By James Keen.
This is a sort of sequel to Si Steers’ piece last week about Does Liverpool FC Need a Leader?
To be the owner of Liverpool Football Club is to put yourself in a curious position. The owner has profound influence over the entire football club (it is their business after all) and therefore can generally influence the team, but they are unable to affect the team on the pitch in the specific way the manager and players do. Some try, and end up looking foolish most of the time; in 1998 Ron Noades bought Brentford Football Club and installed himself as manager holding dual roles at the club. He did manage to get the Bees promoted but subsequently left the club with debts of £8 million. Having no check on his power at the club may have massaged Noades’ ego but ultimately hurt the club substantially. But he is an interesting case study simply because of his narcissistic way of solving the owner’s riddle of how they can simultaneously hold all of the power and none of the power. They are responsible in our eyes for providing the money; in the modern game we are currently deep in the world created by Abramovich and Mansour’s impact and subsequent influence on the game and as a result we expect the owners to be little more than unquestioning providers of capital. To some, their only function is to provide financial backing for the team and the manager. As nothing can be done without money, they must hold all the power. Except nothing an owner does can get the ball in the goal or prevent it from going in our own goal. They should not be undermining their manager or getting involved in tactics or transfers, they are after all football amateurs, rich amateurs but amateurs nonetheless.
In the correct system the owners are a vital cog in the machine of management at the summit of a football club. In a poor arrangement they can be a huge obstacle to a club’s success. The Glazers have gone into Manchester United and seemingly changed very little in relation to the day-to-day operation of the team and the players. But then, they had no reason to. Manchester United is one of the richest and most valuable sports teams in the world and prior to the Glazers’ takeover the business was profitably run and very successful on the pitch, there was very little you needed to change. FSG in contrast have come into the club at its very lowest ebb of the past half-century. In fact, since the team relegated in the 1950s were not in immediate danger of disappearing forever, in that respect perhaps it could legitimately be described as the club’s lowest ebb in its entire history. The owners hire and fire and ultimately are a success or failure based on their ability to get the correct people in and then stand back and let them do their jobs.
Abramovich is starting to see the limits of his brand of quick draw ownership; Mourinho’s team could almost manage itself. As these players have left their league performances have gone backwards and they have not been near the Premier League title since Ancelotti’s first season in charge. Abramovich has unquestioningly provided capital, but he has never employed a team manager and let them get on with it. He does seem to share Noades’ impatience with the manager and his processes and does not trust them to do their job. He appears to constantly second guess his manager to an extent that we must be near a time when Roman will take the Noadesesque route and appoint himself to the dugout. Roman may not leave his employees alone, but I get the impression FSG would love to. However this has been FSG’s major downfall so far, getting their initial employees wrong and having to deal with the fallout from the previous regime with their own decisions compounding these issues rather than being able to make the club a smooth running operation and let it work.
It’s worth remembering that in this context, “fallout” has massive financial implications. According to Swiss Ramble’s excellent May 2012 blog about Liverpool’s finances, in the years 2009/2010/2011 the club spent £20 million on termination fees. When you add the payoffs of Kenny and the rest of his team that figure is surely now a whisker away from £30 million. That doesn’t (I don’t think) include payoffs to secure a new manager, if not you can add approximately £7 million to that figure to cover getting Hodgson and Rodgers out of their previous deals. All of this plus the interest payments and lost Champions League money and other sundries adds to a figure somewhere close to £300 million that the club has wasted in the wake of the ownership of Hicks and Gillett; Swiss Ramble’s figures include £124 Million in interest payments up to 2011 and £86m in lost Champions League revenue, as well as the exceptional item, the £50 million that FSG wrote off in 2011. Liverpool Football Club has been dysfunctional for some time and turning it round is going to be a mammoth task.
The manager is someone we want to have a relationship with. He is the man we relate to and expect to have the answers – in short, someone we want to love. As good an owner as John Henry may turn out to be, he will never be as revered as much as Paisley or as loved as much as Shankly. Those two men changed our club and our lives and they are justifiably icons honoured and remembered as a result. The owner? Well, he doesn’t until recently really factor into our thinking. The owners of Liverpool were protected by the relative unimportance (at least in terms of public perception) of a club’s financial performance in the ‘60’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s and of course by the all-encompassing success of the team on the pitch. As long as it is perceived that the manager has all the resources he might want or need, generally the owners get off with a pass from the fans. But the owner has to consider all the unpalatable truths about the modern game that we would rather not have to consider. After all, a balance sheet is not as exciting as Stevie smashing a 40 yard screamer straight into the top corner or mythical comebacks in Turkey. But despite our best efforts, our understanding of how and why the club works now starts with the finances, and in this world that becomes the most important thing. Brendan Rodgers has to work within the parameters set down by the club; in this case Ian Ayre enacts the plan put forward by FSG. Most of the plans are considered from a monetary point of view, simply because we can never be allowed to run ourselves into an unsustainable disaster like we did under the other two Americans.
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