2023 is shaping up to be one of the most critical years in the history of Liverpool Football Club. Not since the debacle of Gillett and Hicks has it been necessary to make decisions that will alter the course of the club’s history for a long time to come. The ultimate question that needs answering by the end of the season, or earlier, is does FSG need to go or stay?
OK, so let’s look at the positives. Fenway Sports Group saved Liverpool from going into administration. They are also fundamental to the success and dominance LFC fans haven’t seen since 1989. Since the takeover in 2010, FSG has made ‘footballing decisions’ and runs the club as a profitable business. Appointing Michael Edwards as sporting director was pivotal for success on and off the pitch. Transfers in and out made Liverpool FC the envy of every football club worldwide. Paired with the appointment of Jurgen Klopp as manager, the ownership delivered the Premier League, Champions League, and the Club World Cup. They modernized Anfield and upgraded training facilities. Management structures within the club were improved. Revenue streams grew. This club was literally on top of the world and FSG helped facilitate that within the rules. THE RIGHT WAY.
What Went Wrong This Season?
Here we are now in the 2022-23 season. A season following on from one where Liverpool was two games away from immortality. A season that promised so, so much.
Losing Sadio Mane, the catalyst for Klopp’s success and the embodiment of the club spirit, stung. But there were still so many that remained. Alisson, Virgil, Trent, Robbo, Matip, Konate, Thiago, Fabinho, Henderson, Jota, Diaz, Salah, Milner, and now Darwin Nunez! What could go wrong? The fact that we started six players over the age of 30 in our first match of the season was just the start in showing us that the club is at a stage where FSG’s model is no longer fit for purpose. The joy of last season papered over the cracks. The model brought about stability when it was needed but the efforts to ensure its self-sustainability while keeping Liverpool competitive are no longer viable.
A Different Playing Field
John Henry’s reliance on the original version of Financial Fair Play highlighted his nativity about the way UEFA actually runs football. Add to that the Super League, Project Big Picture, and other more radical ideas. Ways to close the gap with clubs who operate on a different plane in a financial sense have not materialized the way FSG hoped or expected. The new FFP rules cater to clubs that find “creative” ways to enhance revenues. This once again makes FSG’s methods a road to less competitiveness.
Manchester City and Chelsea were already operating with a significant amount of owner investment. Now you add Newcastle to the fold. Even Arsenal in recent years moved away from a more self-sustaining setup to one which sees KSE invest in their club. Liverpool’s triumphs despite having the lowest net spend are a testament to Edwards’ magnificence as well as Klopp’s managerial prowess. However, bragging about winning and not spending has a finite shelf life. Spending is all around us now. Everton and Nottingham Forest splashed the cash this season. Hell, even Daniel Levy is reaching into Spurs’ coffers. Liverpool is rapidly becoming the ONLY flyers of the financial self-sustainability flag.
Concessions and Confessions
The fact that Jurgen Klopp has now conceded that money is required to compete just goes to show how much the financial landscape of the English Premier League has shifted. COVID was only a speedbump when it came to transfer spending. Each window will surely set new records with this January being no different. For all of the spending around them, Nunez was the only significant signing. Carvalho is one for the future and Ramsay is purely cover for Trent at this juncture. We had to lose Sadio for Salah to stay. Every team in and around us strengthened and this season’s table is indicative of how far behind we really are. Said clubs have been bolstering their ranks for three to four years running while Liverpool has been stagnant or even worse, reactive.
Everton, United, and Chelsea are proof that spending exorbitant sums of money does not guarantee trophies or solve deeper issues. The Red Devils’ recklessness in the past decade is well-documented. Chelsea is lower in the league table than us even having spent more than any other club. Everton, do I even need to go there?
Yet that shouldn’t deter a new path for Liverpool. Although there has been an increase in revenue in recent years, the club struggles to maintain a competitive wage bill, deliver on infrastructure projects, AND spend large sums in the transfer market. The paltry net spend post-2019 not only allowed our rivals to catch up, but now it seems they are leaving us behind. It may take two transfer windows to rectify the problem but let’s be fair given our defense showing its frailties again three is probably the more reasonable time frame.
