By David Lynch
“The worst part obviously is losing. It was incredibly painful last year to watch the performance on the field. I feel personally responsible.” Although these words from Fenway Sports Group’s principal owner John W Henry were spoken regarding the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool fans can be forgiven for hoping the American businessman feels a similar ache when assessing the plight of the “soccer” side of his sporting portfolio.
The Reds approach the summer with Champions League football looking further away than ever and, unlike last season, can take no comfort from having added to Anfield’s bulging trophy cabinet. Three years of alleged “transition” have seen once-proud supporters grow weary, whilst the patience afforded the club’s owners upon the ousting of Tom Hicks & George Gillett is noticeably thinning.
FSG must hope that the framework they have put in place since inheriting a divided football club led by an unwanted manager can now start to bear fruit. The supporter-led Kenny Dalglish experiment may well have delayed it, but last year truly marked the start of the Boston-based group’s reign.
Brendan Rodgers is but a small part of that new structure; a young, talented manager with scope to grow and an almost unrivalled enthusiasm for leading from the front. But, with FSG having identified Liverpool’s wastefulness in the transfer market as one of the biggest factors in their recent decline, the Northern Irishman is to receive guidance which may save him from the fate of his predecessors.
|LIVERPOOL'S 2012/13 ARRIVALS
Games: 28 (7), Goals: 2, Assists: 0
Games: 6 (5), Goals: 0, Assists: 0
Games: 10 (6), Goals: 1, Assists: 0
Games: 4 (1), Goals: 2, Assists: 2
Games: 8 (1), Goals: 5, Assists: 1
The recruitment of former Manchester City scouting duo Dave Fallows and Barry Hunter in September following a period of garden leave has already made a tangible impact in this sense. Rodgers' protégées Fabio Borini and Joe Allen may well have fit the transfer profile in terms of resale value and playing style ahead of their summer arrivals, but the pair’s contribution this term has been minimal.
In comparison, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho - the two players brought in since Fallows and Hunter began their work - have been sure-fire successes. And it is these sorts of purchases which the club must continue to make in order to regain their place amongst the Premier League’s elite.
Of course, Liverpool’s new recruitment setup will face an entirely different test this summer, with the need to strengthen in defence patently clear.
Work has already started in that regard, however, with Swansea centre-back Ashley Williams being lined up to bring much-needed physicality and experience to a porous backline which is set to lose Jamie Carragher to retirement. Feyenoord defender Stefan de Vrij, 21, could also arrive on Merseyside having been recently watched by Rodgers, as Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates edge nearer to the exit.
Regardless, much of Liverpool's summer business is set to hinge on whether Luis Suarez forces through a departure. The significant windfall the Uruguayan would provide is not currently viewed as necessary for further investment and, should a big-money bid arrive, the club will by no means push the player out if he is willing to stay.
The end of the season is also likely to see further progress on a more pressing matter for Liverpool's long-term future - the mooted redevelopment of Anfield.
Reds supporters were once famously promised not only a new stadium in nearby Stanley Park but “a spade in the ground within 60 days” by Hicks & Gillett. And that was in March 2007. Thus far, the only substantial evidence of any redevelopment is the recently erected sign promoting the “Rockfield Road Regeneration Area” which adorns one of the numerous derelict houses which will require removal.
However, an application for planning permission is set to be launched over the summer and, with Liverpool City Council finally on board as part of the above scheme, no problems are expected by the club. There also remains a genuine sense on Merseyside that FSG will deliver on their sensibly cagey guarantees, with the plans for extending the Anfield Road and Main Stand areas of the historic ground having been in the hands of the club’s hierarchy for over a year.
That Anfield will remain open whilst these adjustments take place is believed to have been a significant factor in FSG approving the plans, with a damaging hit on ticket revenue set to be avoided throughout the renovation.
Admittedly, the New England-based investment group may well face attacks on their stewardship throughout this process should results on the pitch not improve, but they will be confident that Liverpool are in a better position now than upon their arrival should an exit begin to seem appealing.
Supporters may not wish to think of their club as a tradable asset, but ensuring Liverpool can be sold for profit further down the line marries with increasing the club’s competitiveness. It is a win-win for both fans and owners.
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