I’ve studied LFC fans on Twitter after matches a lot the last year or two. I’m not sure why, but my guess is that I’m just fascinated with how the fanbase reacts to bad results and other things that happen around the Premiership. Seriously, with all of the shit that fans spout after matches, I could write one really big fucking book on the subject (and I probably will).
Now, I always try to remain unbiased in how I approach my opinion on a subject regarding LFC. I follow a lot of different fans and journalists in order to get as many viewpoints as possible. It’s nice when we can focus on matters that happen on the pitch, such as our use of the 4-3-3, potential transfer targets, sales, you name it. But one of the main things that always seems to come up is criticism of Brendan Rodgers and, particularly, Fenway Sports Group.
When it comes to Brendan Rodgers, all I can say is this: we’re playing better football aesthetically, have a higher points total and goal differential in the league than we did last season under Kenny, and are improving as a squad in his first season. I believe that comparisons to Hodgson are unfair, and that he does deserve more time in charge of LFC. One year is not enough to judge a manager on, and to say otherwise is absolutely foolish.
As far as the FSG criticism is concerned, it never really sat right with me. As an American Liverpool fan who’s supportive of FSG, I’ve received a lot of unfair criticism because fans are still upset about how previous American owners Hicks and Gillett ran the club, don’t like how FSG are doing things because they apparently don’t spend enough money on the club, and believe that FSG will skin LFC and run for the money like Hicks and Gillett did. But is that really fair? I don’t think so.
Look at the club’s net spend the last two seasons. Almost £80m has been spent by FSG in transfer fees alone. That’s not to mention the massive wages given to players and the pay-offs given to the likes of Milan Jovanovic, Philip Degen, Joe Cole, and Christian Poulsen. Also, FSG have made progress on renovating Anfield, thus keeping the cherished history and lifeblood of Liverpool FC intact. The new sponsorship deals have made LFC one of the most marketable clubs in the Premiership, something that Hicks and Gillett always talked about but were never truly able to accomplish. Yes, the last few seasons have had results that were less than admirable, but this was always going to be a rebuilding process.
While I cannot vouch personally for whether or not John Henry watches football as much as Ian Ayre says he does, the simple fact is this: there’s no way the investment made by FSG is truly profitable if a new stadium isn’t built or renovated, and until that happens, it’s in FSG’s best interest to stay at the club and continue investing. Aside from Champions League clubs, nobody in the Premiership comes close to the investment made in the playing squad when compared to what FSG has done the last two seasons. Blame who you want, but they’ve ponied up the cash, and they’re trying their best. As owners of the Boston Red Sox, they won two World Series titles last decade, and turned the club into the only team capable of battling the New York Yankees’ payroll in the American League. FSG knows how to succeed in the face of giants, which LFC currently face in the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea. They’re smart business people, and smart sporting men. They’re alright.
But having reviewed the last two and a half years under FSG, I can honestly say that there are some fair criticisms of the ownership group’s tenure at LFC. They’ve made a number of mistakes, which we will analyze now:
This isn’t their fault, but it does factor in to why LFC fans are very vindictive of them. I honestly believe that if FSG was any other nationality, LFC fans would not be as judgmental and vindictive of them as they currently are. Hicks and Gillett didn’t help their cause, and back when the ownership was being sold, if LFC fans had a choice between Singapore’s Peter Lim and FSG, they probably would’ve taken Peter Lim. Is that fair? Absolutely not. Is it understandable? Absolutely. LFC fans have already been bitten by an American ownership group and they have every right to have reservations about the current ownership group because of that fact. What I hate is when anger about the perceived failings of the current ownership group pours over into anti-American bigotry against myself and other American LFC fans.
