CARDS on the table, I don’t rate Fenway Sports Group.
They’ve been in my Si Mignolet category for a while now, where it’s miles too late for the occasional good thing they do to make an impact on the memory bank of previous gaffes, howlers, and generally not good enough things. Like goalie like owners, and the problems with both are both summed up by a similar feeling of passivity, a lack of bravery. With FSG it goes further, and the big question is, are they ambitious enough to be Liverpool’s owners? For too long now we’ve had a pattern of the right noises and tentative steps forward, accompanied by several total changes of strategy at the drop of a hat, and a sense of dithering around sporting decisions that, by all accounts, is not present in their business dealings.
I’m sick and tired of the tactically leaked indications when the transfer window is closed that they’re finally getting it right, the noises that the next window will be the big one, not to mention the laughable latest that Liverpool are now paying more wages than Manchester City. Actions speak louder than words and it’s well past overdue that the club started to act as big as we talk. So what should our expectations and ambitions be? What does it mean to be the only club in the top 10 richest who aren’t in the Champions League? Who should we be competing for and with when the window swings open?
The dear departed Ian Ayre once (well, not just once) riled the fanbase by saying “If anything our expectations are too high.” This, along with the “be careful what you wish for” around the ticket protest was, to me, the corporate message leaking out of one of the only leaky vessels within the organisation. The expectations of the fanbase are maybe seen as too high by the club. Could they be right? In one sense, yes — we are known for expecting the title almost every season, despite finishing sixth or something most years (I only look at the table when we’re good). On the other hand, we’ve all seen what happens when this club has some momentum, good players and a fair wind. We’re not daft, we know it’s not far out of reach for us to actually start winning things again. The club has upped the ante by employing a top manager and handing more control over to him and his team than previous incumbents, ostensibly because they have succeeded in the past. Our expectations and theirs seem to be aligned on this matter at least, but do they have the ambition to reach that bit further?
Ambition is a trickier one. The Deloitte rich list published on Friday put us back in our favoured ninth spec, we’ve been there or thereabouts for 10 years. Above us are our rivals for domestic trophies, which is often stated as a reason for us not being able to compete for players and trophies. Below us, however, are several of our rivals when trying to sign players — along with Tottenham, there are Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. These three are interesting comparisons with ourselves for different reasons as well as seeming to be in the same league as us in regards to transfer.
Juventus were relegated to Serie B in 2006 and snaked from third to 12th on the Deloitte list in the process. Atletico made their first appearance in the top 20 in 2012 after years in the underdog wilderness, and are clearly still light years behind Spain’s big two. Dortmund have been in a steady 13th since around the same time, with Bayern out of sight somewhere. Each club in the last 10 years has defeated significant domestic odds to carve their own identities as modern trophy-winning powerhouses. While not challenging us in the Deloitte league, in the time FSG have been in charge at Liverpool, these clubs have won 22 trophies between each other (nine, seven and six, respectively). What these clubs all have is a shared ambition to funnel the majority of their funds towards glory for their clubs, buying the best players while at the same time stamping new identities with new stadia or redevelopment.
I’m told Juve is an unfair example, and I dare say there may be reasons why the other two are somehow impossible models to follow as well. But then I look at the way Atletico sell quality player, after quality player yet trust their scouts to get better replacements year, on year. I look at Dortmund’s acquisitions through their enviable structure and sporting directors, all slotting neatly into their style. I see Juve get financially smashed and relegated, then focus all efforts and every penny into getting back to the top. When I consider all that, I see things that FSG could be doing but have made the choice not to. I see clubs planning to be the best, not just hoping.
I would ask what is the plan for us? When do we plan to be the best? As we keep hearing, this summer is huge for Liverpool, and it’s huge for FSG too. Even an impatient for a change, Mignolet-hardened critic like me was prepared to look at the predictable inaction of January and utter one final, through gritted teeth, “see what happens in summer then.”
There’s a lot of noise flying around, but before we get to the summer I think it’s time we each had a think about what qualifies as acceptable. The bare minimum is to feel the manager has been sufficiently backed. Klopp has spoken about quality, so let him identify what this entails and whether it fits the spreadsheets or not, don’t mess about when it comes to personal terms, and let’s get to a place where it starts to feel believable when he says he’s got the squad he needs. He worked under a stronger structure at Dortmund, we should start to move towards that model with the new CEO being Liverpool based and a proper figurehead. FSG have placed a lot of faith in Michael Edwards and his databases. I would like to see us taking a leaf out of Atletico’s book by putting faith back into scouting.
Let’s stop messing around with the Anfield Road End, particularly given that ground redevelopment was literally the only reason we needed new owners 10 years ago, it’s a non-refundable promise.
Finally, let’s stop talking ourselves down and thinking of reasons why we can’t compete. Instead, let’s take a leaf from Juve’s book and get so relentlessly good at footy that all the other teams in the league just fold.