Fenway Sports Group have burned every last bridge they had with Liverpool Football Club, let’s be clear.
It happened, as many predicted, albeit much sooner than most envisioned. On Tuesday night the domino effect finally initiated; first Chelsea, then Manchester City.
Ed Woodward resigned at Old Trafford, statements were being prepared across the Premier League ‘big six’. Arsenal apologised, Manchester United and Liverpool opted out. The rats started to flee the rapidly sinking ship.
It’s impossible to see a single way the owners come out of this entire Super League debacle with anything at all left intact.
Sources within the Super League camp were quoted to be hoping for the initial uproar to subside and to “weather the storm.” That did not happen. Far from it, and there will also be no weathering of the huge storm that is now to follow.
FSG and their fellow American tycoons over at Old Trafford have been credited as the driving force behind making the Super League a functioning, breathing body on the cusp of realisation.
It’s a disgrace and, as Jamie Carragher correctly put it on Monday Night Football, the owners were knowingly and willingly cashing in on Liverpool’s glorious history to use the modern-day weight and standing of its reputation to begin calling the shots.
So, what now?
Liverpool’s owners first released a statement outlining that “our involvement in proposed plans to form a European Super League has been discontinued.”
It went down like a lead balloon. A curt, 47-word statement in total, void of all human touch.
On Wednesday morning this quickly turned into a charm offensive – a complete and utter tail-between-legs job by John W. Henry. The lesser-seen Liverpool owner put himself front and centre and addressed fans directly in a video.
“We listened,” he said. “I listened.” It was nauseating, carrying exactly the same tone as Arsenal‘s written apology the night prior. These people know all too well, it’s much easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
In releasing their initial joint statement the 12 ‘founding members’ of the Super League showed a brazen and bulletproof intent to see the thing through. The dollar signs had stacked up in the eyes and it was a case of all systems go – largely explaining the whole process of going over the heads of Jurgen Klopp, his playing squad and the entire club base of staff.
The businessmen behind this project – and that’s exactly what they are, purely business – no doubt considered a venomous backlash. They knew there would be collateral but banked on the overall product bringing them through the other end unscathed.
That’s all that mattered, not fans.
Countless discussions will have taken place among the various fat-cats eager for the cream, each stressing that public opinion will slowly turn once a glamorously packaged Super League was released to the world, showing the likes of Mo Salah waging war with Real Madrid on a regular basis and Bruno Fernandes picking apart the Barcelona midfield for all to marvel.
Now, rather rapidly, it has been seen for exactly what is it.
This is without even considering the sponsors – did FSG consult Liverpool’s lucrative backers Nike, AXA, Nivea and Western Union? The simple suggestion, if the answer is no, would be that the ‘big six’ felt the Super League would be too financially enticing for any sponsors to shy away from. How bold.
TRIBUS Watches didn’t waste much time (pun not intended) in doing the right thing and moving on.
The humiliating desertion of the Super League, after the ‘founding members’ had so strongly championed it, suggests only one thing will be wanted next: a compromise.
United hinted as much with their withdrawal statement, subtly adding that they “remain committed to working with others across the football community to come up with sustainable solutions to the long-term challenges facing the game.” Which translates to: we still want change for ourselves and the big boys.
There is not a shadow of a doubt that the Liverpool hierarchy will be of a similar opinion. Things get interesting from here, as these would-be defectors must make their next move with utmost caution.
UEFA President Alexsander Ceferin had stated during his Tuesday address that “there is time to change your mind,” opening the door and offering an olive branch to the European powerhouses for a swift resolution.
Let’s not forget UEFA are by no means an innocent party, and have been driving up the cost and commercial sanitation of football for years. The Champions League by its very registered being is a brand in of itself, yet at the heart of the changes and amendments has always remained the element of competition, fairness and team spirit.
The underdog can still win, there are things to play for, the joy and adrenaline rush of knockout football can still be felt. UEFA have been mindful to continue recognising that, even if their pockets have been getting steadily more gorged.
But any such compromise, from this current messy position, will still see the likes of Liverpool and United demand from UEFA an enviable parity with each other at an excessive gulf from the rest. They have set up their shop and revealed their hands entirely with this process.
Regardless, they will still want to preach that ‘we are Liverpool, we are a world-leading football club and we deserve better than the rest’. It’s the stuff of complete contradiction to everything the club prides itself upon, from the principles of Bill Shankly to the values of the present-day match-going supporter. Or, as we now know, those ‘legacy fans’.
