John W. Henry, the principal owner of Liverpool FC, has been on Merseyside this week and on Friday met with several members of TV and print media.
Henry, and newly appointed Liverpool chairman Tom Werner, discussed their desire to compete with the other big three clubs in the Premier League, namely Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea. To compete financially and on the pitch.
“We have to be right there with them ever year. That’s what we have to do.”
Throughout the interviews Henry attempted not to give guarantees that he and NESV, the owners of the club, could not meet, preferring to give rough timeframes rather than dramatic statements of intent. Much has changed since the last ownership who came in all guns blazing with promises that would, of course, later be broken.
When asked about the new stadium, or indeed the decision to redevelop Anfield or continue with plans to move to Stanley Park, Henry told how the decision itself may take up to two years – although hopefully sooner. Asked by Sky Sports if he anticipated being in a new stadium by 2013 he scotched at such a notion, rightly so.
Henry has had a busy week, meeting with Roy Hodgson, appointing Damien Comolli as director of football strategy, and taking in his first game at Anfield as owner of the club.
On Comolli’s appointment, he said “I don’t think it undermines his [Hodgson’s] authority at all. I think a manager can only do so much.”
“If it [the model] works in the US, if it works in other places in Europe, I see no reason why it can’t work here. In Roy’s case, he was very happy and encouraged this to happen.”
Henry has also continued to meet with Liverpool fans. Author Paul Tomkins writes about his lunch with the new owner here. Tomkins’ books are one of the many Henry has been reading in the past two months to educate himself on the sport, the club and the economic challenges relating to English football.
Perhaps the first mistake from any of NESV came when Werner was asked about the possibility of the “39th game”. “It’s been very impressive to me, the number of people globally who watch, and we hope to expand that imprint. I think the more important the game the more excitement,” the 60 year old American said.
That is the first thing either Henry or Werner have said that most Liverpool fans will disagree with. The 39th game is not something on the Premier League‘s agenda and it’s disappointing Werner was sucked into discussing it in his first interview.
The public backing of Roy Hodgson is also questionable. Although, wisely, Henry’s backing was not unequivocal, preferring instead to explain how NESV’s style is not to sack managers but produce continuity and community within the club.
“It’s hard for me to make assurances of any kind on almost any subject,” Henry explained. “But I have no problem at all with Roy Hodgson. He didn’t build this team, so the fact we got off to a slow start, I’m not sure you can lay that at his feet.”
“Our history in Boston is we don’t change managers or general managers very often. I believe it is up to me to support Roy, to make sure he has the tools he needs to be successful. I never had a lack of confidence in him.”
Clearly, Henry is a man of his word and is listening and taking his time to make decisions that will affect the long term future of the Football Club. He rightly pointed out in one interview that recently too many appointments have been made as stop-gap measures on a temporary basis. The club needs to look long-term and build stability if they are to become the well-run club it was before the failed Hicks-Gillett era.
Henry and NESV are a refreshing change.