Some on social media yesterday likened John W Henry’s filmed mea culpa to a hostage video. Liverpool’s principal owner cuts an awkward figure at the best of times but his apology for involving Liverpool in the attempt to set up a European Super League was excruciating.
Henry has never been shy of accepting blame. That is to his credit. The problem is he too often makes the sort of blunders that require acts of contrition.
“I won’t forget,” Henry said yesterday. Does anyone believe that? Did he not recall the insurrection at Anfield when Fenway Sports Group (FSG) tried to charge £77 for tickets five years ago? Or the outburst of anger last summer when the club tried to take advantage of the furlough scheme? Did these incidents slip his mind? You would have to be neuralyzed to think Liverpool fans would respond to this week’s proposed changes with anything other than anger.
There are plenty of people working at the club who could have reminded him. Beyond his employees, Henry has an address book full of contacts who would have warned him of the dangers of becoming part of the most farcical coup attempt since Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington in January.
Yesterday’s performance was risible. The gilet, check shirt and yellow flowers in the background made Henry look like a surly senior forced into sending a birthday message to his least favourite grandchild. The billionaire owns a television channel. He could easily have done something that did not look like it was filmed on a smartphone. More crucially, he could have fronted up to the media – or even the fans – and answered the questions that many are asking. Apologies should not preclude scrutiny.
If Henry looked shady then it is understandable. The idea of a Super League was the greatest lever in the history of football. It was the threat that delivered every time it was used. The terror of a breakaway division of superclubs was supremely powerful. It was a vengeful god that demanded, and got, sacrifices from the lesser clubs. Then Henry and his co-conspirators tried to make it real and the hitherto terrorised peasants saw there was nothing to fear. It was all make-believe.
They had the greatest bluff ever and it paid out every time. Until they were daft enough to expose their hand. FSG have always believed they are cleverer than the vast majority of those involved in football. That was never true and this week proves it.
They thought they would become founder members of the Super League but instead they were inducted into the Stupid Club. This should at least create some self-awareness in Boston.
Take the fans and emotion out of it and look at the mess from a simple commercial perspective. It should be documented and studied at Business Schools. The course could be entitled ‘The Dumbarse’s Guide to Surrendering Leverage.’
The saddest thing is that the finances of the game need to be reformed. Those who have emerged as winners are an unpalatable bunch. The Super League farrago has made heroes of Aleksander Ceferin, the Uefa president, and Boris Johnson, the prime minister, to name just two. These are not the good guys. Ceferin has pushed through awful reforms in the Champions League. Four wild-card teams will qualify without earning it and there are extra games no one with any sense wants. It will kill off domestic competitions. The EFL Cup is on borrowed time.
For those who want to cast Johnson as a friend of football, dig out The Spectator from 2004 when it was edited by the Prime Minister. The magazine repeated slurs about supporters’ behaviour at the Hillsborough disaster. Ancient history? Not quite. Johnson refused to apologise for this in Parliament two years ago, even though the Hillsborough Independent Panel and the second inquest into the avoidable tragedy comprehensively shot down all the lies that were peddled under Johnson’s editorship.
“It’s important that the Liverpool football family remains intact,” Henry said, suddenly claiming kinship with ‘legacy fans.’ It is laughable nonsense.
Emotive, meaningless words are easy. Doing something tangible is more difficult. FSG gave a small amount of shares to LeBron James, the NBA superstar. The Los Angeles Lakers player is one of basketball’s greats and it was a PR and marketing coup to get him involved.
A similar gift to a fans’ group would show that Henry really cares about the connection between supporters and the club. It would probably generate more goodwill and positive publicity than bringing James on board.
Or there are plenty of individuals around Anfield who could guide FSG away from potential pratfalls. They employ a head of supporter engagement, Tony Barrett, who is as equipped as anyone to determine what sorts of actions will provoke a fan revolt. FSG pay him so why not use his knowledge?
Henry is a hostage. To his own inability to ask the right people a simple question: “Is this a good idea?”
Unfortunately, we all know that the Liverpool owner thought the Super League was a wonderful scheme. It promised massive profits. So spare us the apologies. We’re not as stupid as you think.
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