Liverpool's director of communications, Ian Cotton, took the punishment for his club's poor handling of the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra racism row yesterday, when he left the club after 16 years.
Cotton, an executive trusted by Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and other players who have come to know him, may reasonably reflect that he was powerless to affect the course of the club's strategy on Suarez – which was driven by the manager, Kenny Dalglish, and managing director, Ian Ayre. The power wielded by Dalglish did not leave room for Cotton to direct and the challenge for Ayre in his recruitment of a successor is to find someone who can operate with authority and with Dalglish's acceptance. It will be a profoundly difficult task
Dalglish's decision to sanction players wearing T-shirts in support of the Uruguayan was not taken after consultation with Cotton and, though there were attempts to guide the manager away from comments which kept the issue rumbling on, he and his communications team found it difficult to prevent Dalglish speaking on it. Only when Suarez did not shake Evra's hand before the Premier League game at Old Trafford on 11 February did the level of discomfort prompt apologies, with Suarez and Dalglish both issuing statements expressing regret. Operating in the background, Cotton repeatedly attempted to ensure that Dalglish's comments on the saga were interpreted in a way which would not be detrimental to the club.
Dalglish's arrival as Liverpool manager was also followed last September with the club parting company "by mutual consent" with Paul Tyrrell, the highly respected head of press. Now at Everton, he was hired in February 2010 and in post throughout a change of manager and a change of owner. Cotton, for whom Gerrard expresses his trust in his biography, is the third senior executive at the club to be dismissed, during the owner Fenway Sports Group's review of operations. The director of football, Damien Comolli, and the head of sports medicine and sports science, Peter Brukner, both left last month.
Fenway Sports Group and the club issued a joint statement confirming that Cotton would leave tomorrow, the final day of the league season, by mutual consent. There has been no public acknowledgement from Fenway since the FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea that Dalglish has its confidence in taking Liverpool on and directing more transfer business. He has had no indication of the owners' view on the matter.
Ayre told the club's website: "We would like to thank Ian for the important contribution he has made to the club during his long career here. He has played a key role." Cotton said: "It has been a privilege to be at Liverpool for the last 16 years. I would like to thank everyone I have worked with for all their support during that time and wish this great club all the best for the future."