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Comolli: “When I left Liverpool, the owners told me Henderson was a massive mistake”

Former Liverpool director of football Damien Comolli believes his Anfield legacy should be gauged on the burgeoning career of Jordan Henderson rather than the scars left by the Andy Carroll saga.

OSLO, NORWAY - Monday, August 1, 2011: Liverpool's owner John W. Henry with Director of Football Strategy Damien Comolli before a preseason friendly match against Valerenga at the Ulleval Stadion. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Comolli was instrumental in buying Carroll for £35million in the January transfer window of 2011 – still the highest fee ever paid for an Englishman – only to see the striker score just 11 goals in 58 appearances in all competitions before being offloaded on loan initially and then permanently to West Ham for £15million.

However, Comolli was also responsible for taking Henderson from Sunderland to Anfield for around £20million and the England midfielder and Liverpool vice-captain is tipped to take the armband full-time when Steven Gerrard leaves for the United States at the end of the season.

A defiant Comolli believes the Carroll episode should be consigned to history, saying: “The decision was made in a conference call between the owners, myself, Kenny Dalglish (the manager at the time) and the commercial director at the time who is now chief executive, Ian Ayre.

“We made the decision collectively, knowing exactly the money we would lose if it did not work out, and they said they were happy to go ahead with the transfer.

“I will stick to what I have always said about Andy Carroll. When he is fit, he is unplayable. When he has been fit at West Ham, he has shown what he can do, scoring goals, making assists, being a constant threat.

“When people say we made a mistake, I’m still not convinced we made a mistake. It’s just we haven’t seen the best of Andy Carroll because of all the injuries.”

Comolli insists the success of Henderson at Anfield, plus the development of winger Raheem Sterling and full-back Jon Flanagan, only highlights the need for the continuity and stability he believes is provided by a director of football.

The 42-year-old, who was also director of football at Tottenham and who was passing on his experience this week to future sporting directors in a lecture at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “Nothing is guaranteed.

“What we do is try to lower the risk in the decision-making process. But we are dealing with human beings. It is not as though we are buying shares or property.

“Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes life gets in the way of talent, sometimes there are injuries, sometimes the player doesn’t adapt to one place.

“I don’t think I have to justify whether Carroll was a good decision or a bad decision. Look at it as a whole. When people talk to me nowadays about Liverpool, they say what a fantastic job you did in bringing players like Luis Suarez and Jordan Henderson to the club.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 24, 2015: Liverpool's Jordan Henderson in action against Bolton Wanderers during the FA Cup 4th Round match at Anfield. (Pic by Lindsey Parnaby/Propaganda)

“The issue I have got is when a group of owners approach somebody like me and say we want to invest for the long term, we want you to sign young players, we want you to put together a squad which has a future for the next three to five years, we want you to work with the academy and we start to do all this and after a few months or a few years they say: ‘Sorry, it’s not working out’.

“You cannot say you have to focus on the future and at the same time say the young players are not ready to compete at the top level.

“When I left Liverpool, the owners told me Henderson was a massive mistake. Now he’s turned out to be the next Liverpool captain and he’s a regular in every game.”

The two-year Masters in Sporting Directorship course was launched in 2014 at Manchester Metropolitan University and prepares candidates from across sport for a strategic role at a club or in a league. The inaugural Global Summit of Sporting Directors will be held in Manchester on April 29.

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