For some fans, the most exciting part of the season is over. The transfer window is shut and there can be no more delusional fantasies about big money signings for a while. This is where reality bites.
Most Liverpool supporters are, like Jurgen Klopp, relatively happy with the state of the squad going into the next phase of the campaign, which starts at Elland Road against Leeds United on Sunday. Nevertheless, there have been rumblings of dissatisfaction about the club’s spending in the summer. The only significant signing was Ibrahima Konate, who cost £36 million from RB Leipzig. The 22-year-old centre half bolsters the ranks at last season’s problem position but some expected Georginio Wijnaldum, who departed for Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer, to be replaced.
Fenway Sports Group (FSG) have been criticised by a small but vocal group on social media who are angry at the Americans’ reluctance to spend money on a midfielder and a forward. Barely a year after the owners oversaw Liverpool’s first title in 30 years and two years after winning the Champions League, there have been attempts to galvanise an ‘FSG out’ movement. It takes the ‘what-have-you-done-for-me-lately’ ethos to a new level.
There seems to be little rational discourse about Liverpool’s owners. They are either wildly overpraised or their weaknesses magnified. The truth is in the middle. The same men that brought the Premier League trophy to Anfield also tried to bring the latest, risible version of the Super League to the table. FSG’s mistakes – and there have been many – are counterbalanced by considerable success, especially in the past five years.
Right from the moment they took control of the club 11 years ago, FSG said they would be fiscally cautious. The same concern that John W Henry, the principal owner, expressed in his first weeks on Merseyside remains at the forefront of his mind and, if anything, the issue had grown more pressing. The spending power of the Petrostate-owned clubs is a nightmare for Henry and his solutions – Project Big Picture and the Super League – were those of a man clutching at straws. Financial fair play has failed and the impact of the pandemic has made the situation even more difficult.
Yet the question for those who would like to see FSG replaced is simple: with whom? The market for marquee clubs is even smaller than the market for superstar players. There were no buyers out there before coronavirus began to spread and there are none now. Liverpool’s valuation is in excess of £2.5bn, almost ten times what the Americans paid for the club. There is no prospect of anyone investing that amount in Anfield and splurging another pile of cash on transfers. None.
In his first half-decade in charge, Henry spoke vaguely about his legacy. At one point he even suggested that some kind of fan ownership might be possible for Liverpool. In retrospect, he was probably telling his audience what they wanted to hear. By 2015 he was talking about listening to offers. This was far from a hard sell. He made it clear to potential suitors that FSG did not need to offload the business and any deal would have to really suit the owners. Some of the individuals and groups that sniffed around the club were unpalatable. Their ethical, political and commercial principles were way further from the Kop’s than FSG’s. And none had the sort of money the transfer ultras would demand.
For all their faults FSG have underpromised and overdelivered. They made it clear that they would not get into an unwinnable financial arms race with City or Chelsea. Sales paid for incoming players and they have generally been conservative when it came to spending on recruitment. Even so, had the right players become available this summer at the right price they probably would have released funds. It is ludicrous to say the owners are not ambitious but they temper that ambition with caution. That is a gamble in itself.
Do Liverpool lack depth in the squad? A little in midfield and up front but it is more about quality than bodies. Should they have spent more after winning the Champions League and the title? Perhaps. Traditional Anfield logic says buy from a position of strength but FSG have been anything but conventional. Klopp’s first choice XI is beginning to age but both manager and owners believe they are a fair distance from a full rebuild.
The only way some fans will be satisfied is if they see mega spending on an annual basis. That is no guarantee of success. The landscape is changing and City and PSG will undoubtedly win the Champions League in the next few years but so far Abu Dhabi and Qatar have been unable to buy the trophy they want most.
FSG have been capable owners who have struggled to comprehend the football culture at Anfield and beyond. Most of their mistakes have been a result of this lack of knowledge or thinking that they are cleverer than their rivals. Things could be far worse, as those who lived through the Gillett and Hicks era can attest.
The ‘FSG out’ contingent are spoilt brats. As flawed as Liverpool’s owners have been, the transfer fantasists do not know how lucky they are.
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