Since not long after their completion of the takeover of Liverpool Football Club in October 2010, the merits of FSG’s ownership has been a topic of much debate, with a multitude of people on either side of the assessment spectrum.
With the form of Jürgen Klopp’s side taking a dramatic turn for the worst since the turn of the year, much of the good work of the Autumn being undone, it’s no surprise that the debate has regained prominence; many fans have once again started to voice concern with regards to our ability to be a consistently competitive force under the stewardship of John Henry, Mike Gordon and co.
FSG’s detractors tend to be those who exclusively focus on how the team has fared on the pitch over the past 6 years.
Even as someone who’s never been our owners’ biggest fan, though, far from it in fact, I recognise the importance of considering both the positive and negative aspects of their non-footballing operations too.
They inherited huge amounts of debt from Hicks and Gillett, and as most people who are pro FSG like to point out, they did ultimately save the club from administration.
They’ve subsequently gone on to stabilise the club and, as a result of their fantastic commercial dealings and the work of the likes of Ian Ayre and Billy Hogan, we now find ourselves in a very healthy and sustainable financial position.
Of course, however, they bought the club as they saw a magnificent business opportunity for themselves, not because of a love for Liverpool or football.
For the record, I don’t expect them to share the passion of the supporters, but the fact that, once they do eventually sell up, they’ll have made an absolute fortune from the club (our value has nearly trebled since they took over) means many people, including myself, are less sympathetic and accepting of failure to build a squad capable of challenging for the biggest prizes on offer.
I still appreciate what FSG have done as, even though I was too young to fully understand what was going on back in 2010, I know the club was in genuine disarray, and unlike then, there is at least some scope for optimism now, even for the staunchest of pessimists.
Let’s also not forget that there were hardly dozens of potential buyers queuing up to inherit the mess that Hicks and Gillett left behind, largely due to the perception that a new £500m stadium would need to be built for any deal to be worth it in the long run from a financial and a sporting perspective.
Despite this, like Liverpool fans have, or should have, high expectations of our manager and our players when they take to the field, I believe we should have high and wide expectations of those at the very top.
For that reason, I can’t accept FSG not being terrible owners/being significantly better than their predecessors as an argument as to why fans shouldn’t be entitled to wanting some other group/person pulling the strings (who that would be is obviously a sticking point and not as straight forward a matter as many make out).
From a footballing standpoint, it’s fair to say that FSG have thus far failed to deliver, and how the Reds fare is the point that all fans are predominantly and truly concerned about. 1 League Cup win and 1 top 4 finish in 5 full seasons, for a football club of Liverpool’s stature, is objectively unacceptable, and it will be 6 full seasons without a trophy come May with Champions League qualification firmly in the balance once again this time around.
The landscape of football has changed, and with the emergence of Chelsea as a real force to be reckoned with and more recently Manchester City, it’s more difficult than ever to challenge for trophies and come out on top every year.
Having said that, I can’t help but think that we’ve made life more difficult for ourselves than it’s needed to be.
The biggest grievance that most people who want FSG gone have is with their transfer policy, as the calibre and profile of player that we’ve been signing, for the most part, since 2011, has undoubtedly contributed to a lack of on field success.
The model of buying young players who have or are supposed to have potential, overseeing their development into the finished article at the club, predictably results in a team which, in the short term, will fail to get over the line when it matters.
I was not a fan of Brendan Rodgers, and I think the majority of the poor performances and results that we were subjected to over the course of the thoroughly depressing 2014/2015 season and during the pathetic start to the 2015/2016 campaign came about primarily due to his management, but he wasn’t helped.
Is it really any surprise that a team which started with 5 outfield players under the age of 23 (Can, Moreno, Markovic, Coutinho and Sterling) went missing in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, albeit against a poor Aston Villa side? I don’t think so.
Similarly, last season, prior to Jürgen Klopp making any signings of his own, we comprehensively beat Man City twice in the league, 1-4 at the Etihad and 3-0 at Anfield, the score line flattering City on both occasions, but in the League Cup final we failed to perform at anywhere near the same level, and hardly threatened up until scoring with 10 minutes of normal time left to play.
