In the summer of 2010 Liverpool Football Club was on the precipice of great upheaval. Their owners at the time; George Gillett and Tom Hicks, were beginning to strip the club of its finances to repay an array of conspicuous loans. The club had not quite hit its lowest ebb but the decline was gaining pace.
Despite the harrowing reality of what was occurring behind the scenes, Liverpool made one of their more ambitious signings of modern times that summer, paying an initial fee of £500,000 – rising to £5m, for a 15 year-old called Raheem Sterling.
Liverpool beat the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Fulham to sign the player, who had already been tagged as a ‘wonder kid’, and other such clichés.
Two years later, the club would stare into the abyss. They were dragged back from the edge by a late sale to New England Sports Ventures (now Fenway Sports Group), who were headed by John W. Henry and Tom Werner. The pair had revitalised the Boston Red Sox and aligned the club with a prudent philosophy of youth and data analysis.
The opening few months of their tenure included the departure of Fernando Torres and the arrivals of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. What followed those choppy opening 18 months was perhaps FSG’s defining move; the infamous open letter by John Henry.
Among a sea of quotes which are simultaneously eye-opening and damning for FSG in 2015, Henry mentioned some key areas pertinent to not only Liverpool today, but specifically the case of Raheem Sterling.
“Our emphasis will be on developing our own players using the skills of an increasingly impressive coaching team,” Henry stated.
Henry went on, not only emphasising a philosophy of youth development, but one which leads to success. “We have only one driving ambition at Liverpool and that is the quest to win the Premier League playing the kind of football our supporters want to see.”
It’s hard for Liverpool fans not to allow their cynical side to take over when re-reading the infamous open letter. For Henry’s own words are now being brought back to bite him – and hard. Sterling – although not purchased under their regime, or indeed not coming right through the academy, represents the best young player that the club has had since Steven Gerrard.
Align that truism with the second quote – the desire to win – and we come to a jarring impasse for Henry and FSG’s tenure with Liverpool. Outsiders can blast Liverpool for superfluous spending under Brendan Rodgers specifically – and a lot of that criticism holds weight – but it is not simply on Brendan that their star young player is seeking pastures greener. He is seeking the exact success that John Henry preached.
It wasn’t just in the open letter where Henry clearly stated a desire to win titles, but to do so with young players. Weeks after purchasing the club Henry met with an array of local journalists and fan groups, seemingly to gauge perceptions of the club at the time. Speaking with Kevin Howson of Red and White Kop Henry outlined much of the aforementioned key points, which prove just as pertinent today.
“To be consistently strong on the field, you must have a consistent flow of young talent that has be nurtured and developed the right way, said Henry.
He went on, again stating a desire to be successful. “We wake up every day thinking about what we can do improve our chances of winning a championship”.
We even hear of how Liverpool needed a “top four young players”. The cynic would ask what happens when Liverpool had arguably a top one player (Sterling, of course), what happens then?
Sterling wanting to leave Liverpool is the symbol of Liverpool in 2015 under FSG. It is the symbol of a silence from Boston and a 14 month absence of John Henry from Anfield.
A malaise has set in at Liverpool. A deep lack of clarity and transparency and resulted in fans rightly feeling discontented and disenfranchised with their club. So much of the first 18 months of FSG’s tenure illustrates and simultaneously juxtaposes the reality of Liverpool today.
Another viewpoint held by both outsiders and some Liverpool fans is Sterling wanting to go does not necessarily paint their tenure in a bad light – it might simply be down to a player wanting away. This opinion seems a touch too light; the trend of the best players wanting to leave Liverpool was set before FSG’s reign. At best, all they’ve succeeded in has been getting commendable fees for their outgoing stars.
The club continues to grow in commercially. However, it cannot match the expectations of their best players on the pitch, nor in their wage packets. At one point this trend may have signalled FSG talking the talk but not walking the walk.
Not now though, there is no talk; just silence. And frustration.