Immediately following the announcement of the dismissal of Brendan Rodgers, Jamie Carragher remarked,
“Liverpool are becoming Tottenham, they think they’re a big club but the real big clubs are not too worried about them – who they buy, what they’re going to do – that’s the situation as it’s become for Liverpool, even when I was there at the end.”
No doubt a hurtful statement for the Liverpool faithful, but how much truth is there is Carragher’s assessment of the club, and are our standards and expectations too large for Liverpool FC in the modern era?
Despite us appointing Jürgen Klopp and having rumours circling around about the interest of three time UCL winner Carlo Ancelotti being interested in the Liverpool job, it could easily have been Ronald Koeman or Frank De Boer appointed, good managers in their own rights, but not of the calibre we expect of Liverpool.
So it is important that we assess where Liverpool are as a club in comparison to the top four; are we really in terminal decline, are we going to be left behind the new top four clubs in the same way top clubs in Germany and Spain are virtually a world away from the others, or with the appointment of Klopp, is there now a quick fix available and nothing to worry about?
I would like to make it clear that Liverpool are in a rather unique situation, when major clubs have declined before such as Leeds United, Newcastle United or Aston Villa they did not have the worldwide following, the quality of players or the funding that we do, these factors are a lifeline that have stopped us slipping away completely into a mid-table team and makes looking to history for parallels pointless, as a team the size of Liverpool has never faded away before, providing a very strange situation – a former powerhouse somehow trundling along, waiting to be restored… Therefore the importance of Klopp’s appointment in Liverpool’s history cannot be understated, with the potential for this to be the most important event for the club since the announcement of Souness as manager. But anyway, on with the article.
Firstly, to assess where the club are in comparison to the new top four of Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal, we can look at the commercial success of Liverpool worldwide and the value of the club too. As you will see below, according to Forbes, Liverpool feature in the ‘super six’, the only football clubs in the top 20 most valuable clubs in the world to be in the top ten for social media following, match-day revenue, broadcasting revenue and commercial revenue.
A good sign, until you realise, this suggests that as a club we are grossly underperforming, as our performances in the league do not reflect us being in the so called ‘super six’; although, the list of the most valuable football clubs places us in eighth place, behind all of the new top four, and the only club in the top eight to not amass a value of over $1billion, so maybe we are where we should be. Over the past eight years our highest position was fourth (2008), but our average position during that period is eighth, suggesting that we are, still, in decline. We may be 5 places above Tottenham, but Carragher’s point seems justified on this basis.
Commercially Liverpool has traditionally been rather poor, during the success of the 80’s, the owners stuck to their ethos of a ‘family club’ and did not actively seek commercial deals to strengthen the financial power of the club, this harmed us in the long run as we were unable to compete at the top consistently, through investing in transfers/scouts/academy etc., whereas Manchester United in the 90’s set about establishing their worldwide fanbase and commercial ties/sponsorships, this strategy brought them considerable success as seen in the 90’s & 00’s, and still allows them to attract the top bracket of players due to their financial might – something we have struggled with; we haven’t signed an established world class player over the past ten years, whilst all of our rivals have, i.e. Di Maria, Sanchez, Agüero, Fabregas etc. Although, to combat our financial deficiencies, FSG have made recent moves to mobilise the LFC brand, through sponsorships (Dunkin’ Donuts & Standard Chartered), new kit deals (Warrior & New Balance) and global pre-season tours (Australia, USA & the Far East), however in order to attain the best deals, the club must regularly challenge and reach a Champions League spot, otherwise the club is in risk of being left behind our rivals financially, which will hinder us attracting the players necessary to even challenge for the Champions League spaces.
Another commercial factor is match day revenue. Our match day revenue is the fourth largest in the league, amassing £50.9 million in 2014/15, only marginally better than Manchester City’s £47.5 million, but £20 million behind Chelsea at £71 million, and miles behind Arsenal and Manchester United’s respective £100.2 million and £108.1 million, of course with the expansion of the Main Stand, our capacity will move up to 54,000 (and with further expansion of the Anfield Road stand perhaps up to 59,000) and our match day revenue will increase, but in order to match the revenue of Arsenal and Manchester United, the club will either have to hike up ticket prices, or expand the size of The Kop and the Centenary Stand, so we have a stadium that genuinely challenges our rivals and provides us with more match day revenue which can be reinvested into the club elsewhere, i.e. the academy, transfer budget etc.