It’s more than a coincidence. Signing young players, rough diamonds and the better players from lesser sides within the division is fine so long as some proven players, proven winners, are signed too, to guide them through games on the big stage.
Despite some obvious transfer successes since the January window of 2011, for example FSG oversaw the purchases of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane, all of whom hit the ground running upon arrival despite not being ready made world class stars, such signings have been few and far between.
We’ve never had enough players of the quality required to win major honours at the club at the same time whilst FSG have been here.
Using Suarez as the most obvious example, by the time he reached the absolute peak of his powers, he had been at the club for 3 and a half years already, with just a Carling Cup to show for it, and he thus felt as though he needed to move on to better his career, before the true emergence of Coutinho as a consistently top class performer.
We’ve seen with the likes of Fernando Torres and Raheem Sterling too that players these days won’t wait around for the club to sort out the rest of the team/squad not yet at their level when they’re hot property and in demand.
The one thing that stops me from being 100% of the opinion that in order for us to properly progress we require a change in ownership is the fact that Jurgen Klopp is our manager.
That’s not to say that I think Klopp is simply such a good coach that in spite of FSG’s strategies he can get us back to where we want to be; instead, it seems clear to me that his footballing philosophies are in line with those of his American employers.
At Dortmund, Klopp didn’t spend vast amounts of money on players, largely signing unknowns that fit his system and who he felt he could get a lot out of.
He made a handful of Suarez type purchases, such as those of Reus, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, players coming off the back of break out seasons and seen as being on the verge of stardom.
I don’t think it would be right to say that Klopp hasn’t received backing in his 3 transfer windows with us so far, as FSG were reportedly willing to fund the purchase of £30m+ Alex Texeira at the start of 2016, and despite a positive net spend last summer, Klopp was supposedly happy with what he already had at his disposal; we recouped money by selling players deemed surplus to requirements, rather than any of our key assets.
In the January just gone, many fans, including myself, were unhappy about us not signing players to add depth to a relatively thread bare squad, but as journalists have pointed out, it was Klopp, not FSG, who was against the idea of signing stop gaps, or overpaying for someone now when prices will, he hopes at least, be more reasonable in the summer.
Again, however, I do wonder whether this is because Klopp realises that he can’t afford to spend vast amounts of money on players he isn’t certain will work out as any outlay eats away at his budget for future windows.
I certainly don’t buy the argument that we couldn’t sign anyone because no one was available. Hardly anyone decent is put up for sale at any point, but all players have a price.
I certainly don’t think Klopp is the submissive type, though, and if he felt he was being truly restricted in the transfer market we’d know about it.
Rodgers, who, unlike Klopp, was in the biggest job he could ever hope of obtaining as Liverpool manager was even willing to speak out when he deemed fit, strongly hinting on many occasions that the club failed to provide adequate backing in his pursuit of the likes of Diego Costa, the aforementioned Mkhitaryan and Willian.
It’s for that reason why I’m still willing to give FSG time. I’m honestly not sure whether having someone like Abramovich at the helm would make that significant a difference to how Klopp would go about his business.
If it would, I doubt he would have decided to join us in the first place, bearing in mind the other offers he was bound to receive following his success at the Westfalenstadion.
FSG now have the man who they wanted as their manager since day 1 of their time at the club, and I trust Klopp’s ability to get us to punch above our weight moving forward.
Overall, I’ve been disappointed and frustrated by FSG’s tenure so far, and the coming summer is an absolutely pivotal one for the club not only in terms of the manager and the team but for FSG too in my eyes.
That’s been said before in years gone by I know, and I’m sick of hearing it too, but if we do not invest heavily this time around, especially if we qualify for European competition, then my patience will have run out.
I will refuse to believe that it’s Klopp’s call to not significantly upgrade certain parts of the squad on this occasion as it’s beyond clear, after our last 10 games especially, where we’re lacking, and we simply need to start showing some real ambition to be as competitive as we feasibly can be.
Written by @lfc1forever