘look, we’ve spent money’? That would be incredibly negligent.

I don’t know, maybe the manager isn’t happy, maybe he would want more but there’s no actual evidence that this is the case. Nor is there actual evidence that he’s happy. Even if he says he’s happy, football managers tell lies on a regular basis so everything they say should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Yet, we have one side highlighting the net spend while the other side say everything is great. How do either side know? I haven’t got a clue and can’t really figure out how anyone has a clue yet people see what they want and take a fully entrenched position.

Football - FA Premier League - Everton FC v Liverpool FC

Achievement on the pitch would be another one – without the owners doing a single different thing their six and a bit year tenure could have seen us with two League Cups, an FA Cup, a Europa League, and a Premier League title. Yes, the negative side is absolutely right that the actual return is a sole League Cup nearly five years ago but football is a game of such narrow margins that the positive side will tell you that it could have been very different.

We might not have achieved tangible success but any failing they have hasn’t prevented us from going very close on multiple occasions. The ownership couldn’t have stopped Steven Gerrard from falling over and they couldn’t have taken better penalties in last year’s League Cup final. They could, however, have done things that meant these things weren’t the actual turning point.

The club isn’t actually a million miles away from having had a successful period. But at the same time, it wouldn’t have made these owners more likely to actually give us a good level of success from this point forward because that isn’t how football works. After all, if their previous behaviour is a problem for you now, the outcomes of said behaviour should have zero impact on what you think will happen in future. Our achievements are clearly lacking but it isn’t like we’ve been out of the cup in the first round, had no European run and not been very close to a league title.

Both sides of the divide have a very valid point to argue.

The performance of the club from a business point of view is good. Some people are happy to hang their hat on this as a means of telling you that things are good. Personally speaking, I couldn’t care less how the business is performing – the only way to judge this club should be on the performance on the pitch. Which links us back to the last point about the achievements on the pitch. It is after all a football club. Round, and round, and round we go.

The ground is a surprisingly divisive subject. Yes, a new stand has been built and FSG have done more to get more people watching this club than any other owners have, but is it enough? Does a club of this size really not need a bigger ground? We have one selection of people praising them for doing something and one group criticising them for not doing enough. Both are valid, it’s good that they’ve done something and it’ll be very good if they do the Anfield Road. However, I feel that it’s on the low side as a capacity.

Do we not need more than 61,000 seats? We have a season ticket waiting list that isn’t even taking new applications and getting a ticket isn’t easy. There is potentially an entire generation of youngsters in the city of Liverpool who are missing out on getting in to Anfield. We can fix that by building a ground that actually satisfies the demand. If we made 25,000 new season tickets available tomorrow we would sell them. Why is the thinking not bigger?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 20, 2016: A view of the construction of the new Main Stand at Anfield as seen from Stanley Park before the FA Cup 3rd Round Replay match between Liverpool and Exeter City. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The stadium is my biggest personal grounds for contention and on most subjects I can see both arguments to the point where I don’t actually know what to think. I can agree with or argue with basically anyone on most subjects relative to FSG’s stewardship of the club. I cannot, however, fathom why anyone would even consider that the ground is suitable for a club of our size.

My only issue is how it would be paid for, given it would have to pay for itself. If we don’t fill it we would run a risk of creating problems for ourselves. But I suspect 50,000 season tickets for eternity would solve the problem. I know plenty of people who wouldn’t really have any interest in going through the rigmarole of getting tickets every week but if they were able to saunter up to the ticket office and buy a season ticket, they’d be there for life.

Lastly, I think a good way of assessing things is the general happiness from a footballing point of view as a fan. It would be hard to stand here and say that you’re unhappy, frustrated yes, but unhappy? Come on that’s a bit daft, isn’t it?

I was happy in 2013-14, I was happy the second half of last season, I was happy for the majority of this season. We haven’t been stuck in a perpetual state of misery since October 2010. And then on the other side, supporters crave the league title. I crave the league title, give me that and I’m happy forever. But whatever view you hold, you can’t say you haven’t enjoyed lots about things that have happened under their tenure — because you clearly have.

What I do know is that plenty have made their mind up about FSG and aren’t for changing. Me? I really don’t know what to think other than that I’d like them to be better. I don’t think any issues we have are created by malice, I just think that there’s a level of incompetence. And that is something that they can fix quite easily.

It’s certainly a lot easier than them selling and us getting someone else in who we would know very little about and having a load of uncertainty. But if you aren’t going to sort yourselves out, find someone who’ll do better. We aren’t a toy.

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