FSG, Knee-Jerkism and Some Middle Ground

The social aspect of supporting Liverpool has recently been far less enjoyable than usual, at least for me. I spend a lot of time interacting with fellow fans on Twitter (yes, I realise that’s probably my mistake), but lately the interactions have had a distinct edge to them – a bitterness, a frustration – and I in turn have responded with frustration of my own, which I regret. Sadly I am beginning to believe that supporting Liverpool, side-by-side with my Red brothers and sisters from all over the global fanbase, is becoming extremely unfulfilling. At least for the moment.

Central to my dissatisfaction is the polarization of opinion over Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the American investors-turned-sports-owners currently piloting our beloved club. Love them or hate them (as the majority seem to be leaning towards), they are a fact, a reality. They are part and parcel of supporting Liverpool in the present moment. Of course this could all change in a heartbeat, and were they ever to descend to the depths previously plumbed by Hicks and Gillett, I would be completely supportive of public protest, fan unrest and all forms of internet terrorism (the legal kind!).

For the meantime, we might be the heartbeat of the club, but they are the mind that drives it forward. They set the plan, the action, the policy. They make the decisions, while we watch, wait, support and criticise – sometimes in a fair and balanced way, but oftentimes not.

My personal feeling is that while FSG are not perfect owners, they have been more good than bad in their decision-making so far. I also believe they have tried, admittedly clumsily at times, to engage the fanbase and hear what we have to say. And knowing what we are like as a collective, you have to admit it would be impossible to please every single one of us, or even most of us. Before I delve deep into my reasoning, I would like to make a few disclaimers.

Firstly I see myself as a Liverpool fan. I support the club, the players, the manager and the ownership – usually in that order, but subjective to the context of whatever is happening. I am not firmly pro-FSG, nor am I anti. I have seen Liverpool exist without them, and have no doubt that I will once again in the future. That’s the nature of sports ownership – very rarely do you have a dynasty type ownership that spans multiple generations. I am Australian, and therefore have no nationalistic ties to Fenway. While I do support the Red Sox extremely (EXTREMELY) loosely, this is as a result of my long-standing love affair with Liverpool, their vague links to Boston, and my curiosity about a foreign, often mind-numbingly strange sport and sports culture. I have no serious interest in FSG beyond their stewardship of Liverpool, so my thoughts and comments below should be considered as being open-minded, rather than being from an FSG apologist.

Here is my take on FSG and the major issues we face or have prevailed through – a balanced view requires positives and negatives to be considered equally. In no particular order:

Stadium Solutions:
For a long time I fell into the category of people who were growing increasingly frustrated with FSG over the failure to solve the stadium issue. With matchday revenue key in making up ground on our serious rivals, having a larger capacity stadium would allow us to bridge this gap and compete with them on a more even financial footing. I wanted FSG to move swiftly to rectify the imbalance and get the ball rolling, one way or another.

What has not been communicated effectively to the vast majority of fans (despite FSG’s efforts to do exactly this) is the fact that committing to a new stadium without finding ourselves in certain and precise circumstances, beneficial ones, would almost certainly result in the club once again acquiring terminal debt. Having almost bled out once under the strain of a leveraged buyout, I personally am eager to avoid seeing Liverpool in that kind of dire predicament ever again.

As for redeveloping Anfield, it is a project that has little return on the costs. It would need to be part-funded by a third party (yes I’m talking about naming rights, which nobody appears comfortable with) to make sense financially. Beyond that there are a whole bunch of other stakeholders – council, local residents – who have as much to do with the project moving slowly as FSG do.

There are so many more important things that could be said on the stadium issue. Thankfully, Peter McGurk has already said them. Go to his blog, and have a good read of his in-depth 5 part series on the stadium issue. If you haven’t read it, you aren’t informed.

In the meantime, stop using the stadium issue as a stick to beat FSG with. There are some very fine lines to tread to solve this problem adequately, and the club can’t just do what they please without carefully considering the consequences for both themselves and the other stakeholders involved. Read up, wise up and be patient. It’s far more important to get this done right, than it us just to get it done.

