Over the past decade, Liverpool have experienced two sides of American ownership that could not have been more different. One was ruinous, the other restorative. The first group’s arrival in 2007 brought about the most tumultuous period in the club’s history, a demolition of prestige, finances and form that the second generation of American ownership is now working to undo.
For over 50 years, the Moores family had held a stake in Liverpool. They were long-standing locals and passionate supporters. Continuing this trend, David Moores became the majority shareholder and chairman of the club in 1991, a year after Liverpool won the league title. It would be the club’s last.
By the beginning of the 21st century, the Premier League had changed. Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal were dominant. In 2003, Russian Abramovich became the owner of Chelsea, injecting the club with unprecedented wealth and soon after appointing Jose Mourinho as manager to bring the Blues their first league title in 50 years. New money and indomitable managers were king. The Premier League was blooming as a global enterprise, and Liverpool were being left behind.
“This club is my passion and forms a huge part of my life. After much careful consideration, I have agreed to sell my shares to assist in securing the investment needed for the new stadium and for the playing squad,” David Moores told supporters in 2007 in announcing the new ownership. “I urge all my fellow shareholders to do the same and to support the offer. By doing so, I believe you will be backing the successful future of Liverpool Football Club.”
Moores had started shopping the club in 2004 after feeling he no longer had the financial means to improve Liverpool and compete with Abramovich’s cash-rich Chelsea and the other top clubs. After a 2006 deal with Dubai International Capital broke down, Moores looked across the Atlantic for what he hoped would be the club’s saviours.
Tom Hicks and George Gillett were brought in as owners in 2007. The two Americans promised to revitalise the club, bring dominance in the Premier League and Europe, and invest in the new stadium.
“I don’t think David Moores would have chosen us to be the new custodians of this football club unless he was convinced we shared that same sense of responsibility,” Hicks explained in his first press conference at Anfield. “We view this as a very long-term process. Most people who come into sport do make mistakes but we have been in the business a long time and we know the importance of stability in terms of the team, the players and the fans.”
It was an exciting time for Liverpool supporters, but there were early signs of concern. Moores would later tell the BBC in 2010 that in doing his due diligence on Hicks and Gillett’s backgrounds, there was an “element of the process I accept we could have handled better.”
Moores and his team had researched Gillett, but as for Hicks, he said, “To a great extent, we took Tom Hicks on trust, on George’s say-so.” The former chairman said that in the given time frame, it would not have been possible to do much else.
Worries aside, the Reds initially appeared poised to live up to the promises of the new American owners. Liverpool returned to the Champions League final in 2007 after winning the competition two years earlier, although this time they failed to leave with the trophy. Electrifying striker Fernando Torres was acquired in the summer of 2007, breaking the club’s record transfer fee. Midfielder Javier Mascherano followed later that winter.
Then the problems began. Liverpool’s league form gradually deteriorated, and in the 2009-10 season they finished a disappointing 7th and were eliminated from the Champions League in the group stages. Under Rafa Benitez’s management, Liverpool had played in two Champions League finals, winning one. He departed the club at the end of the season.
Hicks and Gillett were also ruining the club financially. Despite promises otherwise, they had taken out a massive loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland to finance their purchase of the club, dropping Liverpool’s holding company into debt with unmanageable interest payments.
“Our clear understanding was that it was short-term debt while they reorganised their own finances,” then-Chief Executive Rick Parry told BBC Radio Merseyside in 2013. “It was in the offer document that there would be no debt on the club, or the club would not have to bear the costs, and certainly that changed. We weren’t comfortable or happy with that.”
The new stadium that Hicks and Gillett had promised supporters never materialized. The two American owners began to clash, with the two lacking a united vision and emerging news that Gillett wanted to sell his shares to Hicks. In the end, though, it would not be the fans or the owners that would force a change.
In October of 2010, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) decided that Liverpool’s debt was a toxic asset and Hicks and Gillett’s loans were no longer worth extending. The American owners, however, refused a sale of the club, and attempted to alter the board of directors to prevent such a transaction. RBS took them to high court, ultimately winning the legal battle and allowing the non-owner directors to approve a sale.
Later that month, Boston Red Sox owner John W. Henry took ownership of Liverpool. Henry came to Merseyside with experience in turning around the fortunes of ailing sports franchises. After only two years as owner of the Boston Red Sox, Henry’s ownership and managerial changes resulted in the Red Sox ending their 86 year championship drought in 2004. The Boston team has won two more championships since, as recently as 2013.
Henry’s impact was immediate, as Liverpool won the League Cup in 2012 under manager Kenny Dalglish. In the 2013-14 season, Liverpool finished second and qualified for the Champions League under Brendan Rodgers’ stewardship. Last year, the club appointed former Borussia Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp, much to the delight of fans.
Klopp had recently led Dortmund to back-to-back Bundesliga titles and a Champions League final berth. His appointment was a sign of John Henry’s ambition for the club, refusing to allow for the extended periods of mediocrity that the club had suffered under Gillett and Hicks.
Klopp’s tenure has already been a success. Last season, the German manager took Liverpool to the Europa League and League Cup finals. After 10 matches this season, Liverpool are joint top of the table, having suffered a lone defeat. The club also opened a brand new main stand over the summer, adding 8,500 seats to Anfield.