On a separate note: when comparing ourselves to the very best clubs in the world, such as Real Madrid or Barcelona, the commercial chasm between ourselves and them is remarkable – having seen the Bernabeu and the Nou Camp, the size of both stadiums as well as the sponsorships they have dwarf ours, and even their club shops – the Nou Camp has three colossal floors with conveyor belts delivering shirts – make our Anfield club shop look pathetic (the new store in Liverpool One is much more like what we expect); whilst our museum with all 41 major honours (several not on display) is insignificant in comparison to theirs. The club owners must make a concerted effort to increase the size of things such as the stadium, Anfield club shop and redevelop the Anfield area etc. in order to compete revenue-wise with our competitors.
So far, Carragher’s assessment that we are “becoming Tottenham” holds weight, with our commercial success not at the levels of our main rivals; Manchester United, and our match day revenue a sizeable amount off Chelsea, Arsenal and United; but how does our squad compare to our rivals?
Our squad has only one world class player – that is, a player who would start for almost any team in the world – Coutinho, albeit he is not the finished article as of yet. The only other player in the squad who is close to the ability of Coutinho is Daniel Sturridge, but whether he can return to his best following a year of injury layoffs remains to be seen. Our top four rivals all have more than one world class player; Chelsea, in my opinion, possess five of these players; Hazard, Courtois, Matic, Costa & Fabregas; Arsenal have two, in Sanchez & Özil; City have six, in Silva, Agüero, Kompany (when fit), Hart, Yaya Toure & De Bruyne and United have two; De Gea & Schweinsteiger. Our squad in comparison to these lacks the depth that teams such as City have and the general quality of players in key areas i.e. goalkeeper, centre-back and centre midfield. Serious investment into the squad is still required in these areas to prevent the club falling behind our rivals for good. The inability to sign world class players during Rodgers’ tenure where we had a c.£300million outlay shows the declining allure of the club, whether this is due to our recent league performances and lack of UCL qualification, the relatively unestablished manager, the lack of other quality players, the restrictive wage structure or simply because Liverpool does not offer as much as London, we cannot know for sure, but efforts must be made into increasing the appeal of the club to top quality players in order to compete consistently.
One area in which we can argue against the decline of the club is in the appointment of Jürgen Klopp, this is the first ‘signing’ by the club of a genuine world class talent, and by appointing such a highly rated and renowned manager with title ambitions, the apparent decline into becoming “Tottenham” has been halted for now, and Klopp has the ability to not only achieve a UCL spot, but also to re-establish Liverpool at the top table, but in order to do so, the club must expand commercially to provide Klopp with a base to attract top players and cement Liverpool’s position in the top four, at the expense of one of our rivals. This is by no means an easy task, but Klopp is one of three current managers (the other two being Ancelotti and Mourinho) who have the ability to undertake this task.
From the evidence above, we can draw a conclusion that Liverpool has been in a slow and steady decline, but is still not quite a “Tottenham” yet, as we still possess a sizeable amount of financial strength – indeed we do need to expand on this, but the current commercial deals pursued by FSG will bear their fruits soon enough – and following worldwide; whilst Klopp can get to business on attracting higher quality players and increasing the performances on the pitch, which, in turn will help the club grow even more financially and in stature. We may have been in decline, but with the extra money now being pumped into the Premier League, and the potential of the squad under new manager Klopp, we are presented with an opportunity to reclaim our stake at the top table. This by no means an easy task, it requires consistently beating a rival to a top four position at their expense over several years, thereby reducing their allure to top players and their revenue streams by denying them UCL football, whilst growing the fanbase and commercial ties that we currently have – a joint effort by both the owners – to expand the club – and the manager – to deliver on the pitch and oust a rival.
Are we becoming Tottenham right now? No. But we are at a crucial point – we can now try to vie for the top spots in the world – where the fans believe we should be – or we could continue to achieve Europa League places and slowly become isolated from the top four and slide into mediocrity, and hence become the new Tottenham. The club and the ambitions of the club are too large for us to accept that we belong in 5th spot (our average over the past 10 years), so now, it is merely a question on whether FSG can fulfil their side of the deal and if Klopp can deliver on possibly the biggest challenge in world football.