Deadline Day:
No sidestepping this one. Whatever has happened, it will almost certainly prove to be a grave error. Independently of each other, putting Andy Carroll in the shop window at West Ham, refusing to overpay for Clint Dempsey, and clearing out older players earning wages out of line with their contribution to results (I’m talking about Bellamy, Kuyt and Maxi) are all good decisions. However collectively and in context, they are a disaster. Liverpool now start the season with a misfiring winger-cum-striker, an out-of-form 21 year old and a lean, mean, but ultimately green 17 year old constituting their strongest forward trio.

There’s no dressing this one up – this is a calamity. John Henry today reminded us it’s only 16 weeks until we can put it right and add both depth and quality to the forward ranks. These will be a long, gruelling 16 weeks, and I fully expect both the domestic cups and the Europa league to be sacrificed in the name of keeping our forwards fit. Our U21 squad forwards have never been so lucky, as I expect they’ll get plenty of senior opportunities in order to rest Suarez and friends for league matches.

Sustainable Spending:
I have to be honest here, I strongly believe in sustainability. I applaud UEFA’s FFP initiative, even if it’s not perfect and arguably protects the status quo of elitist clubs dominating through having larger weapons in the resource war. Beyond this it should protect fans from having Portsmouth, Leeds experiences, and ensure the survival of some of the most storied and glorious clubs in football history, who are among the worst in terms of debt situations and unsustainable spending. The fact that FSG have a sustainable business model – including its inherent limit on transfer spending and emphasis on only using club-generated funds – excites me.

While the next few years of shedding overly-expensive contracts, rebuilding the playing roster, and developing the club’s playing style on the field might seem like slow progress, the fact there’s no “hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza” should see our financial strength increase steadily, year-on-year. In turn this affects our ability to sign the players we want and pay the wages we need to. But without trimming the fat now, there is no bright red future, as nonsensical contracts and exorbitant spending have eroded what capital the club had held. We need to build the cash reserves back up, maximise the efficiency of our spending, trade up to where we want to be.

This is frustrating for anyone who can’t bear to lose matches – I really struggle with this myself. But the reality is that until we’ve done the discipline, stuck to the strict regime and lost the unwanted pounds, we have no alternative. This is about Liverpool making herself sexy again – the hard way.

So we might sit at mid-table for another year before we begin our inevitable float back up to the top. It will happen – the Deloitte Money League places us among the elite clubs in Europe, and given our current financial prudence, we look set to save a fair chunk of the change headed our way this season. It’s only a matter of time until we are competing at the top once more.

I think FSG are right on the money. Sustainability is the right way to go in modern football, and it’s the right way for our club in particular.

FSG are Incompetent:
I’ve heard this so often – FSG don’t know what they are doing, they’re fools, they’re incompetent. As a professional educator, it appears to me as if they are learners.

Adults develop a fear of mistake-making, a fear which is remarkably absent in the children I teach. Where we expect excellent performance and are highly critical of mistakes, children are far less so. The best learning comes from mistakes. One can only hope Suarez has learned not to bite and to watch his tongue after the mistakes he’s made so far in his career. So too with FSG. They’ve made mistakes, some bad decisions. But they were always going to. They are beginners, learners.

People criticise them, saying that two years is enough time to get their house in order. I suspect it isn’t, particularly given that the club had nearly completely imploded and that they were entirely new to football/soccer. A whole catalogue of mistakes have been made – Comolli, keeping Kenny beyond their initial plans to, handling affairs remotely from Boston. Given the maxim that it is easier to detroy than it is to create, righting the wrongs, stretching beyond Hicks and Gillett even back to the Moores and Parry days, was always going to take time.

In the meantime they have attempted, and often succeeded to do a lot of good. This club would not exist without them – literally. Other times they have tried to do the right things (handing Kenny and Comolli over £100m to spend without clear guidelines) which have spectacularly backfired, in true Liverpool fashion. Once again I argue they aren’t incompetent, they are building something exceptionally complicated, starting on the wrong foot, clearing someone else’s mess as they go.

Conclusion:
I can only repeat myself here. FSG are not perfect, nor are they terrible. I am grateful for them rescuing our club from certain death. I also appreciate the direction they are taking the club in, through Brendan Rodgers, attacking football, self-generating the playing squad through youth development and through steadying the reigns financially via their commitment to sustainable business practices.

I do think they have an awful lot still to learn, and even more again still to do. Turning this titanic club around and avoiding the many icebergs is going to take more than words, it’s going to take a hell of a lot of action. But now that the plan has been developed, and the strategy set in action through Brendan Rodgers, we must wait for the seeds FSG have sown to eventually bear fruit.

