By Bill Farnham
Editor’s Note: This post is in response to the letter John Henry published to the fans on Sept. 3, 2012.
“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
I’ve been here before, and you probably have as well. The anticipation of a new season and the hopes and dreams that come with opening day have been replaced by cold, hard reality: Liverpool will not achieve as much as hoped for, or finish as highly as anticipated. This doesn’t mean I will stop cheering or care any less, but there is a bit of sadness in having to rein in my expectations for the team a mere five games into the season.
Here’s the frightening part: if I changed Liverpool to Boston and five games to 24 (15 percent of a Major League Baseball season), the statement would still hold true, which brings me to the topic of Fenway Sports Group, the owners of both the Liverpool FC and the Boston Red Sox. FSG are poised, rather precariously, at the start of what will be their defining period as owners of the glorious institution that is Liverpool FC.
Let’s examine the facts:
- Liverpool has its third manager in as many seasons
- Liverpool’s league position has steadily declined over the past three seasons (2nd in 08-09, 7th in 09-10, 8th in 10-11)
- Liverpool is reportedly no closer to a new stadium then it was three years ago
- Last season’s disastrous transfer spending of over £57 million
- This season’s transfer spending has been long on potential and short on results
- There is not enough depth to cover any more significant injuries in the squad
- This is the worst start to a season in more than 100 years
John W. Henry’s open letter was filled with worthy passages and phrases, and was clearly the work of an ownership group concerned that its messaging is full of good intentions, but it was short of answers (something that is embodied, rather ironically, in LFC’s transfer policy this season and last).
The clearest definition of the two major themes contained in the letter comes when Henry says, “Most of all, we want to win. That ambition drives every decision. It is the Liverpool way. We can and will generate the revenues to achieve that aim.” This is where skepticism kicks in.
The future is now, not in three more seasons. Yes, Liverpool needs to be financially sound, but it also needs wins. While there is clearly a balance to be struck between the two, FSG has not struck this balance, yet. The transfer spending from last season, large though it was, was ultimately wasted. FSG opened its checkbook and bought lavishly, but the net result was a striker who is gone out on loan (Andy Carroll), a midfielder who now plays for Stoke City (Charlie Adam), a substitute winger/fullback (Stewart Downing), a default left back who still has plenty to prove (Jose Enrique), a substitute midfielder (Jordan Henderson), and a backup keeper who has rarely played (Doni). The major positive to come out was young center back Sebastian Coates, who still has plenty to prove as well. Imagine for a moment if Liverpool had signed only two players with a smaller amount of money: Radamel Falcao (£ 32M Athletico Madrid from Porto) and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain (£ 12M – £ 15 Arsenal from Southampton). How different would Liverpool be?
The squad this season is smaller and further from “success” as a result of this profligate spending. Yes, “young, but significantly talented starters” have been brought in. Joe Allen and Fabio Borini look to be good business, but Nuri Sahin only counts if he signs for LFC permanently. Yes, “exciting young potential stars” — Samed Yesil, Oussama Assaidi — have arrived at the club as well, but that is only half of the equation. Success is the other half, and that eludes FSG despite all their fine words, well received ideas, and profligate spending.
In his open letter Henry writes, “After almost two years at Anfield, we are close to having the system we need in place.” I would respond with some words from a Brendan Rodgers press conference aired on The Anfield Wrap on September 9, 2012. Rodgers said, in response to a question regarding the lack of depth in the squad and the potential for young players to establish themselves, “You cry for an opportunity. You actually might now get an opportunity. And then you’ve got to take it. You’ve got to take it.” After two years at Anfield, now is the time for FSG to take that opportunity. There might not be another chance.
“Potential is just another way of saying that you haven’t done anything yet.” – various
So what happens when the opportunity is there and not taken? One need only look as far as FSG’s other notable sports franchise, the Boston Red Sox, who, after replacing an iconic manager because of a miserable end of season collapse and muddling through the replacement process, are now saddled with one of the most unpopular managers in team history and a team that is all about future potential at the expense of results. Just be glad the Premier League season is only 38 games long; a baseball season is 162 games.