Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre to quit at the end of next season but club denies tickets link

Mass walkout by Liverpool supporters put chief executive in the spotlight

Liverpool’s chief executive, Ian Ayre, is to step down at the end of next season, though the club’s owners insist the ticket price controversy which brought him sharp criticism last month was their own fault and not behind the surprising announcement.

Ayre will be only 53 when he walks away from his boyhood club at the end of May 2017, relinquishing a £1.2m salary, and is of the same generation as Ed Woodward, Ferran Soriano and Robert Elstone – his opposite numbers at Manchester United. Manchester City and Everton. But Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, said they had tried several times to persuade him to stay, only to find him sticking by the decision he reached over the New Year that he would not go beyond the length of his current contract.

Ayre was stung when Liverpool’s decision to charge £77 for some tickets prompted a mass walkout of fans last month, though FSG insists that he was an advocate for the revised pricing regime and the company must shoulder responsibility for failing to listen to supporters’ representatives. Ayre said of the buffeting he took over the tickets: “It kind of rocks the boat but doesn’t turn it over.”

He is thought to feel that such criticism comes with the territory of running a huge club and said that it paled by comparison with the crisis created by the club’s previous owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Ayre was commercial director in 2010 when Hicks and Gillett issued court papers threatening to pursue him and the two men seeking to sell the club, Christian Purslow and Martin Broughton, for $1.6bn damages.

Ayre does not see himself taking up a chief executive’s position at another club and it is possible – though not certain – that FSG may find some kind of non-executive or advisory role for him. The challenge for the Americans is to find a leader with the vision and acumen to deliver glory and trophies back to Liverpool at a time when the earning power of the two Manchester clubs and Arsenal now vastly eclipses their own.

There have been only four chief executives at the club in around 60 years – Peter Robinson, Rick Parry, Purslow and Ayre – and the task of handling the football side of the business while expanding the international commercial side of the club could be a job for two people. FSG has toyed with the idea of a director of football in the past, though previous manager Brendan Rodgers was reluctant to work within such a model. FSG is thought to see the value of a Liverpudlian running the club again, though considering the complexity and spotlight attached to running the business and its 1,000 workforce, the owners are unlikely to narrow their options.

Ayre’s particular expertise has been on the commercial side. His major part in securing a far more lucrative shirt sponsorship, with Standard Chartered, than the club had previously with Carlsberg, was instrumental in landing him the top job.

Ayre said of his decision: “It was just one of those periods of reflection. End of the year, New Year – all that type of thing. You do the job and so you know the commitment it requires time-wise and the pressure that comes with it and the responsibility that comes with it. You reach a point where you feel do you want to make that level of commitment and hold that level of responsibility 24-7 for ever? And if you don’t… then that is the right time to pass the baton.”

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