In the meantime, I urge patience. It is frustrating to not be elite, particularly given how brightly Istanbul and the 4-1 thrashings of Madrid and Manchester still linger in the mind. But let this gestation period, with all of its associated nausea, progress and develop. Criticise what must be criticised, but equally give credit where it is due. There is a lot to come from this club, this manager and these owners.

This is Year Zero. Give them some time.
-Grubb-

Wow, you actually made it to the end of this snorefest? Congratulations! Seriously though, please take the time to Tweet or Like this, and get the debate spreading. As always, considered views are welcome in the comments section below. Even you, Daniel. =)

  • redand

    Great read Grubb.Not many feeling this way at the moment but I’m with you. Patience is definitely needed. Another change of ownership and manager is the last thing we need!

  • Jon Moonan

    yes balanced article – but so many people have been regurgitating this type of thing for far too long. Hope springs eternal with Liverpool FC. I do believe FSG are a better bet than Moores and Parry – who should shoulder so much more blame than they are ever given. Hicks and Gillet were the final culmination of Moores tenure of weak leadership, rudderless direction and chaotic imcomepetence.

    But the last day transfer fiasco that FSG presided over was basic business – you do not have to be an expert in football to understand the principle for god sake. The rules of resource management applies in all walks of business life. As such I would argue someone should be held responsible and sacked.

  • michael

    agree. fsg were never gona spend big after last years splurge. carroll was a panic buy and they have learned. would rather wait til january and go for llorente or someone of that ilk. i dont think liverpool are broke just being a little more careful. and who knows morgan or pacheco might surpise us.

  • Devindar

    Fair enough about FSG not wanting to pay more for players than they think those players are worth, but there are a couple of problems with that.

    Firstly, what a player is worth is determined by the wider market and not what FSG think. Adopting this philosophy is going to constantly result in us missing out on quality signings because if we don’t pay, someone else will. I would also defy anyone trying to tell me that Clint Dempsey was “over-valued” at 6 million pounds.

    Secondly, the argument is clearly undermined by their own actions in paying 10 million for Borini and, to a lesser extent, 15 million for Allen. When you weigh this up against what Swansea paid for Michu and what Arsenal paid for Santi Cozarla, you realise that we are still not getting “value for money”.

    It also rankles as deciet by FSG for Henry to say the things he is saying now in his letter in light of what his own chairman, Werner, has said in the last 6 months about FSG’s resources to compete with any other big club for players and not having to shed players to buys new ones.

    You might think there has been a knee-jerk response from fans but, let’s face it, without us in the pitcure, where would the finances come from. Without the fans where would the money from ticket an merchandise sales come from? Where would the sponsorships come from if the sponsors knew there was only a limited fan base to appeal to? Asking for patience from us has got to be matched by some show of quid-pro-quo. They’ve got to show some, if at least token, effort in ambition for the club. Bringing in mediocre players and a manager whose club finished BELOW us in the league last season doesn’t augur well for our ambition.

  • Carl

    It was a great read. Thanks for sharing. Some great points but Micheal too is raising some great points in terms of not being left behind the 8 ball in the transfer market. You only have to look at Arsenal’s policy which has resulted in no trophy in 7 years and their best players moving on to win things and get the big pay day.

    I still feel the key for me is in the Stadium. As much as I love going to Anfield, we cannot aford to be nostalgic. Do we prefer watching a mid table team at Anfield or a team winning league titles and European cups maybe away from our spiritual home?
    To achieve the impossible you must consider doing the unthinkable!!

  • Grubb

    I think all of that is pretty valid and fair, apart from the part about mediocre players. Allen and ?ahin are clearly a cut above what we already had, while Borini seems analogous to a young Dirk Kuyt in industry, even if his quality is yet to be measured.

    Once again, judging a manager or players without giving them a chance to prove themselves is knee-jerkism. let’s just see what happens, hey?

  • Gavin

    Surely the value for money situation is going to be worse in January, not better. Selling clubs inflate prices when they know clubs buying in the January window are desperate, and lets face it, we will be desperate.
    The deadline day fiasco exhibited incompetence at all levels and has held the club open to ridicule. How is that going to pursuade Llorrente,Sturridge or any other player to join Liverpool?
    We had two players who wanted to join us and said so publicly, Dempsey and Sigurdsen, and the fact they are now playing for another rival club is no accident. We had better get used to it because it wont be the last time.
    Shanks and Bob must be spinning.

