I started out this series with An Introduction to the FSG tenure. I will not be going into too much detail about the introduction other than to say, I was not interested in having a one-sided argument, this is an objective look at their tenure, with no bias one way or another.
With that being said, it is time to delve into their first season at Liverpool.
FSG, came in and bought Liverpool FC for a price that seemed to be on the low side, which is exactly what fund managers tend to do and they immediately began to talk about ambition, about Liverpool FC’s place in history and how they planned on utilising that history to help put Liverpool FC back to where they belong. John Henry at the time said “I am proud and humbled, I can’t tell you how happy I am. We’re here to win.” The purchase led to Liverpool being literally saved from certain administration. Their purchase eliminated £237,000,000 in debt which meant that Liverpool FC was no longer buried under the weight of a mountain of debt that was placed on it by Hicks and Gillette in a 3 year period that had brought the club to its knees.
Broken promises, no new stadium, no significant investment in a side that at the time was literally a jewel in the European setup, FSG, promised to right all those wrongs and they also promised to do so in a fashion that would never again put Liverpool FC in such a precarious position.
That first season saw the new owners almost immediately plunged into crisis, simply because they inherited a Liverpool side that was managed by Roy Hodgson. Hodgson was not the only thing that needed to be tossed aside, but he was the most pressing and as fans, we all waited patiently for him to be removed from his post. FSG decided that they would take a wait and see approach and as results continued to spiral too levels that would have seen Liverpool relegated, they did finally act and they also helped to get fans back on side in a massive way by calling on the legendary Kenny Dalglish to come back as caretaker manager for the second half of their first season.
Before Dalglish’s appointment though, FSG went all in with their take on Moneyball for football by appointing Damien Comolli in a Director of Football type role just a few weeks after purchasing Liverpool FC. His appointment was a signal to the footballing world that although FSG did not know much about the sport, they knew enough to know that they wanted to have a more continental approach to the scouting and transferring of players. Comolli, at the time was greeted with a special kind of reverence, one that is easy to forget all about now, but at the time he was FSG’s promise to supporters that things would be different under their tenure.
With the appointment of Comolli and Dalglish following shortly afterwards, FSG had a somewhat stable team that they hoped would lead to the first significant steps towards the resurrection of Liverpool FC as a force in English football. Almost immediately, Comolli was able to pry away the one and only Luis Suarez from Ajax a signing that at the time was supposed to see Torres and Suarez link up as a deadly striking duo. However, through no fault of FSG or Comolli or Dalglish for that matter, Torres had had enough by that point and as he forced his way out the door, FSG knew that they could not simply collect the £50,000,000 from the Torres sale and just sit on it, as there would have been blood on the streets from fans that were all too willing to jump down FSG’s throat as just a new version of the old American owners.
We all know how that turned out, and in hindsight, it did lead to a dramatic shift in the way FSG operated in the transfer window, something I will discuss at a later date.
The appointment of Dalglish though, even without Torres was an immediate success, Liverpool went on to put together performances and results that would have seen them challenging for the title if they had performed that way throughout the season. The king had returned and with his return there was a swagger and a level of complete joy that many Liverpool fans had rightly believed they may never again experience during the dark days of Hicks and Gillette.
FSG continued to deflect questions about stadiums, about plans for the squad, all they kept saying was in essence, “we are novices at football, let us get the best advice we can find, but we are dedicated to doing everything possible to get Liverpool back to where they belong.”
The success of Dalglish though, led to cries to make the appointment permanent and FSG had no choice but to continue to oblige the fans, which also led to Comolli taking on a much more substantial role within the club, he was now in charge of recruitment, scouting, negotiations and basically operated the way a proper Director of Football is supposed to operate.
Given the revisionist history that has now taken over the discussion about Comolli’s tenure, it can be hard to pinpoint the exact moment that people began to despise the man and his role at the club, but what was clear from FSG’s first season was the fact that Comolli was their man and they had every intention of utilising statistical analysis to find gems in the rough, find value and to make the most of whatever funds were made available for transfers.
So as we round out FSG’s first season, there is clearly a few points that stand out. They literally saved the club from administration. They were calm and measured in their approach to fans and their expectations. They wanted to implement statistical analysis as the foundation upon which all transfers were made. They wanted Liverpool to be run like a club from the continent with a Director of Football. But, given the fact that FSG clearly knew they were novices when it came to football operations, everything they said and did during that first season was refreshing at the least and insightful at best.
What did you make of FSG’s first year at Liverpool?