Liverpool News: Liverpool FC fans not impressed by FSG and John W Henry Public Relations Letter.
By Kevin Morley.
So we now know that John W Henry is 'disappointed' that Liverpool did not make further additions to the playing staff at the end of the transfer window. In an open letter to fans the Principal Owner of Liverpool Football Club talked of 'how hard everybody had pushed' but that, ultimately, they could not conculde "acceptable" deals. If this letter was meant in any way as a response to the Liverpool fans, and most of the footballing media, describing the culmination to the transfer deadline day as a complete fiasco, and likening FSG to previous owners Hicks and Gillette then it has done nothing to appease those fans. In fact, this public relations exercise has opened an even greater divide between the clubs supporters and their absent owners.
The fact the letter was made public is not the Liverpool way of going about their business, the content of the letter is perhaps even more questionable. What the letter does not explain to the fans is why John W Henry/FSG, and the rest of us, are so disappointed. Is he disappointed that we no longer have the funds to compete for players? Is he disappointed that Ian Ayre and co. could not complete the deals the manager was looking for? Or, is he just dissappointed that the football world is not fair and some clubs seem to be able to spend as much as they want? Equally, the letter does not explain how we failed to secure desperately needed forward back up in the light of Andy Carroll's loan departure or how the Clint Dempsey deal (a deal waiting to happen all summmer) was completely messed up by the club. When John W Henry talks of "acceptable deals", this is a highly subjective term. If I go to a Mercedes car showroom this afternoon and offer £2,000 for a £30,000 car I might deem this acceptable, and I might push really hard for the deal, but I will still be walking home!
On Sunday, everyone at Anfield witnessed a hangover from the events (or lack of them) on Friday night. The team, and the fans, failed to turn up against Arsenal for large sections of the game, with both perhaps dejected at their prospects for the season. They had expected at least one new signing to 'help the group', as the manager had suggested after the Europa League game with Hearts. Luis Suarez played like he had the world on his shoulders again - a feeling he will now have to get used to over the coming months. Steven Gerrard gave his all but looked again like a player trying to carry the team, sadly he is the wrong side of 30 now and it is going to get more and more difficult to perform miracles on his own. The belief that Brendan Rodgers had worked so hard to imbue around the club prior to the start of the season had been blown away in the disaster that was transfer deadline day. Once Liverpool fell behind to Arsenal there was no coming back.
No fan expects FSG to go into detail about individual offers for players but the fans are intrigued about what John W Henry means by an "acceptable deal" and who deems whether it is acceptable or not. If it is FSG who are determining this then the fans have real cause for concern. Would FSG have ever sanctioned signing 35 year old Gary Mcallister before he went on to prove monumental, as one of the driving forces behind the treble winning season of 2001? It is doubtful that Gerrard Houllier, manager at the time, had to put up with this level of interference in his transfer dealings. The only man at a football club who is qualified to make the final decision on a players value, and that is why you employ him, must be the manager. He is the one who lives or dies by his decisions and he is the one held responsible for getting results.
John W Henry admits they have made mistake on this front, and some of them have been very costly mistakes. It was FSG who insisted on employing Damien Comolli to oversee transfers. This resulted in overspending on young talent with potential - at least he was following the vision of buying young though. It is clear that last season Liverpool overspent and underperformed. They were in the top 5 in overall spend terms but only finsihed 8th in the Premier League. Two of the players brought in during that time, Andy Carroll and Charlie Adam, have now left the club. If reports are to be believed, for an outlay of over £40m Liverpool have recieved no more than £5m in return for the two short term signings. The two other major signings brought in by Commolli, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing, are warming the bench at Liverpool, leaving a further £36m on the sidelines. If FSG think the fans blame Commolli for all of this then they do not understand Liverpool fans. The supporters know FSG were in charge and should have managed the situation better. Equally, the lack of prudence last year is not viewed as a valid reason for austerity this year, not when progress on the football field is what ultimately drives the revenue streams of these global institutions. As reaction builds, the open letter to the fans is beginning to look like another FSG mistake.
John W Henry goes on to refer to the Financial Fair Pay (FFP) rules, and not for the first time during his ownership. Supporters are not convinced about this and neither is anybody else. If FSG are seriously suggesting that FFP is going to save the day and return football to a level playing field they are much more naive than most fans already think they might be. UEFA are not about to slaughter the fatted calf that is the Champions League - can you imagine it taking place without Europe's big clubs? Banned because they overspent? Even if they do enforce the rules (which could be deemed as anti-competitive) clubs will find a way around it. We only have to look at the ground sponsorship deal struck by Manchester City - is the Etihad sponsorship really worth £300m more than the Emirates Stadium? Liverpool fans had hoped FSG were more canny than this.
Indeed when FSG took over, Martin Broughton said that the Liverpool had secured the best possible owners who would bring success to the football club. Fans were told to judge them by their actions and not their words. We are almost two years into the FSG ownership and, apart from a succession of expensive sackings, those actions are hard to come by. The letter from John W Henry is now seen as further words without any signs on progress and no commitment to delivering on the promises made. It is fine to talk about never again mortgaging the club and not putting it at risk, reminding fans of the situation FSG found the club in. However, when FSG arrived the club had enjoyed two Champions League finals and one semi-final in the previous six years and had come closer than ever in the last twenty plus years to securing the Premier League title. Two years later and the club could hardly be further away - here to win? Really?
That is not to say Liverpool fans were not delighted when the previous regime was ousted by FSG but John W Henry can not dine out on this meal ticket forever. In football you are only as good as your last game and the last two years under FSG have shown LFC going backwards on the pitch. It may well be that the bank balance is healthier but it is not bank balances that grow your global fan base, it is success, and that comes from having a team on the pitch that wins. The letter claims the transfer window has supported this building process but the numbers behind the transfer activity make interesting reading. Liverpool had a net spend of £16m in this window, and this was a team that finished in 8th place last season. Of those teams who finished below Liverpool, three have spent more in this transfer window than the reds. Whether FSG like it or not, there is a correlation between how much you spend and your final league position Injuries can mask this but, if this remains true, Liverpool could be sitting in the bottom half of the table in May.
What Liverpool fans will never do is fail to fight for their club. No matter what, through the wind and the rain, they will stand and support the club against anybody who is not standing with them. As Hicks and Gillett found out, that includes the owners. Despatching a PR letter from 4,000 miles away, and delivering platitudes about 'winning the right way', is not going to convince the sceptical Liverpool fans. Perhaps a more regular presence in the stands, some well overdue news on the stadium and a more open, two way communications policy might help make the change process a less bumpy ride. Take these loyal fans for granted and a poorly executed transfer deadline day, something that could have been forgotten quickly, might just be the start of a fractured relationship that serves to widen the gulf with Liverpools owners.