  • Devindar

    I agree about Allen being better than what we had – the jury is still out on Sahin at the moment. Borini may come good – but at 10 million I expect better than what I am already seeing.

    My issue is that other clubs have been able to purchase even better players than all those 3 for the same money – if not less. And we haven’t even really been able to buy Sahin anyway – another sad indictment of our lack of financial clout. *sigh*

    I think that I am entitled to question (if not necessarily criticise) the manager a little about his tactics and formation. I think even Blind Freddy can tell you that Suarez is not an out-and-out striker and shouldn’t be in that role – given his profligacy in front of goal. Also, even after just a handful of games, it looks quite clear that Borini doesn’t fit out wide on the right. He is indecisive and can’t deliver quality balls to Suarez.

    I also question Rodger’s defensive coaching philosophy. Defensively we look more vulnerable now than under Clark/Dalglish. We are allowing the opposition too much time and space to run at us – not too mention being caught too high up the pitch for counter-attacks.

    Finally, while I applaud his efforts to find us more technical midfielders who can hold and pass the ball, our first priority after the failings of last season was to secure us a clinical goal scorer. If he had done that, I would have been prepared to wait a little longer to see his philosophy evolve.

  • mataioJV

    Mediocre players? you mean the young future stars that we have brought in? Ok, so we don’t know if Borini, assaidi & co will actually become stars. But we are not in a position to happily spend a lot of money on an established star.
    We have to remember that we are a club in transition, even if we got dempsey there is no guarantee that we would become a top4 club. So prudence is the better option and I applaud FSG for pulling out of a deal for a 29 year old in the last year of his contract. We have our very own Clint Dempsey in the form of a certain Steven Gerrard.

  • “So we might sit at mid-table for another year before we begin our inevitable float back up to the top. It will happen.”

    And if we get relegated, which is a very real possibility, what then?

    Those mid-table teams have better squads than us, what makes you think we can compete with them? Even if we could, why is it “inevitable” that we’ll get back to the top? Is it because you’ll be clicking the heels of your ruby red slippers while saying “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home”?

    FSG wants us to become a selling club. This isn’t because they want to obey FFP rules, this is because they want to make tons of money. They are clueless though, because our players won’t be worth shit if we continue on this downward spiral.

  • mataioJV

    we haven’t really been regurgitating this for that long. FSG have brought in an entirlely new concept in that they are really laying the platform for years down the track. In previous years we’ve gone through “rebuilding” but have had the underlying pressure of achieving top4 as the kick start for the rebuild. this is wrong, and fsg are right. Football is results based, which is why at the beginning of a rebuild, a model needs to be established that ensures the club’s safety and stability if said results are not achieved. .
    It is not a cop-out to plan for failing, but a reality for our club who have for years and years shown an inability to impose themselves amongst the league’s top four.

  • mataioJV

    I agree about Suarez, but I was just starting to think couple days ago that maybe Rodgers has Suarez up front so as to relieve him of defensive duties? He has borini and sterling really working hard tracking back. Maybe playing Suarez up front alone is a means to protect him?

  • mataioJV

    heavy investment in squad last season brought us what…….

  • Devindar

    Actually, Borini didn’t track back to help out with the break that lead to Arsenal’s first goal. Then again, Johnson was pretty slack with that as well.

    Also, he checks himself too much when going in for 50-50 balls. He always come put the loser in those situations.

    Anyway, Borini wasn’t hired for his defensive capabilities. You don’t bring in forwards/wingers for that. He was brought in to give us more bite up front and, in that, he hasn’t really delivered yet.

  • Devindar

    “young future stars”? Wasn’t that what they brought in people like Henderson for? Wasn’t that what they said Spearing was? How’s that worked out for us so far?

    We don’t have to spend big to bring in quality. As I pointed out Cazorla cost as much as Allen. While Allen is the best midfielder we have at the moment, I know who I’d rather have in my squad in a toss up between the two. Don’t even get me started on how much value Ba, Michu and Hernandez have represented to their respective squads.

    We have been a club in transition for the last 22 years, mate. I’ve been there backing them for all of them and then some. At what point are we going to get there, eh?