Some fans who are critical of FSG have some decent arguments. Others do not. Here are some examples of LFC fans tweeting abuse to John W. Henry after he tweets about a CHARITABLE ACTION in the aftermath of the Newtown, CT school shooting:
The “Being: Liverpool” Television Series
I’m sorry, but this was total garbage. There were obviously staged scenes in this, there’s no true appeal to it, and all that it basically does is glorify preseason friendly matches and a trip to Belarus while making other things seem more dramatic than they truly are. I only watched the first two episodes, and quite honestly, I wish I could have those two hours of my life back. I really wish I had never seen those awkward scenes in Rodgers’ home, or when Liverpool players met Red Sox players. That’s completely neglecting the envelopes and everything else in that series that made me cringe. Honestly, there is no defending how awful that was, and I highly doubt that it was worth whatever money the club made from it. A poor job done all around that made a mockery of the club more than anything else.
Giving Kenny Dalglish the Permanent Manager Tag
Before you all start calling for me to be chopped off, hear me out. Look, I love Kenny Dalglish. I didn’t want him to be sacked, and I’m extremely grateful for everything he’s done for the club. However, his success at the latter end of 2010/11 was probably one of the worst things to happen for Liverpool FC in the long-term. He was brought in to replace Roy Hodgson as a caretaker, and the main goal of the appointment was to appease the fans and unify the fanbase. It was the right move to bring him in as a caretaker. That being said, we overachieved during his time in charge, and that created unrealistic expectations. We almost qualified for Europe because of our form during the second half of the season alone. Despite all of that, Kenny Dalglish was not FSG’s man for the long-term future of LFC. By giving Kenny the three-year contract and holding off on hiring a manager for the long-term, FSG set the club back a bit. They gave King Kenny and Damien Comolli £100m to spend (approximately £35m net) and let them sign who they wanted. The result? Overpaying for Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing, plus bringing in Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique. Everyone at LFC expected a quick return to prominence under Dalglish, when it was never going to be that simple, easy, or fast.
FSG released a statement at the close of the 2011 summer window saying that they expected a Top Four finish. Nothing about cup success or anything else, but only a Top Four finish. The squad played well the first half of the season, but then Lucas went down, Suarez was suspended for nine games, and Kenny was up shit’s creek without a paddle. He had no Plan B. Yes, we won the League Cup and went to the Final of The FA Cup, but we finished 8th with 52 points after spending £100m. I’m sorry, but that is just not good enough. Cup competitions are a crapshoot—hell, Wigan could win the FA Cup this year and still get relegated. It’s best to judge overall team performance on whatever competition yields the strongest XIs, the best teams, and the largest sample size. LFC’s 8th place finish in the league happens to be just that. If FSG were only going to give him one season, then it must be asked: why did they keep him on as permanent manager at all? His spending and lost 8th place season only set the club back another year when it could ill afford to do so.
The Luis Suarez Racism Affair
What else needs to be said that hasn’t already been said? Look, Suarez used racist words. By The FA’s guidelines, he broke the rules. Now, while I have a lot of problems with the written reasons, the evidence, the burden of proof, and a lot of other things regarding that case, the one thing that I am certain of is that LFC had a PR nightmare with this and handled it absolutely incorrectly. The club released statements that were very emotional at the time and not thought through, which made a very bad situation even worse. Liverpool was the only party that used the term “racist” in the aftermath of the verdict. The FA said that he wasn’t a racist and Patrice Evra said he wasn’t a racist. Liverpool tried to argue that the linguistics of the language made use of the word acceptable, which is completely besides the point. The club completely botched the situation, the media jumped all over us, and the club has really been unable to bounce back since this episode took place. When a situation of this magnitude gets fucked up, the blame falls upon everyone at the club, especially the owners.
The Insistence on a Director of Football and their Managerial Search
After the sacking of Kenny Dalglish, FSG insisted that whatever manager they hired would have to work with a Director of Football. This makes sense to Americans like myself, who are used to seeing this system used in American professional sports, as teams have a “General Manager” who makes the personnel decisions, and a Manager who fills out the lineups and works with the team on the field. This is a huge mistake that FSG made, as it cut into the pool of potential suitors for the position. FSG interviewed the likes of Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Martinez, both of whom told FSG that they would not work with a Director of Football. Many believe that Steve Clarke was also interviewed by FSG, which would’ve been an understandable appointment given his background. By that point, they accepted defeat on the issue, realizing how divisive it was, and decided to appoint Brendan Rodgers without a Director of Football. Rodgers replacing The King was not taken well by the majority of fans, with this arguably being one of the two watershed moments for FSG (the other we’ll get to later).
