Jurgen Klopp this. Mohamed Salah that. On paper, the German boss and the prolific Egyptian grab all the headlines in Liverpool’s successful season to date, and rightly so. But one man who opts to shun the spotlight and operate in the shadows is the one making everything run smoothly at Anfield – sporting director Michael Edwards.
The 39-year-old was appointed into the newly-created role in November 2016, following the departure of a man who undertook similar operations under the titles of ‘managing director’ and then ‘chief executive officer’ in Ian Ayre.
Interestingly, the fortunes and the general manner of the Reds’ business since the swap has been evidently more shrewd, cut-throat and ruthless – Liverpool now look like a club who know exactly what they’re doing, and seem to be two or three steps ahead of everyone else at times.
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The CEO of the famous Merseyside-based club, Peter Moore, recently said: “We’re in a world now where if you’re not a £500m football team you’re not going to win anything,” which does little to hide the fact that Liverpool are serious about splashing the cash in order to reach the top.
However, you cannot just ‘splash the cash’ and expect surefire results. You have to counter balance things in order for matters to run smoothly, something that Edwards is excellent at doing. Tottenham’s former head of performance analysis has been instrumental in ensuring that the Reds squeeze the maximum out of every deal they sign off.
For example, when Liverpool had no choice but to sell Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona after the Brazilian was desperate to move, Edwards made sure that they got a fee up there with some of the highest in footballing history – £142m. Not only that, but The Times reports that he also cleverly slipped in a clause which slaps an £100m premium on any other Reds player that the Spanish giants come calling for.
Other such deals saw Liverpool secure £52m man Naby Keita 12 months in advance to fend off advances from the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, who the Guinean turned down in favour of a move to Anfield.
It would be harsh to compare Edwards to Ayre given the changing times in football, but the impact the former has had is staggering. Liverpool finished in the top four just twice throughout Ayre’s six years at the club, and he was responsible for terrible signings such as Charlie Adam, Mario Balotelli and Christian Benteke.
The Reds finished sixth or below in four of Ayre’s six seasons with the club, which simply isn’t good enough for a club of Liverpool’s stature.
In contrast, Edwards was instrumental in a fourth-placed finish in his first season at the helm, which led to a run to the Champions League final in the following season, whilst his work has been pivotal for Klopp’s men to be leading the pack in the league so far in the current campaign.
That shouldn’t necessarily cloud the good deals, such as the one to bring Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum to the club, but Edwards has hardly put a foot wrong and has a net spend very close to Ayre’s despite orchestrating record-breaking deals for Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker.
Ayre spent a total of £496.76m during his time at the club, spending £13.8m per player with a net spend of £190.15m across his six years at the club, signing a total of 36 players excluding free transfers.
In Edwards’ case, this is his fifth transfer window during his time at the club, in which he has overseen nine new arrivals for a total cost of £315.21m with a vastly more impressive net spend of £119.01m – considering he has signed some of the most expensive players in the club’s history, to have that net spend is astonishing.
A huge indicator of Edwards’ eye for a potential money-maker is his capture of Dominic Solanke on a free transfer from Chelsea. The England international rarely featured throughout his time at Anfield, but Edwards still managed to make £19m back on a player who cost nothing.
Having said all of this, perhaps the most significant action of Edwards’ Liverpool career was his persistence in telling Jurgen Klopp that he was wrong to be targeting Bayer Leverkusen forward Julian Brandt over Salah, and that the Egypt international must be signed at all costs over the German.
To go up against the boss’ wishes and categorically tell him that he’s wrong takes a lot of bottle, but Edwards is a thorough operator; if he makes his mind up on a decision, more often than not it is the right one.
Klopp duly agreed, and Salah was signed. It is almost unfathomable to think where the Reds would be right now had the former Borussia Dortmund manager got the man he wanted.
The aforementioned report from The Times also includes this snippet which pretty much sums Edwards up:
“His character means he can be quite argumentative as well and that’s healthy. He will stand his ground if he really believes in something: ‘Here are the three targets. I know you like that one better, but let us show why you might want to think about this.’
“It is not to be disrespectful but he will say [to the manager], ‘You are wrong’. You need arguments to get the best for club. The role is not about just agreeing with everything.”
Klopp thrived whilst working under a sporting director at Borussia Dortmund in Michel Zorc, and it is clearly a role which he is receptive to.
As Liverpool sit atop of the Premier League, with a squad packed full of world-class players, the glory days look very likely to return at Anfield – all hands are on deck behind the scenes, but Edwards’ is the driving force in making sure those hands steer the ship in the right direction.