EPL TALK: Should Liverpool fans be upset that their owners have not spent enough?
THERE are two English Premier League clubs from Liverpool, but only one of them is angry. Everton supporters are fuming and rebelling, demanding a change in ownership. The Blues are seeing red.
The real Reds are strangely muted, not quite resigned to their fate, but not ready to call a revolution against their American owners either.
Their uncertainty is understandable. Liverpool’s fans have long had a (funny) reputation for wallowing in martyrdom and the daft #KloppOut trends are always good for a laugh. No one wants to be seen as hysterical at such a tricky time.
But the Anfield faithful are at risk of becoming too forgiving now. In their eagerness not to criticise a club that came within a whisker of winning a quadruple last season, they are perhaps being too kind.
Last season’s heroic trophy charge boasted three integral components – an overachieving manager, a tireless squad and the 12th man. Liverpool proved to be a club for old men, bearded wizards and tens of thousands of devoted zealots, working like a feverish bunch of alchemists convinced that they’d discovered the secret to eternal youth.
They hadn’t, but the experiment was great fun to watch. They pulled together as their overseers threatened to pull away.
Liverpool’s owners, the Fenway Sports Group, are still plotting a sale, or a partial sale, or a complete sale, or something involving a massive cash injection anyway, tempting the market with all the subtlety of a durian seller offering a two-for-one special before he closes for the day.
And the Reds seem conflicted over the situation, playing a nostalgic game of “remember when” among themselves. Remember when Bert and Ernie, also known as George Gillett and Tom Hicks, owned the club? Remember when Peter Crouch and Craig Bellamy masqueraded as a forward line? Remember the terrible signings and the financial chaos? Remember when the Reds were punchlines in every joke told in Manchester and London?
In such a context, the fear of an uncertain future may not be as bad as the humiliations of the past. It’s easier to stick with the Fenway Sports Group and reminisce about the good times than take a twist on the unknown. The clownish antics of Gillet and Hicks remain vivid.
But it’s beginning to feel like the owners are exploiting that goodwill, relying on it to gloss over the obvious lack of investment in a rapidly declining squad as the Americans play a “wait and see” approach with potential buyers, especially when over-capitalisation looks a more pressing concern.
There’s little incentive to renovate Anfield with a Jude Bellingham-styled makeover if the place is going to be flogged to anyone with money to spend and reputations to wash. Let the next owners build a new wing with Kylian Mbappe and redesign a dilapidated midfield with the latest brand names.
The financial logic is sound, but such a cautious approach may stretch the umbilical cord between the owners and fans to breaking point. The Fenway Sports Group appear reluctant to put their money where the supporters literally did: back into the club.
Record revenues, but where's the investment on the midfield?
As the British economy struggled with soaring inflation and a cost of living crisis, Liverpool fans still pumped their cash into their American-owned enterprise. In the just-released Deloitte Football Money League, the Reds jumped from seventh to third - their highest-ever position.
They recorded revenues of £593.3 million in 2021/22, overtaking Manchester United for the first time. More significantly, Liverpool were one of five clubs to report over 100 million euros in matchday revenue, as fans returned to stadiums after COVID-19. A charge towards the finals of the Champions League, the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup kept the turnstiles ticking over until the very end.
Jurgen Klopp built it. And they came. They came in record numbers, too, in every competition, an overspending fan base matching an overachieving squad until both parties were spent, in every sense.
That was the Fenway Sports Group’s moment to reward such financial and physical sacrifice with reinforcements and renewed hope. There was an opportunity to top up those record revenues of £593.3 million and go again. Challenge the Manchester hierarchy once more and see off London’s upstarts. Instead, they saw the £593.3 million as a chance to flog the club.
A cynic might say, Liverpool’s owners are manipulating their supporters’ unwavering loyalty to extract a higher price from a potential bidder. A loyalist might say, Liverpool’s owners are reacting to market forces they can no longer challenge on their own terms.
Klopp is certainly a loyalist, even if he recently suggested otherwise. After back-to-back league defeats by Brighton and Brentford, he insisted he wasn’t being overly faithful to underperforming players such as Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara. The trio started together for the first time 27 months ago and it’s pretty much stayed that way.
In recent weeks, they’ve pretty much played that way, looking tired and pedestrian. But Klopp hasn’t really got anyone else to replace them.
Meanwhile, Naby Keïta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner and Roberto Firmino are all out of contract this summer and their manager has again been accused of putting their past successes ahead of their future prospects. But Klopp hasn’t really got anyone else to replace them.
The German is not being loyal to his old guard so much as he’s being loyal to his employers and their fiscal conservatism. Thiago remains the only senior central midfielder that the club have signed on a permanent deal since Fabinho and Keita joined in 2018.
Klopp has won every available trophy in that period. He was rewarded with just one senior midfielder of note. Liverpool’s supporters contributed massively towards that revenue figure of £593.3 million. They were rewarded with an emaciated midfield. It seems like a lopsided relationship.
On Saturday, Liverpool host Chelsea, where owner Todd Boehly has undoubtedly put his money where his mouth is (which is quite the achievement). Another poor performance in such a crucial fixture might trigger a period of self-reflection among dissatisfied Reds. There is an issue of misguided loyalty, but it’s being directed towards the wrong place.
The Fenway Sports Group did stabilise the club and continue to benefit from an extremely grateful fanbase. Even so, it would be wise not to take that gratitude for granted.
Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.
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