Just over six years ago Liverpool were a mess. One of England, and indeed the world’s, biggest footballing institutions were teetering on the brink of financial ruin, with the reckless borrowing that plagued Tom Hicks and George Gillett’s reign as the club’s owners raising the very real prospect of administration.
Yes, there were other factors – wild on-field mismanagement and bickering behind the scenes – and yes, a football team of Liverpool’s size was never going to get to the point Rangers found themselves north of the border in Scotland, but the situation was dire. There was toxicity all around the club and it took John W. Henry and his Fenway Sports Group to neutralise the radioactive waters in 2010 with their “epic swindle” of a takeover.
The debts have gone, or at least been reduced to the point that they’re no longer a day-to-day concern, Anfield has been expanded, the team are performing to a higher standard than they have been for some time and there is genuine cause for optimism on the banks of the River Mersey, yet FSG and Henry are under attack from some sections of supporters for a perceived lack of ambition during January’s annual edition of the transfer window.
A brief foray into the realms of Twitter reveals the general feeling among Kopites, with swathes of users questioning the failure to sign new players, which has been intensified by a start to 2017 that brings back memories of the worst days under Brendan Rodgers and, dare I say it, Roy Hodgson. The football is dull, the games predictable and the results worse than underwhelming. Liverpool have been eliminated from both domestic cup competitions and fallen out of the top four since calendars changed, leaving a once-promising 2016/17 in danger of falling to pieces.
There is an argument investment in the first-team squad was needed last month. We all know how Sadio Mane’s Africa Cup of Nations exit robbed the team of pace, while Philippe Coutinho’s long-term absence through injury took away some of the creative spark that, combined with the Senegalese star’s speed, made the Reds so dangerous to play against and fun to watch through Autumn. Further back, problems surrounded Joel Matip’s eligibility (once again through AFCON issues) for a while, and the goalkeeping situation bubbled, and continues to, away. There’s even a converted midfielder playing at left-back.
In short, there were areas of concern and money in place after the club ended the summer of 2016 in the black. Frustration, even anger, is understandable given the circumstances and the first month of 2017 may be looked back on as the chief reason this season fell apart if the Merseysiders finish outside of the top four in May, but to blame FSG isn’t the answer (which was the case when the American’s Super Bowl tweet on Sunday landed).
Patriots are in their seventh Super Bowl in the past 16 seasons. Falcons are the sixth opponent the Patriots will face in those appearances
— John W. Henry (@John_W_Henry) February 5, 2017
If anyone is to blame, it’s Jurgen Klopp.
The German has a greater level of control at Melwood than any manager for a long time. He may have only been around for 18-ish months, but in that time the first-team and the academy set-up in Kirkby are closer than ever before, talk of the Transfer Committee has all but ended and Klopp is very much the public face of the club. His infectious smile, personality and general demeanour remove him from criticism (as Jose Mourinho somewhat alluded to recently), but in this instance, he’s the man fans should be annoyed with.
Klopp himself was, and may still be, clearly of the belief that his squad didn’t need strengthening. He said it time and time again in January, and before, that he would only invest if the right player came about at the right price, making him a bit of a throwback in this TV money-fuelled era of football, where Football Manager and FIFA 17 players think the only solution is to buy new players.
There are many quotes to sift through, but this (via The Guardian) late last month sums it all up:
“The players we want because we think they help us, the clubs don’t sell.
“It is not about money in this situation, it is the winter transfer window.
“Clubs are saying ‘no, we have half a year to go, we cannot find another player like this, we prefer to take money in the summer than a few pounds more in the winter than whatever’.
“So it is pretty easy. You see the situation. It’s tight, it’s close, we know that.
“But if the right decision is not possible in signing the right player then you cannot make the wrong transfer.”
It’s hard to disagree with this. Klopp has his philosophy, his way of managing and to deviate would mean his belief in his approach is waning – that’s not a state of affairs that’s healthy for a top-level coach. Whether or not he is correct is open to interpretation and can, perhaps, be judged further at the end of the season, but to blame FSG when Klopp is the man giving the sign-off to deals is not really fair. It’s been widely claimed that the cash is there, it’s not Henry’s fault if it’s not used.
This stance from the man in the dugout is not new either. January 2016, Klopp’s first window at Liverpool, was famous for the pursuit of Alex Teixeira, then of Shakhtar Donetsk, which ultimately ended in no deal being done, even though the Brazilian went on record to state his desire to join the English side. Bids were made, but the price kept rising and rising before Klopp eventually stepped in to veto the transfer.
Teixeira was a good goalscorer (an issue in need of addressing at Anfield at the time), met the club’s criteria in terms of age and sell-on potential and was willing to move, yet the manager said no and the move didn’t come off.
The window just gone should not have come as a surprise then. Although there were few names that reached anywhere near the extent to which the now Jiangsu Suning forward was aligned with Liverpool, the facts are that unless all of the criteria line up, Klopp won’t give the green light. For whatever reason, the right player(s) wasn’t available at the right price, so the manager stuck with what he had. Simple.
This raises debates as to whether or not he’s correct, the team needed a big money player or a quick-fix and, to an extent, ambition, but to blame Henry and FSG is as wrong as it is short-sighted.
It’s worth remembering when the TV cameras pan down from the new Main Stand at Anfield and Philippe Coutinho, with his new contract, pulls on the red shirt that Fenway Sports Group have done a lot for the club and deserve better than online ridicule and criticism.
What would have happened in 2010 had they not come along, after all?