Where Does Thy Finger Point?
Laying all the blame at the feet of FSG is easy. However, Klopp is far from infallible. While admirable on the surface, Klopp’s loyalty to certain players is becoming detrimental to Liverpool’s progress and production. The mental edge is no longer there as many of these heavily relied-upon players are running on fumes. Jurgen should not have been allowed to let this squad age in this way. Liverpool could have bought players in the £20m-£30m range over the last three seasons and have our manager nurture them. He’s proven time and time again that he can turn “good” into elite. Instead, we now find ourselves needing players worth triple that or more.
The Klopp/Ljinders gameplan, as frenetic and wonderful as it is, ONLY works if the midfield is on point. Trent is exposed almost weekly due to the lack of coverage from the once-reliable midfield. For now, it looks like our cure-all is Jude Bellingham. It is no secret that Klopp desperately desires the Borussia Dortmund youngster. Much like the #Mbappe frenzy that made the rounds, many believe the World Cup star will be a Liverpool player in time. However, it certainly won’t be in the January window and even in summer, he won’t be coming to Anfield for anything less than £120m.
History tells us that unless we sell players we will not be able to buy Bellingham unless we really get creative with a purchase structure that suits both us and Dortmund. With all those ifs, even IF Liverpool manages to purchase Jude Bellingham ahead of next season, we are still at least two midfielders short of being anywhere close to full capacity. Not replacing Gini Wijnaldum was short-sighted. Maybe we believed the Aurelien Tchouameni deal was done? Not having a backup plan or even a Plan C in the summer was amateur hour at best.
The Next Steps
So with all this being said, when you look at recent issues it becomes obvious that the time has come. The need for significant squad investment, the failure of the Super League and “The Bigger Picture”, the fact FFP is a farce, FSG’s need to raise funds, and our rivals moving on from our antiquated model means one thing. Fenway Sports Group has taken Liverpool as far as they can take us and it is time to move on.
Selling a minority stake is not an option. It is one that would make little sense for a potential investor for the club. No money-men that would make a significant difference would come in and accept having little to no control or say. As proven by Red Bird and LeBron James’ contributions, the club has seen next to no benefit. John Henry and FSG are the only benefactors of those cash infusions.
The purchase of Liverpool FC will be a financial boon for FSG. A £3.7b potential profit is eye-watering. Leaving now by selling outright to either a consortium or a single entity allows Henry and Co. to leave on a high despite the season at hand. Unlike United in their dilapidated home and crippling debt, Liverpool is ripe for a new owner in both regards. Anfield and our finances are better structurally than before FSG’s reign. In Klopp, we have many a potentially bright season ahead (four with the current contract) under arguably the best manager in the world. We’ve become a bigger and more attractive global brand than we could’ve ever dreamed of. Yet…
Final Brass Tacks
A true sporting director is needed. Someone with the business acumen and nous akin to Michael Edwards would be ideal. They would need to prioritize youth talent as well as make sure the first team is on a competitive track with our close rivals.
Despite the lack of investment in it, our academy is doing well. City and Chelsea shoveled substantially more money into their youth teams but as it stands our boys in the LFC U21s sit second in the PL2. But as I’ve said, this is not sustainable without continuing to fund that system properly.
In conclusion, 2023 could prove to be another landmark year in our history, but for reasons off the pitch. For all the good our owners have done for Liverpool, we live in a world of instant gratification. “What have you done for me lately?” It is the attitude of Premier League football fans and we Reds are no different. The breakaway attempt is not forgotten and for some still not forgiven. This season is one we probably should forget otherwise. Giving Klopp an extension goes a long way to help us ease those pains, however, a master builder is nothing without his tools.
Amend your business model to fit with the times or sell to someone who will. YNWA.