    While a lot of the above pre-dates FSG’s involvement in the club, forgive me for being cynical when the chairman mouths off about having deep pockets, not deliver on that and then the owner steps in after a bad transfer season and says we need “value”.

    Given current form, I’d also take Dempsey over Gerrard.

  • Devindar

    Actually Borini didn’t track back during the break that led to Arsenal’s first goal. I guess Johnson didn’t either – so that didn’t help.
    Borini is poor in his tackling. There were too many 50-50 ball situations in which he didn’t go in hard enough to win the ball and came away empty-handed (or should I say empty-feeted).
    In any case Borini wan’t brought in to provide defensive cover. No one brings in a forward for that role. He is there to provide more bite up front – a job so far I am not convinced he is up to. Perhaps, the problem is Rodger’s insistence on playing him out wide – which I alluded to in my previous post.

  • mataioJV

    Henderson, Carrol represent to me the mistakes the FSG have spoken of. In this case, over-spending on talent regardless of potential or current quality. whether they are or not, it is to FSG’s credit that they have acknowledged their mistakes.
    Over those 22 years of supporting the club in transition, haven’t we seen our fair share of investments in “big name” players? What has our philosophy been during that time? when our better player have moved on, what identity has carried on in their stead?
    We are now beginning to lay the building blocks for those answers to be questioned. It has been a long time for sure, but very short when compared with eternity. We will have the same arguments and the same debates generations from now until someone steps in and puts an end to this short term vision.
    It wasn’t that long ago that we were there competing with the best. but as we learned, the club was in debt each year and was bleeding money. Mistakes were made of course, but in all that. the point that rafa took 2 full seasons of building his squad has been lost in all this. Top4 or bust? i think not

  • mataioJV

    ha not many forwards will have any chance of tracking back when our talisman gives the ball away in the middle of the field. Even Usain Bolt wouldn’t have made it back to make a difference. I know very well Borini wasn’t brought in to bring defensive cover, but that is how our wingers are being used if you’ve watched any of our games

  • Grubb

    Never, EVER speak about my slippers like that again.

  • Jasllo

    I agree with many of the points that you make,it’s a massive job that FSG and BR are taking on and yes itl take a long time to correct the failings of the past regimes nevermind focusing on the challenges that lie ahead.time however waits for no man and in football even more so.it was paramount we addressed the striker issue as it was evident to all and sundry that it was the major failing within the team,has been since Torres left.FSGs refusal to back BR only sets the team back that bit more,how much only time will tell.

  • If they wanted us to be a selling club we would have sold Agger, Skrtel AND Suarez when other clubs were asking around. If they wanted us to become a selling club, they wouldn’t have given Kenny and Commoli that all that money last season (to inevitably waste unfortunately) I’m not saying FSG are going to drive this ship to a better horizon but I don’t think you can make assumptions like they want us to be a selling club when there hasn’t really been evidence to back that.

    3 league games cannot constitute to a spiral downwards. We barely have started the league season.

  • steven.

    “I applaud FSG for pulling out of a deal for a 29 year old in the last year of his contract.”

    being held to ransom over Clint Dempsey? that’s not on.
    being short on strikers? damnit.

    i give that 50/50 on the good/bad ratio.

  • @Janey They did try to sell Agger, were you asleep when they were tr@ying to force him out of the club? I was talking about our current squad when I said downward spiral, although the worst start in 50 years hasn’t helped. Funny, we keep breaking records now, pity they are all negative ones.

    @grubbavitch:disqus Sorry mate 🙂

  • Correction, heavy investment FROM FSG brought us what….

    Answer, slightly more than the slim investment this season, also from FSG.

  • FSG tried the old fashioned Liverpool way backing King Kenny last year with big spending. Kenny failed to bring the club back to the top 4. All but one of his signings are either gone or on the bench under Rodgers. No wonder FSG have chosen to try the old fashioned American way of building a dynasty with a strong young squad nucleus which will be filled in later by marquee signings with an eye on the long term. Believe it or not the old fashioned American way works, time and time again. Keep in mind FSG is a score of wealthy investors with an eye on the long term which do things with a consensus, there is no sugar daddy amongst them.

    Rodgers had all summer during the transfer window to bring in strikers and forwards, but he chose to strengthen the middle. His tactics revolve around a strong middle. Rodgers will strengthen other areas later. Patience is a strong brew to drink, sometimes bitter.