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FSG under fire: Liverpool owners may never regain fans' trust after yet another Anfield U-turn

Say what you like about Fenway Sports Group, but they sure know how to do a U-turn.

Mind you, they’ve had plenty of practice during their 10-and-a-half years as owners of Liverpool.

You’ll remember the highlights of course – or should that be lowlights? The ticket-price hikes which were scrapped after a mass walk-out from supporters in 2016, the failed attempt to trademark the name ‘Liverpool’ in 2019, the bid to place non-playing staff members on furlough leave when the coronavirus pandemic hit last spring.

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Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes.

Too many of them, as far as Reds fans are concerned.

And then came the latest, the biggest one of all.

The one from which FSG may find it hard to recover.

“I don’t see how they can continue,” said Kop legend Jamie Carragher on Tuesday, after the controversial European Super League plot, which Liverpool were at the centre of, unravelled in quite spectacular fashion.

“I don't see a future for the ownership of FSG at Liverpool on the back of this.”

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Plenty would agree with Carragher’s sentiments, although John W Henry, the principal owner, insisted that, despite the backlash, FSG would not be walking away from Anfield any time soon.

“Our work is not done,” said Henry who, in a video message to supporters, attempted to take sole responsibility for Liverpool’s involvement in the ESL coup.

“In this endeavour I’ve let you down,” he added. “Again, I’m sorry, and I alone am responsible for the unnecessary negativity brought forward over the past couple of days.

“It’s something I won’t forget.”

The supporters won’t forget either, of course. Henry’s apology may have been necessary, but if he hoped it would draw a line under the affair then he is badly mistaken. Anti-FSG sentiment has never been stronger than it is now.

Spirit of Shankly, the Liverpool supporters’ union, summed up the feeling in a statement released on Wednesday afternoon.

“These crocodile tears will not wash,” it read. “Our owners have thrown everyone under the bus; supporters, manager, players and staff, and humiliated themselves through sheer greed and arrogance.”

On Monday, Spirit of Shankly had called on FSG to “consider their positions with immediate effect”, and it will be interesting to see just how the Americans react to this latest storm. Or to put it bluntly; which heads will roll?

They have certainly shown their ruthless streak in the past. Roy Hodgson, Damien Comolli, Brendan Rodgers and Ian Ayre would all vouch for that. Even Sir Kenny Dalglish, perhaps the  most iconic figure in Liverpool history, got the tap on the shoulder when things weren’t as FSG wanted them to be.

Henry, though, seems to be taking the fall for this one. It was telling that his Wednesday apology was aimed not only at supporters, but at Billy Hogan, the current chief executive, as well as Jurgen Klopp and his players.

“They have absolutely no responsibility for this disruption,” Henry said. “They were the most disrupted and unfairly so. This is what hurts most.”

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Henry is not someone who enjoys the limelight. He rarely gives interviews and was far from an Anfield regular, even before Covid-19 hit. He is the principal owner, but he leaves the day-to-day running of Liverpool to Mike Gordon, the club’s second-largest shareholder.

Gordon, like Hogan and like Tom Werner, the chairman, has been silent throughout this saga, with Henry the one taking the brunt of the criticism. Perhaps that tells us how FSG will play things in the coming weeks and months, with the 71-year-old quietly ushered into the shadows and those on the ground in Liverpool and Boston asked to build bridges and repair the damage.

It looks a long way back though.

FSG have, it needs saying, done lots of good things on Merseyside. They have improved the stadium and built a new training ground, they have recruited a world-class manager and built a world-class team, one that was able to become champions of England, Europe and the world in the space of 18 months.

They have increased revenues and transformed Liverpool’s commercial operation. They have raised the value of the club, according to Forbes, to around £3 billion ($4.15bn).

They are certainly not Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who left Liverpool on the brink of administration little more than a decade a go. These Americans have built a solid, well-run club with top-class personnel in key positions.

But their legacy at Anfield will be tainted by their mistakes. Quite simply, there have been too many of them.

For now, anger and resentment festers within the Liverpool fanbase. Many already harboured concerns – witness the prevalence of #FSGOut tweets whenever a transfer window rolls around – and their numbers have swelled in the past few days.

Were fans allowed inside Anfield, there would be noisy protests at Saturday’s Premier League clash with Newcastle, for sure.

We can expect some outside the stadium, in any case, though Klopp and his side will be pleased to know that Spion Kop 1906, the influential supporters group, has returned its iconic flags and banners to the Kop, having asked for their removal earlier in the week in protest at the ESL plans.

Maybe we’ll be talking about football again this weekend. Maybe Liverpool will win and boost their top four chances and the world will feel a little more normal than it has over the past few days.

Don’t count on it though. Football is one thing, football clubs are quite another, and football fans tend not to forget.

The wounds of this week may never heal, and FSG know it.