By David Lynch
Liverpool’s principal owner John W. Henry released the latest part of what is fast becoming a lopsided correspondence with the club’s fans on Monday morning.
Adding weight to the theory that the Illinois-born businessman does indeed check the messages written to him on social networking website Twitter, Henry took to addressing supporters’ concerns following a disastrous final day of the transfer window.
The American spoke of his disappointment at the Reds’ failure to secure any of their deadline-day targets but stopped short of apportioning blame to any one person – the only thing fans had been looking to do since an embarrassing end to their business.
Things had seemed so much brighter on Thursday. After Liverpool had, with great difficulty, dispatched Hearts in the Europa League, manager Brendan Rodgers quietly expressed his confidence that deals for either Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge or Fulham forward Clint Dempsey could be done the next day.
Twenty four hours later the Northern Irishman found himself with neither player on the books and just Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini as senior strikers until the transfer window reopens in January. All the talk of lofty convictions and soccernomics ideology had become irrelevant; Liverpool had been left woefully short up top.
Ownership group Fenway Sports Group have regularly underlined their commitment to running a financially stable football club and the importance of avoiding deficit spending was once again referenced in Henry’s hastily released open letter. The 62-year-old businessman insisted Liverpool would not look to “[cement] a mid-table place with expensive, short-term quick fixes,” the implication being that the club would not take shortcuts as they move toward their long-term goal of lifting the Premier League title.
Whilst there is no question that such a path is an admirable one to take, that the purists’ route of A to B may not always be available must be accepted. In football, pragmatism rules. The idea that purchasing a 29-year-old who scored 17 league goals last season – more than anyone in the Liverpool squad – for the paltry sum of £6 million is either a shortcut or irresponsible spending must be immediately reviewed.
The American owners must also consider whether doing things the hard way is an ill-advised ploy given their competitors are turning to every trick in the book to gain an advantage. If FSG were not aware of this fact on Friday morning, then they certainly were when Tottenham went from holding no interest in Dempsey to signing the player once it became clear his proposed move to Merseyside was off.
Quite how Henry and Co. can steadfastly tie themselves to a set of beliefs which have constantly changed during their two-year tenure at Anfield is baffling. Rodgers recently let slip that Dempsey’s pursuit could have been sealed by virtue of a swap deal involving Jordan Henderson had the player accepted terms with the Cottagers. In what way that fits into the Moneyball ideal of buying talent young and selling at a profit is beyond most observers, such a move would have represented a £9m loss on the 22-year-old just 12 months after his arrival.
The toll this haphazard approach had taken on the most important aspect of FSG’s product was further underlined on Sunday, as Liverpool faced Arsenal at Anfield. The Gunners are widely held up as the premier example of responsible, intelligent spending in England’s top flight – even though the Reds would do well to avoid their policy of allowing players to enter the final year of their contract.
The north London club came away with a comfortable 2-0 win thanks to goals from summer recruits Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski, but it is not just on the pitch where the Merseyside club could learn lessons from their rivals. Arsenal have often attracted criticism for the prudent nature of their spending, but never move to address such barbs publicly, they are a club who prefer to do their talking on the pitch.
And so if Henry is to make a habit of calling for faith in his long-term vision for a financially responsible but successful Reds then he might do well to forgo sycophantically referencing ‘the Liverpool Way’ at every available opportunity.
The very fact that he is doing so in a public letter betrays the values the club once stood for, and in Liverpool’s current guise, such pride in the past is the only thing worth shouting about.
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