A look at the departure of Kenny Dalglish from Liverpool and what the potential next moves might be by FSG.
So, the King has gone. Long live the King. The latest twist in the FSG ‘grand plan’ has taken another turn; but what does it mean for the future of Liverpool? On the face of it; the club looks a complete and utter mess at this point; there is no clear leadership and the lack of communication has created a void which is being filled by rumour and speculation.
Ian Ayre claims that the ‘Liverpool Way’ is to keep things in house; away from the prying eyes of the media. But the landscape football operates in has changed completely since the days of Shankly; it is our failure to adapt with it that has seen so many wrong decisions and a lack of progress over the past two decades.
It is important to start at the heart of the matter: by sacking Kenny Dalglish FSG have taken a huge gamble; the power of Liverpool’s fan base should never be underestimated, as Hicks and Gillette found out. Whilst many Liverpool fans were asking for a change: Dalglish is a hero and idol to those at the core of the support; he embodies the culture of Liverpool; he is the club’s heart and soul. To dispense with him in such a ruthless way is a clear sign that the ‘Liverpool way’ is changing.
Was sacking Dalglish the right decision? In the longer term, maybe it was. But what was wrong was the clinical nature of it; the leaks through twitter and the media before there had been any official confirmation. Dalglish leaving the club was always the biggest fear I had about him coming back, especially if it was against his wishes. Any parting of ways should have been far more dignified; and in a manner that recognised the service given to Liverpool by one of its greatest ever servants. But, as with a number of other PR disasters this season, the club and the owners let themselves down, and more importantly they let Dalglish down.
The manner in which FSG operate is very much unique to private equity; ruthless. Having worked in a communications role for a firm owned by a private equity house; I do have a bit of an insight into how decisions are made; and also some ideas about how the future may unfold. I have written a few articles on the structure at Liverpool FC and how I see it playing out. I genuinely believe the new structure at Liverpool will be similar to the one I suggested a few weeks ago.
The frustrating thing is that I believe FSG are a progressive owner; I believe they are looking long term and the decisions they are making are the tough decisions to take the club forwards. But; what is missing is the context to decision making. From a communications perspective; the owners have failed to articulate the journey the club is on to its most important stakeholders, its supporters. This means that decisions are taken at face value; with no real understanding of why they have been taken or what they mean. If you want supporters to understand; you have to take them on the journey with you: thus far, FSG have failed to do that.
I know that is probably a communications failure: the departure of Cotton was not just related to Suarez. I have recently written an article for Paul Tomkins on PR & Comms at Liverpool FC that looks at some of the issues the club faces from a communications perspective. But, to summarise, the club desperately needs to get better at taking hold of its messaging and narrative. The lack of messaging coming out of the club is leading to a breakdown in trust: very easy to lose, but much harder to build.
I have spoken before about the need for a cultural shift at Liverpool; for everyone connected with the club to stop looking backwards and start looking forwards. We have got to find a way to integrate our past with our future; everybody from the owners through to the supporters needs to start thinking ‘what needs to be done to progress the club’. That will sometimes mean tough decisions; we shouldn’t shy away from them, but on the flipside we should also be respectful and true to our values when making and announcing them; which is where I believe we failed with Dalglish.
As I touched upon in my ‘fit for the future’ article I believe that either AVB or Martinez would be progressive appointments. But neither would work in isolation; they would both need a strong Director of Football behind them. In the FSG ideology the Director of Football role is the vital one. The manager is there to deliver the strategy on the pitch; but the DoF is there to devise it.
That is why I believe there will be no announcement on the manager role until a Director of Football is appointed. Whilst the media and supporter focus will be on the manager in the UK; the owners focus will be on a DoF in the US. Whilst I’d love to see Rafa back, I don’t believe it is a reality, not least because I don’t think he is the right fit into FSG’s preferred structure.
I believe the time to judge whether FSG have got it right over Dalglish or not will be when announcements are made on new appointments. If it is a Cryuff / AVB combination: that on paper looks appealing for example. Whilst I think it is right that the owners have attracted criticism for how they managed Dalglish leaving; it is the next stage in the story where they really have to be judged.
It is also essential that we get the right appointments in place in the administrative functions as soon as possible. Key to that is the appointment of a CEO; and as I have repeatedly said I believe that there is a possibility that will be Brian Barwick. He is already working in an advisory capacity (fact); and his understanding of the FA, media past, and leading an organisation through change in an attempt to modernise seem to me to be exactly what Liverpool needs; especially if you consider his lifelong support of the club.
Also important is the vacant Director of Communications role. It is an area that the club needs to nail; I expect to see a big hitter come in either from the sporting sector or perhaps an ex-journalist. Somebody that understands the media landscape; and how modern communications work. I then expect to see a far more integrated approach to communications; with far more control over messaging and narrative.
I expect all of this to happen soon, days and weeks rather than months.
The key message to supporters I think is that the destabilising effect of change is sometimes a false mask to progress. Whilst nobody knows what is happening (yet); I do believe that the FSG methodology is analytical and strategic: these decisions will not have been taken without a clear plan in place.
The way I am trying to look at the current situation is that the club is entering a new phase of development. We have stabilised our finances, and we now have a clear idea of what needs to be done on the pitch and off it. In my article the transition from digression to progression I touched upon how a change in direction may be the path to progress: and I believe that is the view of the owners.
One thing is clear; the owners have to now start delivering. The natives are restless; and unless a clear plan is put in place for the club to progress soon, those noises will only get louder.
Finally: it is important to say that Kenny Dalglish will always be my Liverpool hero. What he has achieved as a player and manager, what he has given as a man is up there with Shankly and Paisley. He is an architect of the Liverpool we have today, and always will be a Liverpool legend. He is the heart and soul of what Liverpool Football Club means. I have always worshipped Kenny Dalglish; and I always will. He came to our rescue in our hour of need; and he deserves our eternal thanks.
It is important to remember that Liverpool Football Club is special to so many people for memories Dalglish has given us. That will never change.