The winter of an empire: Liverpool Club’s decline

Courtesy of mashable.com.

Liverpool is a sinking ship, and no longer a real contender for the league or Champions League places. I know the statistics: Liverpool has won 18 league titles, 8 league cups, 5 FA cups and European Cups. They won the League cup this season and are going to play Everton in the FA cup semi final at Wembley. They won the Champions League in 2005 and last got to the final in 2007 before losing to AC Milan in a repeat of the 2005 final. But these statistics must make the truth harder to accept: Liverpool just isn’t a top team anymore.

The failure of the Liverpool football club over the past few seasons comes back to two major problems: managers and ownership. Lets start with ownership. John Henry, proud owner of the Boston Red Sox, bought the club in October 2010 from two Texans that had nearly bankrupted the club, Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Misters Hicks and Gillett are where the misfortune for Liverpool started. Hicks and Gillett bought a historic football club because that is what cool millionaires do with their money and spare time. They promised to invest money in the club and transform it into a top European power like in the glory days. Instead, they ploughed all their personal and business debts incurred by poor financial management and the American housing crash into Liverpool FC until it appeared that Liverpool was heading towards bankruptcy. Because of Texan stubbornness, the club almost went bankrupt until the British courts decided to sell the club on behalf of the taxman who wasn’t being paid. Henry purchased the club, promising to turn it into a great club (again).

Now here is where the trouble starts again. Henry believed that because he had bought the Red Sox and used the principles of Bill James to win two World Series, he could win with Liverpool. That was the first mistake. Soccer does not run on the same principles as baseball. Soccer also has more factors than baseball crammed into a much shorter season. A run of six losses may worry Boston fans and only get them a wild card place, but in football that can be the difference between tens of millions of pounds and very little. The players aren’t ranked in the same way as in baseball since they have so many different roles they need to perform. The players that Liverpool has bought have not been performing for Liverpool after very good careers elsewhere. Henry has also not solved the problem of where Liverpool will play in the foreseeable future. Liverpool has a small playing ground for such a well-supported club. Henry proposed moving to a larger ground that would provide plenty of funds for the club through ticket sales and allow the club to play with the big boys like the Manchester clubs. However, the fan backlash was too much for him to face and so Liverpool FC will stay at Anfield with 45,000 fans per game.

The club’s selection of managers has not helped its cause. Rafael Benitez was removed from the job after years of stories about how the club was trying to hire a new manager behind his back. Roy Hodgson was given six months and a few signings to change the entire football philosophy of Liverpool. He was stabbed in the back by Kenny Dalglish, who had not turned up regularly to Liverpool games since holding the manager position 20 years ago and now suddenly appears once again making trouble. Hodgson gets fired, and then does really well with West Bromwich Albion, and is replaced by King Kenny, the Liverpool hero of old. King Kenny, however, has not done any better than either of his predecessors. In fact, he has probably done worse. His signings have been poor. Stuart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique were all extremely gifted players last season but are incredibly poor this year. Andy Carroll is not worth £35 million and spending that much money on a player of his quality shows a massive misjudgement. Andy Carroll has five goals in 35 games. Craig Bellamy for a free transfer comparison has scored six goals in 20 games. Craig Bellamy wasn’t even wanted originally but was bought because it was a free transfer and wouldn’t be a big risk because of that.

But apart from Bellamy, the transfers over the past year have been disappointing. Luis Suarez, when he isn’t being racist, can’t seem to reach the high levels of last year.

He was not worth £22 million. Jordan Henderson and Stuart Downing are not worth £20 million each. These are still good players that should play very nice football but they are not being played to their strengths or given the support in other parts of the pitch that would make the team successful. The midfielders would be better if Carroll could score but every team wishes they had a striker that could score at will (most haven’t paid £35 million for one).

This may sound bitter, and it is, but surely common sense must prevail. Liverpool needs a number of years to reform. They need to learn to play their own style of soccer that will win them games and to gel as a team with players that have a high work rate and aren’t overly selfish. They need to spend less money on the players they sign because it only raises the expectations of the fans, board members, and the players themselves.

If the players see a high transfer fee and don’t live up to it, then they can bring their own performances down. But most importantly, they need a manager to oversee the transformation of the club, like Wenger, Moyes, or Ferguson and a Chairman that will leave the management of the club alone and be patient. This is a rare form of chairman but there are some: Al Fayed at Fulham is the perfect chairman apart from when he accuses Prince Philip of killing Princess Diana (just Google it) and keeps on having his application for British citizenship rejected. It will take time and patience, but Manchester City and Tottenham will come back down and Liverpool can reach back up but only if they bide their time.

James is a sophomore. You can reach him at jivey1@swarthmore.edu.

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