New Liverpool owner gives Hodgson vote of confidence

Henry has lunch with Gerrard & Co ... and will 'settle' for winning title within three seasons

Ian Herbert
Sunday 17 October 2010 00:00

The new Liverpool owner John W Henry took a solitary 8.30am walk on the Anfield pitch yesterday and, after a players' lunch sitting beside Steven Gerrard, last night revealed he has already reassured Roy Hodgson about his future.

Henry, whose instincts are telling him that he should be at Goodison for today's Merseyside derby, despite an initial inclination to make his first public appearance at Anfield, said he though he had done "everything we can, thus far, to assure him [Hodgson] that we are not here to make changes. We are here to build". Hodgson had cautioned 24 hoursbefore about the folly of imagining that there was someone else with "a magic wand" who could reverse Liverpool's current fortunes.

Henry and his co-owner, Tom Werner, are under no illusions about the size of the task ahead of them and agreed they would settle for a title within three seasons. The tenor of their message yesterday was that driving up revenues, rather than pumping vast sums of money in, was the route to competing for the title with Chelsea, Manchester United and others. "To get this club to where it should be, where it needs to be, is going to be tough," Henry said.

Uefa's new Financial Fair Play rules, which limit the losses clubs can run up to £39m from next year, thus preventing them from spending through benefactors' largesse, are clearly something of huge significance to Henry's New England Sports Ventures, who finally secured the £300m purchase of the club from Tom Hicks and George Gillett late on Friday. Henry did not refer by name to Manchester City, who face the toughest task falling in line with FFP, but he expects Uefa to enforce the new rules.

"I hope other clubs don't ignore the financial aspects of the fair-play rules," Henry said. "We know it's about revenue and about generating the revenue to compete. In Boston we've gone toe to toe with the New York Yankees which is the same as going toe to toe with Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea."

The subject of a budget for the January transfer window will be on the agenda when the new Liverpool board, including Henry and Werner, meet tomorrow, though Henry said he knows that window "is not the prime time". The managing director Christian Purslow, like most managers, also considers the market to be "thin" in the winter window.

Discussions will also begin on the issue of how to grow revenues through increased ground capacity, though NESV seem to feel already that a ground share with Everton – something which David Moyes said on Friday he welcomed consideration of – is not viable. "It seems to be very controversial. From what I have heard it does not look very appealing to most people," Henry said. Refurbishment along the lines of the Red Sox Fenway stadium will be considered, as well as a new stadium.

The Americans seem to feel that Purslow will feature as an important part of Liverpool's future. "Absolutely," Henry said yesterday.

But for yesterday all decisions could be deferred as the two men savoured the Anfield Road air and breathed in their acquisition. While Purslow took an early flight up from London with Werner, Henry headed up ahead on Friday night with his friend Stanley Grossfeld, the Boston-based twice Pulitzer prize-winning photographer. "I just couldn't wait to get here," Henry said, settling back in the Anfield boardroom. "I had only been here once before and it was too short. I love Fenway, I love Anfield, when the place is empty and the sun was coming out. Stan and I were walking around and when we saw the light this morning we said 'we've got to get to Anfield.' It's a magical, magical feeling to walk on to this pitch to think that we are the new owners."

The breakfast-time visitor certainly caused a stir at the stadium. A stadium security guard texted Purslow to tell him how "this guy turned up and said can you show me around?" Purslow told him: "I think that's the new owner!" Purslow was awaiting his own flight north at the time.

The enthusiasm bears out the Americans' sentiments for the Red Sox, a franchise which Werner said yesterday provided "eerie" similarities with Liverpool. The new owners make no secret of their lack of detailed appreciation of both Premier League football and the city of Liverpool. Another place on their itinerary yesterday was one of the city's museums. "But we know it's a passion," Henry said. "We've known in the last nine years [in Boston] that, every morning when we get up, what we do impacts on millions of people's lives. It's more than a sports team in Boston so that's why we think we're somewhat prepared for this experience."

Werner, who has played football since he was a child, said that NESV have already reached the conclusion that the city alone cannot deliver the revenue increases which are integral to their plans for the club's growth. "This isn't London or Manchester; there isn't a huge corporate base but thankfully Liverpool is a global club so we will look to increase revenues globally."

The players' lunch left Henry with no sense that Hodgson feared for his job and the American was bemused to hear the idea that the players were mentally scarred by the Hicks and Gillett controversy. "Mentally scarred by what has gone on with the ownership? Do you not think they are stronger than that?" he asked.

He will learn more today – quite possibly from the front row of the Goodison directors' box. "We were thinking that we should have our first appearance at Anfield but boy is it going to be hard to stay away," he concluded.

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