What next for Liverpool Football Club?

Si Steers takes a look at the departure of Damien Comolli and one or two of the theories as to why he lost his job; also looking at how the Club may move forward.

In a week where one of Damien Comolli’s most controversial signings has etched himself into the Liverpool record books the decision to sack Comolli so soon into a long term project seems strange.

There has been plenty of conjecture about why Comolli was sacked; and the leading theory is that he has paid the price for a lack of judgement in our transfer policy. There will be a section of our fan base that feels vindicated with the sacking of Comolli. A lot of the talk this season has been about the failure of our new signings; and how we have overspent on players that aren’t good enough.

The truth actually lies somewhere in the middle. Whilst we have overspent on players: there is no question that all of them have shown glimpses of quality. Carroll and Henderson especially have both looked like really good players in recent weeks. It was always going to take a little time to make the adjustment of playing for Liverpool.

Comolli appears to have been sacked because he wasn’t effective enough at his job. It wasn’t because the DoF role doesn’t work in football; it was because the expectation of the DoF role differs in the US to what most football people determine it to be elsewhere. In a US baseball franchise a General Manager is the ruler supreme on all player, coaching, contract and negotiating issues. They will generally have the power to bypass the administrative executives and make decisions on acquisitions, reporting into the Board.

I think that is what the expectation was from Damian Comolli. In addition to that he was also expected to provide Leadership on all football issues. This (very) rough organisation chart is what I perceive is the current structure at Liverpool. Whilst Ayre is the Managing Director his role is purely administrative: and the Director of Football has that dotted line into the board that allows him carte blanche on football operations, in a similar way to Baseball.

That is the structure I believe led to Comolli’s downfall. Without the support of an administrator / executive on day to day activity I believe he was probably in a role that exceeded his experience. Whilst an excellent scout; that doesn’t make you a good Leader or negotiator.

The Suarez affair

In February 2012 Brian Barwick was appointed to the Liverpool management team to review all aspects of the Club’s communications response to the Luis Suarez affair. I believe that was in part behind Comolli’s removal as Director of Football.

I expect that review concluded that a breakdown in process between football and administration was partly to blame. Whilst many, including myself have criticised Ayre for letting the issue escalate, the man who was leading the Football operation was Comolli. If he hasn’t got a clear reporting line into Ayre, then it is his role to manage the issue as the Director leading that part of the organisation.

Whatever happened during that process, it is clear that the Club didn’t manage it well. And the fact that Comolli was sacked six weeks after Barwick came into review the incident suggests to me a link. Of course, it is all conjecture, but it is a possibility.

Ultimately I doubt the Suarez affair was the sole reason for Comolli’s demise: I suspect a lack of Leadership qualities and clear strategy were also factors.

What next?

I personally favour a structure at a football club that has very clear accountability. What works well in the baseball may not work well in football. The global nature of football means you often have to deal with players, agents and clubs from different cultures and nationalities. Football also has a global footprint.

FSG are a very savvy organisation, and they know what they are doing. But I’d like to see Liverpool adopt a structure something like this:

I think if we bring in a CEO to run all aspects of the Football Club we will have a broader skill set in negotiating and managing player transfers; and we will also avoid any repeat of the Suarez incident. At the moment FSG are very hands on; Werner is almost an auxiliary CEO, with Ayre as the ‘front man’. But if the real decision makers are in the US it isn’t ideal.

In my view FSG could do worse than appoint Brian Barwick to the role of CEO; a man that has led the FA through a period of modernisation and negotiated a number of top television deals. He has also worked in the media for most of his career; and is communications savvy – something that can add real value to Liverpool at the moment.

That would see Ian Ayre drop back into a role as Chief Operating Officer: where he would still have sole responsibility for the commercial activity at the Club. He would be responsible for the day to day running of the administrative and commercial sides of the business. A Director of Football could then be appointed to act as a bridge between the football operation and CEO; allowing a CEO to keep a strategic view of the business.

Whatever happens next, I retain the belief that FSG have good intentions for Liverpool Football Club. I am sure that they will not want to make another mistake in direction; so they will have a well developed plan for taking the Club forward.

On the face of it I feel sorry for Comolli; I don’t believe he did much wrong at Liverpool, and perhaps was left isolated when he needed more support around him.

It can be argued he made mistakes in the transfer market; but the time to judge his signings isn’t right now. How he handled a higher profile DoF role than he was used too was perhaps the ultimate reason he was sacked.

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