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Friday, January 14, 2011

Liverpool FC - The future. Bright or Dark?

I'm writing this piece because there seems to be a general feeling that the sacking of Roy Hodgson was a sign of impatient owners and a fickle fanbase. So this will hopefully provide a balanced view of the situation.

Kenny Dalglish's reign as Liverpool manager has begun with two defeats in a row. One was a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United in the F.A cup and the other was a 2-1 defeat to Blackpool in the Premier League. So are these worrying signs? In my opinion, no it's not.

To understand the situation the club is in right now, we need to go back to the time when Rafa Benitez was the Liverpool manager and the club had just been taken over by Tom Hicks and George Gillett had taken over the club in 2007. After the 2-1 defeat to AC Milan in the Champions League. Rafa said that Liverpool needed to move quickly in the transfer market . His exact quote was "I don't want more money than anyone else, I'm not saying I need £40million to spend on top strikers. But if we have money I need to use it, and the key is to use it quickly. We need to move quicker than Chelsea and Manchester United, and this is a crucial time. It is not always a question of the amount you pay, but how quickly you move. I have targets in mind and if we cannot make a major signing in the next week I will be disappointed. If we miss out now, it might be a struggle to make the top four again next season." Now what was the significance of this statement at that time? I spend most of my time going through various Liverpool FC forums. There are some users there who have contacts at the club (apparently). But whenever they've posted any info, more often than not it's turned out to be true. So, what's the significance of Rafa's quote? It gives us a glimpse of what was going on behind the scenes at that time at the club.

Hicks & Gillett weren't the owners that the fans had hoped they'd be. Their list of promises included beginning the construction of the new stadium would start within 60 days of their purchase of the club and letting the manager buy "Snoogy Doogy" for the team if he wanted to. Who or what this snoogy doogy is a mystery to this day. Hicks & Gillett had bought Liverpool using a leveraged buyout. Though I don't understand the concept completely, what they did was to buy the club by taking a loan using the club itself as collateral. Sounds weird? Welcome to the world of high finance! Anyway Hicks & Gillett put a lot of debt on the club. They informed the manager, Rafa Benitez, that he would have to sell players to finance any new player purchases. This isn't a very smart thing to do if you need to compete at a high level. So over the years Liverpool have lost Bellamy, Crouch, Alonso, Mascherano, Benayoun to name a few without adequate replacements. Some might say Liverpool's chase of Gareth Barry was the cause for Alonso's departure which actually strengthens my point. What Rafa had wanted was to keep Alonso and but Barry. But since the owners wouldn't fund it, he had to make a choice. Alonso's previous two seasons weren't so good so Rafa made the decision to offer him to various clubs. But the move fell through, Alonso had his best season as a Liverpool player and then went to Real Madrid the following season. The money from the Alonso sale went straight into the owners' pockets.( Before someone screams Aquilani, let me clarify that the his purchase wasn't a straight cash deal. )

So Xabi Alonso left the club after the 08/09 season where Liverpool got their highest ever points total in the Premier League, but lost the title to Manchester United. Alberto Aquilani was brought in for the following season, but since he was injured, he only played a part towards the end of the 09/10 season. We all know what happened that season. The team simply collapsed, with Alonso's absence playing a very big part. Liverpool finished 7th and Rafa Benitez left the club by mutual consent (read: sacked). At this point of time, the future was bleak for the club with the burden of debt starting to become heavier. The club was struggling to keep up with just paying off the interest of the loans. It wasn't the best situation for anyone to be in.

The club appointed Roy Hodgson as the new Liverpool manager. He was brought in to steady the ship, so to speak. He was seen as someone who would keep things under control while the club was being sold. But things didn't work out as expected. Roy not only lost games against teams that normally should be beaten easily by Liverpool, he also alienated the support by his bizarre comments. Referring to the fan protests against Hicks & Gillett as something that was unfortunate and an obstacle, saying Northamptom town as formidable opponents, saying a against Everton at Goodison Park would be utopia were just some of the gems Roy came up with.

The new owners were very patient with Hodgson but clearly their patience was running out. So just a couple of days before Liverpool's FA cup tie with Manchester United, Hodgson left the club by mutual consent (again, read: sacked) and Kenny Dalglish was appointed as manager till the end of the season. Was this a knee jerk reaction? It does not seem so. All decisions made by the new owners seem to be made with careful thought behind it. So although the situation might seem bad, I think all Liverpool fans have reasons to be atleast a little optimistic.

Very little has been said about the Liverpool FC's new owners , The Fenway Sports Group. The fact is that they are very serious people with a long term vision. One has to keep in mind that these people have brought the World Series to the Boston Red Sox in 2004 , a team that had not won it since 1918. They achieved just two years after taking over the team. While it would be unrealistic to expect Liverpool to be winning everything in sight after two seasons, I think it would be fair to assume that these people know what it is to be in charge of a team whose fanbase is starved of silverware. It is well known that the owners place a lot of emphasis on youth development, which is always a good thing. The short term results might not be so good, but you can be quite certain that for the long term, Liverpool Football Club are in safe hands.

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