2 years of FSG – The Report Card

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2 years ago today Fenway Sports Group (formerly New England Sports Ventures) completed their purchase of Liverpool FC for £300m.

John HenryDuring their tenure as owners, the Americans, headed by principal owner John W. Henry and club chairman Tom Werner, have overseen another dramatic period in the history of Liverpool FC.

Roy Hodgson was sacked, Kenny Dalglish was temporarily appointed, Damien Comolli arrived, Fernando Torres left for a record £50m, Andy Carroll arrived for a record £35m, Dalglish was appointed on a permanent basis, Comolli was sacked, Dalglish was sacked, Ian Ayre was promoted, plans for a sporting director figurehead were planned, then scrapped, and Brendan Rodgers was appointed.

Perhaps it is what hasn’t happened that remains the key questions from supporters to the club’s owners. Those questions centre on the long term stadium plans – which we could finally get news on today if reports over the weekend are correct – and the lack of a chief executive figure running the club on Merseyside.

We get the opinions of three Liverpool supporters.

Overall, how happy are you with FSG’s tenure as Liverpool owners?

TFC: My opinion is rather indifferent. They have excelled in some very important areas, such as trying to expand the fanbase and aggressively increasing revenue streams while at the same time have failed miserably in other areas such as important appointments. As far as owners go they are much better than what most other teams have, but aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

They are all we could really expect them to be, which are businessmen who are doing their best (which at times isn’t good enough) at trying to create a winning team in a sport they don’t understand while turning a profit. It would be delusional to think that most owners wouldn’t be doing the same thing, and they have at least been spending more than Arsenal‘s owners while not burning and skimming large amounts of our revenue like the Glazers are doing to Man United. But results matter, and there isn’t really a way to be happy with them while the results are so poor.

lfc.eddie: On managing football club experience, I am not happy at all with what they have been doing. Indecisiveness in their structure, the way they wanted to run the club, the mixed messages they are sending to the fans (wants to be here long term, but no stadium because way too long to reap benefit), not backing the manager and trying too damn hard on the PR to elevate their standings. These things are way too similar to the way G&H conduct themselves. FSG are not as bad as these two cowboys for sure, but their faults are there to be seen.

Billy Bissix: I am interested in the football. I want us to be competitive and successful. 18 months before they took over the club we were 2nd in the Premier League and Champions League football was taken for granted. Today we are 14th in the Premier League with one win in our first 7 games and only one fit first team striker in the squad. We are further away from being a member of ‘Europe’s elite’ (their target, not mine) than we were when they took over. Quite a considerable way.

Henry’s been upfront from the start about running us as a sustainable business, only spending what we earn and I have no problem with that. Although some of the efforts to increase commercial revenue don’t sit very easily with me I can see that if they result in more cash for the club it has to be a good thing. They have consistently said that money generated will be ploughed back in and there’s no evidence yet that they’re doing anything other than exactly that. I don’t even think that you necessarily need to spend vast sums of money to make LFC successful, but you do need to know what you’re doing, design and implement a proper organisational structure, employ the right people and back them even when the going gets tough. It’s in this area that FSG do not convince me.

Is there anything FSG could do that would improve how you viewed them as owners?

Billy Bissix: They don’t give the impression of taking the football side of the business seriously enough. They appear focused purely on the commercial side, squeezing every last bit of juice out of our amazingly successful history (where the success is getting increasingly more historical with every passing day) and global brand name. They do not appear to have made the connection between success on the pitch and continued commercial success. Football should be the priority but it doesn’t always appear to be.

If FSG appointed a real heavyweight CEO with some footballing nous it would remove a lot of my doubts about them. It’s the single most important thing holding us back. We have no credibility or weight with the football authorities. The FA positively despise us after Suarezgate. Other clubs now openly treat us with contempt lining up to take potshots at us. I would also welcome a little more honesty in FSG’s dealings with the fanbase. I would honestly prefer the Abramovich or Ashley approach of saying nothing rather than constantly have my intellligence insulted by insincere soundbites about Shankly and The Liverpool Way.

We often appear leaderless behind the scenes, completely disorganised. Suarezgate was the classic example but transfer deadline day was another. The manager is briefing the press about at least two targets we’re trying to get in, the LFC TV schedules are cleared for the grand annoucements and then two hours before the deadline everyone’s gone home for their tea. When owners have to write open letters to fans to explain a cock up it’s not really a sign that they’ve got a grip on the situation.

How important is the stadium decision to your thoughts on FSG?

The Kop

[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”right” cite=”Martin Broughton, October 6th 2010″ quotestyle=”style02″]”They [NESV] haven’t committed to what that is yet but we will have a stadium of more than 60,000 whether it is the new stadium as designed.
There is a short-time table for that.” [/sws_blockquote_endquote]

lfc.eddie: Extremely. It is not only about the future revenue streams, but to show intent on their promises. They keep telling the world they are here for the long term, if they embark on the stadium project it will solidify their claims. Hiring a young manager does not tell us that this is their long term project. If FSG uses their holding company to raise funds to start the stadium project, they can’t just back out leaving the club with the current direction – status quo. With all those PR stuff, this will be the best thing they could do to stop speculation of them wanting to exit or having money problems.