It also did not help that FSG, in the eyes of the fans, was not looking at premier candidates. The big name on everyone’s lips after Kenny’s sacking: Rafa Benitez. Still a hero to many on Merseyside, Rafa was unemployed at the time of Kenny’s sacking, residing in his Wirral home, claiming that he was waiting for a phone call from the LFC Board. Despite being a very controversial figure amongst the LFC fanbase, his supporters were very vocal about wanting him to return. When Ian Ayre was at Aintree, fans at the racetrack chanted Rafa’s name like it was March 2009. The message from those fans was clear: bring back Rafa. Other big name managerial candidates were being brought up as well. Fabio Capello, five-time Serie A winner, two-time La Liga winner and one-time Champions League winner as a manager was unemployed at the time, and had experience in England as the National Team’s most recent managerial failure. Dutch Legend Johan Cruyff claims to have called Liverpool with a plan to get the club back to the top, with FSG not returning his phone call. Ex-Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard was another name floated around. Yet FSG decided to choose Swansea Manager Brendan Rodgers over all of them after a two-week search. LFC fans didn’t like this, and understandably so. That being said, I think that they handled the managerial search relatively well. Could it have been done better? Yes. But they made a appointment who deserves another season to prove himself, as his long-term vision and undeniable progress made seem to be worthwhile.
Deadline Day of the 2012 Summer Window: Andy Carroll, Ian Ayre, Clint Dempsey, and Daniel Sturridge
Even to this day, I’m baffled by what happened in the last 48 hours of the 2012 Summer Transfer Window. I’m not entirely sure who to blame for it either. Everyone knew going into the window that we were targeting strikers. Everyone also knew that Andy Carroll wasn’t favored by Brendan Rodgers, meaning we’d have to sign at least two strikers by the end of the summer. In the last 48 hours of the window, it all went to hell in a hand-basket. Andy Carroll was loaned to West Ham, giving the club 24 hours to sign a replacement. We needed a goal-scorer, and everyone thought Dempsey would be locked up by then. We’d all heard the rumors, and knew that the club was interested after the NESN slip-up in July. Fulham, however, were pissed, and accused the club of tapping him up. When we tried to close the deal, offering Jordan Henderson plus £4m amongst other offers, it became clear that Fulham were not gonna give us a fair deal compared to Tottenham or Aston Villa, and Ian Ayre, fed up, refused to close the deal. We were also going after Daniel Sturridge, but Chelsea wanted £20m for him and we balked. Not having any other targets lined up for some reason, LFC’s window ended with only two first team strikers on the books in Fabio Borini and Luis Suarez, infuriating fans, many of whom saw this as LFC waving the white flag for this season. We eventually got Sturridge for £12m in the winter, but by then it was far too late for us to make a serious push for anything, and the season was effectively over before it even began.
Many still are furious with Ian Ayre over this, claiming that he shouldn’t be involved in transfer dealings at all. I cannot help but agree with this, to some extent. But that £8m we saved by not getting Sturridge in the summer and waiting until the winter could easily be viewed as what enabled us to get Philippe Coutinho. You could easily see that as justification of what happened and there being a method to the madness. But what seemed to be a one-off case of fiscal prudence and poor negotiation from FSG ended up sabotaging the 2012/13 season.
You could argue that FSG have made some mistakes. But they have also financed this club much more than Hicks and Gillett ever did. I do believe that they are trying to make Liverpool competitive for the long-term, and that they are learning from the mistakes they’ve made in the past. I know that isn’t much consolation to those out there who want to win trophies now, but I believe that we will be competitive again soon. Patience is a virtue, and both FSG and Brendan Rodgers should be given time to prove themselves. They’ve done more good than harm thus far (although many fans only see an exaggerated picture of harm), and should continue to bring Liverpool back to the top.
Follow Greg Visone on Twitter @njny