Dear John......Don't take the fight out of the old liver bird...
If all football clubs were run in line with the Barcelona model, it would be the fans that choose their leaders, not the other way around.
Imagine, just for a moment that the Barcelona model was in place at Liverpool FC, and the fans as owners, were selecting a new team to run the business. Now, answer this one question. Could you see the Liverpool fans voting for John W. Henry and Tom Werner? The answer is no. The unavoidable lack of footballing experience is one thing but given recent events at Anfield, if the votes were tallied, Liverpool's current ownership group would be cast out to sea.
Liverpool fans expected more from their new ownership. They were embraced as saviours and gladiators who fought off the corrupt and power mad control freaks of the previous ownership. The fans believed that they were encouraged by the way John Henry stood before them and never gave up, and were intrigued by how these same owners had achieved success in similar circumstances with a historic sleeping giant such as the Boston Red Sox. After less than 18 months, the jury is now out and that is why John W. Henry and company should be feeling the heavy burden of responsibility as they read challenging letters from notable supporters groups such as Spirit of Shankly.
The fans want progress and are restless. They have spent far too long on the emotional roller coaster with previous owners who promised a new super stadium and delivered a spade in the ground. An ownership group who promised to buy 'Snoogy Doog'(aka Snoop Dogg) if that was what the manager wanted, and instead sold their best players, dismantled the team Rafa Benitez had spent three years building and then sacked the manager the first time they felt the fans turning against him.
When Fenway Sports Group rode in on their white horses, the fans saw owners who talked a different talk and, to some extent at least, walked the walk. They sacked the most unpopular Liverpool manager in a generation and invested the club's immediate future in the prodigal King, Kenny Dalgish. Dalgish's return made all doubts about their financial motivations disappear. Football, not politics, was back on the menu at Anfield and Dalgish was stoking the fans flames more than ever. Success in the Carling Cup added to the fans emerging sense of hope, the Liver bird was proud once more and was heading for glorious times. There were challenges yes, but everybody was fighting for the same cause and Liverpool fans love nothing more than having a cause to fight for.
Everything about this great club is about fighting back from adversity, about not accepting what you are given, about challenging and not being afraid to upset the odds. It is this philosophy that is also ingrained in the very fabric of the city. It saw the club succeed in circumstances where others would only see failure and acceptance of their fates.
In 1984, Liverpool won the European Cup against AS Roma, on their home grounds with some of the most vicious and violent fans football has ever seen. If this was not about fighting back in adversity then fast forward to 2005, when Liverpool fought back from a 3-0 deficit against probably the most talented and experienced team in the world. However, Liverpool refused to accept the cards they were dealt and we know only too well how they turned it around. These are not footballing victories alone, but are also measures of the reputation the club, and its followers, have built for never giving up and fighting to the last.
The next time John W. Henry and Tom Werner smile from the director's box and mime the words to the club's anthem, 'You'll never walk alone', they should truly sit back and just listen to the words. This is not just any club anthem, this is a call to arms, and the song of a marching army that has conquered Europe five times and beaten the best the world has to offer.
The dreams of the Liverpool legions are now truly being 'tossed and blown'. Ownership needs to deliver fresh hope on the back of the storm we have all witnessed since Liverpool knew they would miss out on Champions League qualification this time around. The fans need a leader to believe in and a cause worth fighting for. Fail to achieve this, and the cause they take up may look very similar to the one they fought for in 2010 and that did not end well for previous owners Messrs.' Hicks and Gillett.
This, more than any other factor, is the key to both the short and long term future of Liverpool. Ensuring that willingness to fight is maintained, even nurtured and built on, will be the determinant factor in decreeing the Fenway Sports Group's ownership as either a success that restored the best traditions and returned the club to Europe's elite, or a failure that rendered the club faceless, passionless and, probably, relatively worthless (at least to any current investor.)
Shankly understood Liverpool, not just the football team but the people and the city. He tapped into their sense of injustice and appetite for fighting back against the odds. He gave the fans a cause worth fighting for. A club to be proud of and a team that fought for the fans. He engrained Liverpool in the underlying spirit of the city. He understood that these fans had grown up fighting for themselves and that the club should be built on the back of that culture.
Success came quickly after that and was maintained throughout generations. When Robbie Fowler wore his t-shirt supporting the dockworkers in 1997 and in 2010 Rafa Benitez donated a large share of his severance pay to the Hillsborough Families, these were not hollow financial gestures they were demonstrations of how well these two heroes of Anfield understood the psyche of those who choose to fill the stadium every other week.
Everybody has an appetite for managing a football team; even more people think they can own and run one. Now is the crucial test of whether John, Tom and co. can do it successfully. Sacking King Kenny was not difficult, it was just business.
Replacing him will be relatively easy too as the job of Liverpool Manager is still one of the most coveted posts in world football but replacing him with an individual, a structure and a philosophy that taps into the genuine fight people in Liverpool are born with will be one of the hardest jobs ownership have ever taken on. Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish and Benitez are all watching and waiting for John Henry to fail. If he gets this wrong he will walk alone.