Home and Away

Liverpool fans wonder who's really running club

American owner didn't make any friends among Scousers with his open letter, supposedly explaining failure to acquire some talent up front

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 September, 2012, 11:12pm

George Bernard Shaw noted that "England and America are two countries divided by a common language". Liverpool fans, however, had little trouble deciphering the true meaning of the extraordinary open letter from the club's principal owner, John W.Henry, this week.

His candid explanation about the closing stages of the summer transfer window - a litany of confusion and ignorance that has left the legendary side dangerously lacking up front - went down as well as the famous transatlantic passenger liner that was registered in the port city a century ago.

Any Scouser worth his stew is fully entitled to be deeply suspicious about who is actually running the dressing room and just how Brendan Rodgers will construct a successful Red future. The missive from Henry attempted to explain away the club's failure to strengthen the club for the current campaign and the need for prudence. Instead, it has caused a rift of seismic proportions to open up between Fenway Sports Group and the Anfield faithful.

Rodgers, employed for his guile and expertise, had his sights on £6 million (HK$74 million) Clint Dempsey, 29, to bolster his firepower but was effectively told by the owners the Fulham player was £1 million too expensive.

What is clear is that the Americans have bought heavily into the Moneyball philosophy of recruiting young players with the hope of future resale value. This works stateside in baseball, but it is a failed idea in the cut and thrust of the EPL. "The transfer policy was not about cutting costs," insisted Henry. "It was - and will be in the future - about getting maximum value for what is spent so we can build quality and depth." .

Building a team drawn from the fountain of youth and investing heavily in the academy is logical and vital. Many UK clubs believe in such a strategy. But this alone does not ensure success and is only part of the dressing-room mix. Dismissive of this fact, Henry said the club would follow to the letter Uefa's controversial Financial Fair Play agenda, "something we heartily applaud".

"We must comply with Financial Fair Play guidelines that ensure spending is tied to income. We have been successful in improving the commercial side of the club and the monies generated will give us greater spending power in the coming years," he said.

Equally worrying was his implication that Liverpool is only a million or two pounds away from "doing a Portsmouth". One hopes things are not that bad.

Henry also blamed the need for strict austerity on the previous helmsmen of the listing Liverpool colossus, fellow North Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett. "We are still in the process of reversing the errors of previous regimes. It will not happen overnight. It has been compounded by our own mistakes in a difficult first two years of ownership. It has been a harsh education, but, make no mistake, the club is healthier today than when we took over," Henry said.

FSG's mistakes include allowing Kenny Dalglish too much freedom and the £35 million blown on Andy Carroll. Other diminishing returns have caused the Americans to change their confident swagger into a strut to stamp out any more wastefulness from so-called English experts.

Honesty is honourable but it runs the high risk of exposing weakness. The offending line that sent the continental drift into overdrive was Henry's view on the very nature of talent, and how much this precious commodity is worth to an illustrious club like Liverpool. "Spending is not merely about buying talent," he concluded.

Ignorance does not wash well in the Mersey. Liverpool fans and media alike were quick to deconstruct Henry's English and maths. FSG admitted it came into English football knowing very little about the sport. Two years on, there remains a severe lack of acute understanding about the construction methods of a successful team.

"Our ambitions do not lie in cementing a mid-table place with expensive, short-term quick fixes that will only contribute for a couple of years," said Henry, referring to the Dempsey and Rodgers humiliation. Winning the Premier League was the club's ultimate goal, he assured.

Yet all successful clubs in recent memory have made financial commitments on short-term players who have helped bring glory. Gary McAllister, Teddy Sheringham, Henrik Larsson and Patrick Viera are among the illustrious over-30s where age trumps youth every time. All were veterans drafted in for a modest fee to help Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City win prestigious cups and titles.

Dempsey is a whipper-snapper in age comparison, though not as young as perhaps FSG like their players to be, nor as good as Viera, et al. But he scores goals, hence Rodgers' summer-long desire to sign him for what is by today's standards small change.

Down the road, another manager made a bid for another 29-year-old and spent a small fortune - £24 million - buying him. Trusted by the board, Manchester United's Alex Ferguson snared Robin van Persie and the result is four goals in two games.

Scousers are now happy to spout Americanisms and are asking their owners to do the maths, spelt of course with an s.