This is my first submission in a new series about, what I call, the “LFC Alternate Universe”. With it, I am trying to explore how a certain pivotal moment would unfold if it went the other way.
Every decision has a 50-50 chance of succeeding or failing. In the case of a major organization, with a lot of moving parts, these decisions determine if the result is chicken salad or…. chicken poop.
It is fascinating to think about how things would have worked out if Dougray Scott had finished filming for “Mission: Impossible 2” in time, to take on the role of Wolverine in “X-men”, or if Robert Zemeckis had just decided to stick with Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly in “Back to the Future”. If the Sonics had never decided to trade Scottie Pippen to the Bulls on draft day or if Virgil Van Dijk (perish the thought) had decided to move to the Etihad instead of Anfield. These are the kind of crucial points on the timeline that can make or break institutions and individuals.
Now, we shall explore how things might have unfolded if a certain Tom Hicks and George Gillett had decided to hold on to Liverpool FC in October 2010, instead of selling to Fenway Sports Group.
The club was teetering over the edge of going into administration, the penultimate nail in the coffin for a soccer team. In response, Tweedle Hicks and Tweedle Gillett were stubbornly holding onto the club, heavily leveraged with loans from the Royal Bank of Scotland. Gillett, disturbingly, had a history of seeking protection from bankruptcy for his businesses. In addition, Hicks had an unenviable track record of turning his baseball team, the Texas Rangers, into a bottom feeder, and bankrupting his hockey team, the Dallas Stars.
The time had come for the two billionaire bozos to pay the piper, as the bank came calling for its loans. Failure to do so would have relegated Liverpool. The club had seen a pretty quick decline in the on-field product. After finishing an agonizing second to their archrivals in 2008-09, the 2009-10 season saw them bounced out of the Champions League in the group stages and finish a mediocre seventh in the league. Hicks and Gillett had become hated enough to prompt clear-minded English Liverpudlians to actually burn the American flag.
Rafa vs the Owners
Rafa Benitez and the ownership had an oil-and-water relationship. Moves that he had made in the summer, like selling fan favorites Xabi Alonso and Sami Hyypia, turned off the supporters and did not improve results on the pitch. Rafa’s abrasive and cold nature were tolerated when the team was winning, but his schtick had now started to wear thin. Owners who were sucking the club dry were not a good match with a manager who expected a never-ending flow of funds for the squad.
An Unsuitable Roy
To make matters worse, after Rafa resigned to take up his short, train wreck of a stint at Inter Milan, our pair of rich destroyers replaced him with Mr. mid-table himself, Roy Hodgson. I do not need to remind you about Roy and his handiwork at Anfield, because I do not wish that kind of a PTSD fever dream on my worst enemy. He lasted half a season before FSG took over the reins and put him out of his misery. An arrogant, short-tempered, incompetent con-artist who still swindles English clubs into offering him employment and a steady paycheck.
Boston T(akeover) Party
Fortunately for Liverpool fans everywhere, FSG came along, bought the club, and set about cleaning the Aegean Stables that was the club’s dire financial situation. They hired Kenny Dalglish as caretaker manager and the club finished a respectable 6th after the most horrendous start in 22 years. King Kenny’s only full year in his 2nd stint had a League cup, hits like Luis Suarez and some disasters like Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll.
It was a see-saw season, and then the stabilizing hand of Brendan Rodgers for a few years before salvation in the form of hiring Klopp. A lot of uncertainty and faith before the eventual resurgence.
The Wrinkle In the Space/Time Continuum
Now let us look at the alternate universe where Hicks and Gillett decided not to sell the club and put their own self-interest before the good health of the club.
What if they chose to keep the club and deal with the consequences, instead of selling it for $440 million?
The Descent into Hell
If H&G did indeed decide to keep the club and face the wrath of Royal Bank of Scotland, we would be experiencing the darkest period in the history of Liverpool FC in the modern era, since Hillsborough and the European competition ban.
The club would go into administration, and then would come the points deduction, followed by the inevitable relegation. This would be a fate that befell the likes of Portsmouth and would put Liverpool firmly in the category of fallen giants like Leeds United and Nottingham Forest. Popular players like Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Dirk Kuyt, Pepe Reina and Daniel Agger would be sold because the club could not afford to have them on their payroll in the Championship.
