Fenway Sports Group has been constantly lambasted since the start of their regime as owners of Liverpool Football Club, and while most of those have been rightly justified, some of the pillory has been unwarranted.
Six years ago, FSG bought Liverpool Football Club for give or take £200M, and by some, it was considered a bargain for a club this size. However, when the debt the club and its former owners had accumulated under their tenure are considered, it doesn’t seem the best of barters.
Four years later, Liverpool, together with their new owners have turned the club’s £400M (which includes the debts of Hicks & Gillett’s holding company) baggage into a small profit. Simultaneously, they have rejuvenated Liverpool’s commercial stature, slowly bringing it back up to one of the best, globally.
Not too long ago, it had been announced the club has cemented its place as one of the biggest valued football clubs in the world, worth over a billion pounds. A number which represents the value of the club’s estate such as the stadium, the academy, vehicles, and all other facilities and amenities, and not entirely liquid assets (cash). It’s quite a turnaround for a business that held nearly half that amount in debts not too long ago. That’s such positive news for a global brand like Liverpool Football Club. But alas, somewhat expected, half the fan base remained divided on how to interpret such news.
The successful model our Boston-based investment group has implemented on the club’s financial stature has not reflected on the pitch. The once European powerhouse has only competed in Europe’s most elite competition once in six years under the ownership of John W. Henry. And the single season it has, it resulted in an embarrassing return, with the team failing to reach the knockout stages, continued by abysmal performances from the team and its manager which was eventually led to elimination when the club dropped down to the Europa League.
These disastrous performances led to the club’s finest players force their way out of Anfield. Luis Suarez, now the best striker in the world, left Liverpool and joined Barcelona at the end of the 13/14 season after failing to win the club’s first Premier League title since the era began twenty-odd years ago, amongst other things. It continued the following season as the club’s youngest and highly talented player Raheem Sterling forced a move to rivals Man City, with the club refusing to meet the wage demands of the English national.
Disappointing season after season finishes in the table, transfers, failure to retain its best players left supporters in frustration, which began the belief of an idea that the owners have mismanaged the football club, and that John W. Henry and his wife are stuffing their pockets with the profits the club has made, subsequently siting the valuation the club has recently achieved.
With the enormous redevelopment of Anfield’s main stand expected to be completed soon, the football club will now be able to generate even more revenue with the addition of over nine thousand seats, amenities, and a revamped store for club merchandise. But despite a prosperous outcome on the club’s finance, the owners’ inability to implement a stable football model and wage structure has caused repercussions on their public relations and image with the Anfield faithful.
While the introduction of a transfer committee has produced exceptional players (Coutinho, Emre Can, Firmino, Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi, etc), the majority of the money that was spent in their incumbent ownership has been spent poorly on the likes of Christian Benteke, Mario Balotelli, Iago Aspas, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Andy Carroll. While some of these transfers have been subject to controversial stories of Brendan Rodgers forcing the committee’s hands to sign certain players, it ultimately boils down to the lack of introducing a sustainable footballing model, especially considering Fenway Sports Group had no experience in the sport prior to purchasing the club.
As I write this article, despite the years that have passed under their regime which consists mostly of negatives over positives, the owners seemed to have learned from their errors with the acquisition of Jurgen Klopp, a world-class manager.
Jurgen Klopp was lauded to share the same beliefs of the owners on how to run the club, to execute and build a foundation that demonstrates sustainable success both on, and off the pitch.
Having reached a domestic and a European cup final with an inherited team in less than a full season, the manager was rightfully rewarded with a brand new six-year extension, which indicates a desire for stability from FSG, something that the club has lacked since the departure of former manager Rafa Benitez. And with rumours that Melwood and Kirkby are to be combined into one humongous complex, it seems as if the plans to overhaul the club’s system has already begun.
Given blanket authority by the club to either refuse or approve the signing of players, transfer policies seemed to have rebooted, and leaks within the club have been corked as the club has stricken numerous, swift bargains without unnecessary attention. Joel Matip, a young, experienced, and coveted central defender in the Bundesliga arrived for free. Loris Karius, another highly talented and regarded goalkeeper has been welcomed to Anfield for less than five million pounds. A clearance sale at Anfield has also begun as players who are underperforming or surplus to requirements have either been sold (with sell-on and buy-out clauses for some), or expected to depart the club.
The owners have been preaching sustainable success from the moment they stepped inside the walls of Anfield, and the appointment of Jurgen Klopp could be the first piece of the domino effect to demonstrate what exactly John W. Henry has been talking about, an era where the club can financially sustain itself for all their necessities and luxuries, without any additional influx of cash. To ensure constant success on the pitch, continuous growth financially and commercially to become an invincible force of nature in the transfer windows which could satisfy the heart and soul of the club, its fans.
In my humble opinion, the past is the past. Gone are the days where our accounts were negative or the club felt unstable. There’s no point in dwelling in the mistakes previously done by the owners, so let’s instead live in the present, where things are starting to look bright and look ahead on what our future beholds.
Today, I’m giving FSG a clean slate, and start my judgments from this day forward. A few years down the line, I’m hopeful that I could bare witness to a dawn of a new era, the awakening of a sleeping giant who will mark a return to its former stature as a European powerhouse once again.