Finishing eighth not an option for Liverpool

By John Dutton

“We are Liverpool, we can’t finish eighth.”

– Steven Gerrard

So said Liverpool’s beloved captain last Friday in an interview on the LFC website. He’s right of course, but you know what: last season marked the 50th in a row that Liverpool has finished among the first eight places in top-flight English football, starting with the club’s return to the old First Division under Bill Shankly back in 1962-63.

Think about this for a second. Half a century of never finishing worse than eighth. It’s simply incredible, and it shows why Liverpool can genuinely claim to be the greatest club in England. Sure, Arsenal and Everton have had more consecutive seasons in the highest division, but the Gunners have finished below eighth 10 times over the last 50 years, and the Toffees 20 times. How about Manchester United? Despite its dominance over the last couple of decades, the Old Trafford club has still recorded 10 finishes outside the top eight including a season in the old Second Division following relegation in 1974, only six years after winning the European Cup. That last statistic in itself is a testimony to how difficult it is to keep a club consistently among the elite.

But enough stats. The reason this is all hugely relevant today is that I believe Liverpool FC is starting a new era (no pressure, Brendan) with owners who appear to understand the legacy that they find themselves entrusted with. This isn’t about the often repeated word “history” that LFC fans frequently use to taunt nouveau riche teams like Chelsea. It’s about running a football club in a professional manner.

Clearly soccer has become a bigger business than anyone could have imagined 50 years ago, but as we are now seeing with the Glasgow Rangers fiasco in Scotland, there’s a balance to be had between on-field success and sound financial stewardship. Liverpool flirted with disaster under the ownership of Hicks and Gillett, but now that John W. Henry is in charge, all signs point to a healthy balance sheet.

If I were a fan of Manchester United, a club with enormously high leveraged debt, or Manchester City and Chelsea, clubs bankrolled by stupendously wealthy individuals, I would be worried. Who knows when the owners will pull the plug or the creditors come calling for repayment as happened with Hicks and Gillett. There will also be the impact of UEFA’s financial fair play initiative, which aims to level the playing field and secure the long-term future of European soccer. The initiative’s break-even assessment covers the financial years ending 2012 and 2013, and comes at a time when the European economy is not faring well, with no glimmer of improvement in the foreseeable future. This recession is having an impact on soccer, with international transfer spending down 34 percent in the first half of 2012.

The good news for Liverpool is that this is pretty much a perfect storm. Why? Not only does the club have an owner who is a financial wizard and knows how to win while balancing the books, the new manager has shown himself highly capable of putting together a successful team without splashing out the big bucks.

Make no mistake, guiding Swansea into the EPL and then finishing 11th in the club’s first season was almost miraculous. It’s hard to see how this performance could be due to anything but Brendan Rodgers’s management and coaching skills.

Liverpool has been a well-run club for 120 years, while the first team has had its ups and downs. I for one am guardedly optimistic that under the stewardship of John W. Henry and Tom Werner, in conjunction with the team-building acumen of Brendan Rodgers, the decades ahead should see the club maintain its consistently high league finishes. Of course all Liverpool fans would like to see a championship, but there’s only one way that can happen at Anfield and it starts by running the club properly.

Last week it was revealed that Rodgers submitted a 180-page blueprint for success to the club’s owners during his recruitment phase. Clearly it impressed Henry and Werner and it should impress the Liverpool fanbase as well because it shows that the club is in good hands.

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