H&G would then indulge in what a lot of rich billionaires are known for when they screw up. Cease all communications with the fans, block out the local and national media in the UK and never show their faces in the country again. They would be absent landlords who let the team and the stadium fall into decay. In short, they would enforce the stereotype of the evil Yank owners. They would continue to maintain a stony silence that would infuriate and sadden the most loyal supporter.
Lack of Ambition
A promotion battle would be the order of the day. Every semi-competent English manager like a Neil Warnock or an Alan Pardew would hop on board and get enough resources to get the club back in the Premier League. This would be the case because the owners knew the real money was in the top flight. We would be where Newcastle or West Ham are today. At best a mid-table side or at worst hovering over the relegation zone. The odd FA Cup run would occur, but we would be also-rans who relinquished our right to be called a big club.
The Alternate Landscape
Liverpool would forfeit the right to call itself a Big Club. The flagship clubs of the Premier League would continue to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s United along with Chelsea, and the newly minted rich club Manchester City. Arsenal would have to fight the battle of building a winning team the hard and right way alone.
Luis Suarez would still come to England, but he would probably join Arsene Wenger in Arsenal. Arsenal were the only other club willing to take a chance on a competitive, yet polarizing player, and he would give them that dark edge that they were lacking since Patrick Viera’s departure. Arsenal would return as a force that competed for the title and not just for fourth place “trophies”.
Robin Van Persie would see Arsenal’s ambition and stay to join forces with Suarez to form one of the most lethal strike partnerships in Premier League history. Arsenal would probably go on to deny Premier League titles to United and Leicester City.
Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher would decide to sign up with Everton so that they could continue to live in Liverpool, and they would both instantly make Everton a contender for Champions League qualification with their veteran savvy and big game experience.
The likes of Phillippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson, and Andy Robertson would never be heard of. Liverpool FC in the real universe acquired them, nurtured them, and turned them into stars. In this alternate landscape, they would be a blip on the radar at the most.
Coutinho would wash out from Inter Milan and probably play out his career in Brazil before retiring into obscurity. Raheem Sterling would show glimpses of promise, but his lack of exposure to consummate pros like Gerrard and Carragher would make him an impulsive, headstrong, and distracted player. Trent was a soft-spoken humble player. He would lack the encouragement needed for a player to blossom and would end up at Everton buried in the practice squad. Hendo would continue at Sunderland, and knowing his loyal nature, would plunge down to the lower divisions with the club, and in the company of that other Sunderland tragic Lee Cattermole.
David Moyes would commit to Everton long-term and the blue half of Liverpool would be the ones representing the city in the Premier League. A squad comprising of Gerrard, Carragher, and the Belgian brigade of Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku, and Kevin Mirallas would keep Everton strong and their ambitions high.
After finishing his stint at Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp would dismiss his wife Ulla’s concerns and join Manchester United as Ferguson’s successor. He would continue to rack up their title tally and the Manchester clubs would make English and European football fans dismiss Liverpool FC as an afterthought or quaint documentary on the History channel. He would go on to make them the biggest club in the world. United would eclipse Real Madrid and FC Barcelona with their gargantuan global fan base and merchandise sales. Manchester United would be renowned for their (gasp!) “Heavy Metal” football. This would lead to merchandise like “Heavy Metal” football T-shirts being a hit worldwide and generating millions of dollars’ worth of revenue for an already rich football club.
Chelsea under Carlo Ancelotti would emerge as chief rivals to United and Arsenal but would never gain the respect of either of those clubs because of Roman Abramovich’s free spending. They would be the club that fans loved to hate. They would win their fair share of titles but would attract a kind of fan that would be loathed by society – the bandwagoners. Think of the biggest douchebag you know in school, college, or your office. Now picture him with a Chelsea jersey or scarf. See what I mean?
In short, the scenario with a longer H&G reign over Liverpool would have zero positive outcomes. Somewhere out in the multiverse, there is a world where Coutinho is coaching at a Brazilian high school, Luis Suarez is arrested in a London grocery store for biting the woman in front of him for writing a check at the register, and Martin Skrtel is running a nightclub for the Slovakian mob in Amsterdam or Montreal.
So every time you feel the urge to tweet “FSGOUT” or “KLOPPOUT”, reach for your Xanax and remember that this dark world could have been our reality. This is not a world anyone wants to live in…. unless perhaps you are an Arsenal or Everton fan.