In all likelihood the top brass among the Super League mutineers will now seek to save face by turning this into a PR war with UEFA and Co., steadily adding to a weave of narrative that it is in fact football’s governing bodies that have forced this situation and are taking from the fans.
But this cannot fly. FSG have made their bed, lined with crisp green dollar bills, and must now lie in it. Joining the Super League would not have served to make Liverpool any more wealthy than Real Madrid or Manchester City – they already lag behind in that regard and to stroke each other’s ego in a closed shop division would only have served to inject cash into already inflated wallets of the owners.
Liverpool joining the Super League and raking in supposed billions wouldn’t have pushed the club any closer to blowing the likes of City out of the water to sign an Erling Haaland or a Kylian Mbappe. All these clubs would have simply coexisted in a meaningless void with no meritocracy, no need for a player to seek European football with a certain club. No history, no spirit. Just money.
As the news emerged that Jordan Henderson had called a captain’s summit, it became immediately clear the players themselves were about to make a seismic impact.
It’s hugely embarrassing for FSG. Their club captain, the man who lifted the Champions League and Premier League trophies aloft in what was supposed to be the defining moments of their tenure, was here essentially rallying against them.
FSG have been guilty of several faux pas incidents during their time on Merseyside, and it has led to a steady undercurrent of resentment.
The proposed ticket hike in the early years of their tenure, the furloughing of staff during the initial bite of the pandemic. Both of these calls were heavily scorned but FSG held their hands aloft and backtracked.
It left a bitter taste but it was possible to overlook, in the grander scheme of things. It showed signs of owners who would listen, who would admit when they were wrong and who would outline a business-led approach behind their decisions, before apologising.
It has been the way of the company’s model and irrespective of opinion, it has worked. FSG don’t take money from the club but do not actively put any in. The self-sustaining model has been built on sharp initiative and remarkable transfer decisions which have put Liverpool firmly back on Europe’s perch.
I’ve defended their project – in this regard – in the past, and still stand by those words. But now, everything is different.
The whole thing smacks of venture capitalists who finally got what they wanted and are now cashing in like never before. The very heritage of Liverpool’s love affair with the European Cup, which the club has played upon during its recent return to the big time, has been all but disregarded.
Was it ever really valued in the first place by FSG? All this suggests a strong no.
They wanted to tarnish the pride of saying “Liverpool – Champions of Europe,” and sculpt it into something meaningless and moribund. Away days in the Nou Camp or San Siro would have gone from the stuff of legend to a cheap, monthly trope of tourism theatre.
The warning signs were flickering last year with Liverpool’s fervent driving of the failed Project Big Picture, in which the ‘big six’ would have been given privileged voting rights over the rest of the division.
Out of those flames rose the phoenix of the abhorrent and swiftly deceased Super League, which now with a bit of hindsight seemed painfully inevitable. So, what’s the next one?
Apology or no apology, corporate suits of this mentality do not have an off switch. Their innate ability to sniff a money-generating opportunity knows nothing else.
FSG’s number is up. They have shown what they are and where they see ‘their’ football club going. A soccer business empire beckons and fans won’t even be asked if they’re coming along for the ride. It’s merely seen as a given. Do first, backtrack later.
What hurts the most is the manner and timing in which this had all been carried out. For the past 12 months, the country has struggled through one of the most difficult and unprecedented times in living memory.
Fans have needed football, and football has needed its fans. People have been desperate to get back inside the stadiums, to feel normality and to be reconnected with their passion; to find a missing part of themselves once more.
Many will have been preparing to do this is in heartbreaking manner, returning to Anfield without a loved one taking the seat beside them, lost to the coronavirus pandemic or time itself. Twelve months is a long time in football, and many fans had seen Liverpool play for the last time. Many more now need closure for this.
It was supposed to be special, a rally behind a colossus of a football manager and his mighty men who brought the title back to Merseyside. Now, all people can think of is a return to protest, and then a potential permanent exit thereafter.
There will be no post-pandemic closure for football, not in the way many imagined. This whole episode has badly soured the pot for everybody and the taste will be long lasting.
Regardless of whatever arrives next from the ownership – blame-pinning on UEFA, full-frontal compromise demands or further saccharine pandering to the fans – FSG’s bridges with the club they own are burnt to the ground. Not even embers remain.
Graeme Souness called it perfectly when he said the Americans and their rival owners had been willing to “sell the souls” of their clubs for maximum profit. Don’t bet against them trying to do the same thing again.
The writing is on the wall and now the billionaires can make it as easy or as difficult for themselves as they choose. It’s time to go.
Liverpool’s name has been dragged through the mud and it could take an eternity to wash it clean again.
Shame on them.