The revered Michael Edwards is reported to be set to depart Liverpool next summer, leaving significant shoes to fill – but a succession plan already looks to be in place.
On Monday, reports emerged that Edwards is expected to step down from his role at the conclusion of his current contract next year having spent 10 years at the club.
Liverpool remain keen for him to extend his stay and continue his savvy work that has seen the Reds transform from challenger to champion, with talks ongoing.
Edwards has provided masterclass after masterclass in the art of transfers along with his expert team, making them a revered group in the world of football.
But just what will happen next if Edwards does in fact leave?
Well, a succession plan is already in place with the club having promoted Julian Ward to the role of assistant sporting director late last year. But who exactly is he?
Ward joined Liverpool from Man City back in 2012 as part of the club’s recruitment and scouting team, with his initial region in Spain and Portugal.
But a swift rise ensued with various job titles, the next coming in 2015 in a newly created role: loan pathways and football partnerships manager.
And this you could say is where the foundations were laid for the role he is being moulded towards as Ward was responsible for establishing partnerships and networks with clubs across England and Europe.
It was all part of ensuring Liverpool had the connections to create pathways for their academy payers to experience senior football.
“We need to first identify positive environments for players to go to and then make sure that when they go, they are developing remotely,” Ward explained in 2018.
“We’ve got to make sure that the competitive experience they get is a positive one, right through the U18s and U23s and then when we feel they’ve reached a level where the next stage is playing for points and under pressure, a bit of exposure to the senior aspects of the game, then we have to look at other environments.”
His role saw him connected to the club across a multitude of areas having needed to coordinate the communication between Liverpool and various clubs across multiple departments at any one time.
And as his star rose, so did his responsibilities behind the scenes.
Start of the succession
Having cultivated relationships both within the club and those across European and world football, his vast expertise was acknowledged by Edwards and FSG president Mike Gordon.
It was thanks to his role at Liverpool and previous experiences with City, Preston, the FA and the Portugal national team that then culminated in his appointment as assistant sporting director.
Another new role that Ward was tasked with stepping into in December 2020.
After previously assisting Edwards with transfers and contracts at the academy level, Ward’s work relationship with the sporting director was subsequently enhanced with the two to work closer together.
Liverpool hold strong communication and bonds across all departments in high regard and Ward’s position as assistant sporting director ensures he remains a key link internally.
But his position outside the club’s four walls sees him continue to develop and build his network of contacts with the need to deal with players, agents and clubs during talks to buy and sell new players and renew existing contracts.
All of which is done hand in hand with Edwards.
What has Klopp said previously?
But Ward has worked closely alongside Jurgen Klopp for some time, establishing a relationship with the manager — who holds Edwards’ likely successor in high regard.
When speaking previously with Ward in his earlier role as loan pathways and football partnerships manager, Klopp was not short on praise.
“Now it’s obviously very, very important, a really, very important role. We work really closely together,” Klopp explained in 2020.
“So if you have to go on loan, the best thing that can happen is that you have a contract with Liverpool, because then Jules is looking after you, let me say it like this.
“He travels a lot – or he used to travel a lot, when travelling was allowed – and they are really in constant contact.
“I’m pretty sure if you asked the players themselves, they would say the same. So that’s really, on a personal basis, really good.
“Jules is doing an incredible job, that’s true, so that’s very helpful for us and for the players as well.”
While there is no confirmation of Edwards’ departure, the fact that a succession plan has been put in place ensures Liverpool will continue to have the system and framework required to prosper once the transfer guru does leave.
And Ward certainly seems to have the backing of the club’s key figures if and when the day arises to make the next step up at Liverpool Football Club.