Billy Bissix: A 60,000 seater (either new or expanded) was a condition of the sale. It’s not an optional extra, it’s a must have. The unfortunate thing is that there doesn’t appear to be a timescale attached so they could string it out indefinitely. There are so many issues associated with expansion. It’s why the club has rejected it as an option in the past. Bottom line is, they won’t build a new stadium unless someone else pays for it and they won’t redevelop Anfield unless someone else pays for it. In the current economic climate it’s hard to see either option getting off the ground so I am not holding my breath.

Do you feel that the lack of a chief executive or sporting director is a big concern for you?

Billy Bissix: Ian Ayre is the CEO in all but name.

FSG need to agree on a structure and stick to it. They imposed Comolli on Kenny and Hodgson, two very experienced managers, but scrapped the idea of a Begiristain or Van Gaal for Brendan Rorders, who is practically a complete novice by comparison.

Their indecisiveness must make them hellish employers to work for. Clarke was convinced to stay on when he offered to resign after Kenny left, but then was sacked. Segura was to be the Technical Director and then after Rodgers vetoed the whole restructure, was let down and has also now left.

The latest restructure sees something resembling a coherent plan emerging. Rodgers now has a Head of Recruitment (Dave Fallows) and a fledgling scouting team. Michael Edwards, formerly at Spurs, heads up the analytical side. There will be a focus on statistics and analytical tools to unearth younger, cheaper global talent. This has to be the way forward as we can’t keep spending our way out of trouble. If we can establish ourselves as a club that gives young talent a chance we can start to rebuild. Patience is required though and this is something that FSG has not displayed a lot of up to now.

lfc.eddie: Normally it does not concern me when you have a solid manager like Rafa or someone who has vast network of scouts and friends in the industry would help. Back in Shankly’s days, football had not gone global and brands/name was not as deeply scrutinised as it is today. So a new, unheard of in the world manager would still be able to make things work and move. Today, people relate to the person at the helm of the club. Rodgers is not exactly a household name for many players out there, although they may know the club, but if the man incharge is someone they have not heard of they would be wary to come and play for him. Hence why I think sporting director is very important in our current setup. Someone who is well known enough in the footballing world to be able to attract talents to the club, and I am not talking about former players or superstar.

TFC: The lack of a chief executive and sporting director is a huge negative for me. I do not like Rodgers having complete control at all, and I really preferred the original plan FSG had in this regard. I feel like Rodgers’ 500 page plan of how he wanted to run the club plus his ability to convey and articulate his thoughts sold the owners on his vision. The problem with that is that it is a huge gamble, and if it doesn’t work out the club will be set back once again, whereas having a stable sporting director/DoF/Chief Executive at the club provides security in the chance that the manager does not work out. I think its the way of the future and the system of hierarchy is already established at other successful clubs.

Overall rating of FSG’s tenure so far (out of 10)

TFC: Overall I would rate them at a 5 or 6. I think they are pretty mediocre, not bad but not really good either. The good that they are doing (or trying to do) is irrelevant while the team is performing poorly. Their poor appointments and mistakes at that level have cost us years, but they have had good intentions and have been spending money so its hard for me to rate them lower than a 5. My hope is that the team continues to improve and we somehow salvage this season, Rodgers continues as our manager for the next decade during which time we no longer think about (or hear from) the owners.

lfc.eddie: FSG claimed they are still learning the trade, and their learning curve has been extremely steep. I for one do not think that is a good enough excuse to use after owning the club for 18 months. In 18 months, with the right people around you and willing to do some homework, you will be able to learn fast enough to get the hang of this business. Their problem lies in the area of decision making. They rushed into a lot of decisions at the beginning to make everyone happy. They put a legend in charge but working with a group of incompetent people (Comolli and Co). Taking advice from a man that was known for taking credit out of other people’s work, and spend money like nobody’s business.

What they are doing now, they should have done that at the very beginning. That way, they can start from scratch and build along the way. But that’s all gone now. So I hope they freaking improve their ways of running the club fast! If not the rating that I see them holding right now – Average at best (5) will drop even lower.

Billy Bissix: 4 out of 10. I want FSG to succeed because then the club succeeds. I don’t want them run out of town pursued by a bunch of internet terrorists brandishing virtual pitchforks, because there are worse owners out there and next time we won’t have BarCap to look after us.

But given the resources at our disposal and the vast global reach of the club we are punching well below our weight. That is undeniable. We have been in an almost permanent state of flux since they took over. We will achieve nothing until they establish a proper structure at the club, recruit the right people and back them to the hilt.

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