Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, has decided against approaching Michael Owen about a return to his spiritual home of Anfield, despite the club's desperate need of striking reinforcements after a disastrous conclusion to the transfer window.
The prospect of a free agent being brought in has not been excluded from Liverpool's thinking, though a return for Owen would be dependent on the club receiving a highly incentivised pay-as-you-play proposal which would limit their exposure if fitness problems rendered him unable to play.
Liverpool, who as of yesterday afternoon had not had contact from Owen, would be unlikely to match the imaginative £10,000 to £15,000-a-week deal Manchester United struck with the 32-year-old. Though Owen is looking for a club commutable from his North Wales home and still holds Liverpool in huge affection, the £30,000-a-week, two-year offer from Stoke City looks far more likely.
Rodgers' conclusions on Owen were reached as Liverpool's prinicipal owner, John W Henry, yesterday took the highly unusual step of publishing an open letter, defending the transfer-market activity which saw the manager denied Fulham's Clint Dempsey as the replacement he had expected when sending Andy Carroll out on loan to West Ham United. Henry admitted there had been mistakes during Fenway Sports Group's "difficult" two years of ownership, accepting they have overspent on inflated transfer fees and unrealistic wages. "[This] will not happen overnight. It has been a difficult first two years of ownership," Henry said.
The spending splurge of the Kenny Dalglish era – when the £50m received for Fernando Torres provided a reason for paying a premium price for Carroll – prompted an opposite reaction last Friday when Fulham were asking £7m for Dempsey. Henry did not reveal in his letter who in the Liverpool hierarchy decided that such a price was too high for a player who scored 23 goals last season, though he did hint at FSG's aversion to signing older players. "Our ambitions do not lie in cementing a mid-table place with expensive, short-term quick fixes that will only contribute for a couple of years," he said.
A series of events contributed to the Dempsey deal not going ahead. Jordan Henderson, offered as makeweight in that deal, had decided by last Thursday that he did not want to move to Craven Cottage. Liverpool also now accept that Fulham's deep sense of grievance about the events of a messy summer, where the Dempsey deal was concerned, proved significant, leading the London club to quote Liverpool a higher price than for others. Irked by the knowledge that Aston Villa had been asked for considerably less – £4m-£5m – Liverpool rejected Fulham's price on a point of principle. In retrospect, a headline posted in error on FSG's own website while the club were on tour in the United States in July – "Liverpool gear up for North American Tour as Clint Dempsey joins club" – has proved calamitous.
Henry's letter was unable to absolve the owners or the club of the disastrous decision not to attach a caveat to discussions with West Ham, which would have prevented Carroll leaving Anfield if no replacement for him came in last week. Neither did it identify the advisers who convinced FSG to go against Rodgers' wishes on buying Dempsey outlay – when it was FSG who were persuaded by Rodgers, for better or worse, that the Northern Irishman should possess the powers they had wanted to invest in a director of football.
But the statement did bear out the sense of FSG as owners with an enlightened financial philosophy to "buy prudently and cleverly and never again waste resources on inflated transfer fees and unrealistic wages". The letter provided the latest of many Henry communications about the club's determination to adhere to Uefa's Financial Fair Play (FFP) regime.
It is as yet unclear where Liverpool stand with FFP compliance as the 2011-12 and 2012-13 accounts will be used. Aggregate losses of €45m (£35.8m) will be permitted in those two financial years, as the regime is eased in.
The owners are willing to accept a mid-table position for Liverpool this season, as the price for adhering to their philosophy. This will be a long, bumpy road to recovery but, despite supporters' expectations, it is the only one.
"I am as disappointed as anyone connected with the club that we were unable to add further to our strike force in this summer transfer window, but that was not through any lack of desire or effort on the part of all of those involved."
"The transfer policy was not about cutting costs. It was – and will be in the future – about getting maximum value for what is spent so that we can build quality and depth."
"Spending is not merely about buying talent. Our ambitions do not lie in cementing a mid-table place with expensive, quick fixes."