WHY would anyone want to invest in a football club? It is a no-win situation, largely because football fans are fickle, clubs are not really big, well-run businesses in the scheme of things, and the owners are expected to stump-up cash and not expect any sort of return. In short, football club owners are benefactors, or at least, that’s how many supporters see the owners .
Liverpool, by their own lofty standards, are having a challenging time. This can be translated as the natural cycle of a club, where a successful side needs replenishing but a shabby job of succession planning has been carried out. Liverpool’s recent history has been built on some smart transfer dealings and an outstanding coach in Juergen Klopp. But his team has started to age and his methods are no longer innovative. Most managers go through this cycle as their unique selling point starts to be copied and bettered by others. Klopp is far from finished, but he’s no longer unique and the clubs and coaches that have been observing him have discovered what makes him tick.
Furthermore, the team that he relied upon now needs a rebuild and they need to start replacing some key figures. The likes of Henderson, Milner, Salah, Firmino and Van Dijk all need to be phased-out at some point in the near future.
Klopp is so popular that the easy response is to blame the owners of the club, Fenway Sports Group. They have done their bit and they’ve also given Klopp the resources to build a very good team. But in recent years, their investment has slowed considerably. There’s logic in that strategy, especially as the football industry has gone through the pandemic and seen some revenue streams badly impacted. FSG have adopted a transfer market policy that maintains a modest net spend. In some ways, this is a sensible tactic, but Liverpool are competing in a very uneven playing field. They always have and they’ve been beneficiaries themselves.
It is unreasonable for Liverpool fans to call for FSG to be gone? That the club should be put up for sale. Why? FSG are not reckless, they are not damaging the club or football by the way they operate. Maybe they are refusing to even trying to compete with state-run clubs, but is that so wrong?
For some years, Liverpool have believed their way was more ethical than the model that brought Chelsea success and then elevated Manchester City. They are not the only club to feel aggrieved by “new money” clubs like Chelsea and City – Arsenal and Manchester United also resented the rise of the new order. To Liverpool’s credit, they came through this and because of Klopp, they have battled cheek-to-cheek with City. But fighting on four fronts burned them out in 2021-22.
FSG, as owners of Liverpool FC, can do what they like. They are also in it for the long game, so they will know exactly what they are doing, be it conserving their cash or building a war chest in case there’s another twist in the covid tale, which is a possibility. Because they have decided to be more cautious in the transfer market doesn’t mean they should go. Who has the right to demand an owner departs a club?
And if FSG were to put the club up for sale, what sort of owner do Liverpool fans want? The rising force in club ownership is not hard-line middle eastern regimes, but US business. And this means a very different way to the likes of Roman Abramovich or Qatar Sports Investments. The US team owners run their assets with a view to making a return. Liverpool already have a US owner, so do Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. Arsenal fans have been willing Stan Kroenke to leave for a couple of years, but given they are now currently top of the Premier League, the complaints have stopped. Chelsea are now US-owned and Todd Boehly won the fans over with a record summer spending spree. But if the results started to go bad, Boehly would be under pressure. Manchester United and the Glazers have a rocky relationship and the fans want them to leave, but if United were to be successful, you wouldn’t hear many complaints. Two years ago, everyone was praising Fenway, but now they are supposed to sell to satisfy the fans.
At the end of the day, football is not sustainable without the billionaire owners. They might not be liked, but without their dollars, the big clubs would not be able to compete. If Fenway were to sell Liverpool, it is just as likely that another tycoon with no apparent connection to the game would come along. And once again, it would be a cyclical situation. Good times, bad times… or maybe just less successful times.