Liverpool: FSG's decade-long project that delivered the title
As Fenway Sports Group nears ten years in charge at Anfield, we look at the club’s journey from the relegation zone to the promised land.
On Sunday 17 October 2010, Fenway Sports Group (FSG) co-owners John W Henry and Tom Werner travelled to Merseyside to watch their £300million project for the first time since taking over Liverpool FC. They were at Goodison Park to see Roy Hodgson’s Reds comfortably beaten by rivals Everton as Liverpool slipped to nineteenth in the Premier League.
The spine of that team (Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres) was one that had nearly tasted Premier League and Champions League glory under Rafael Benitez, but all were now past their peak. Alongside those famous names that day were the less illustrious Paul Konchesky, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, David Ngog and Milan Jovanovic. Liverpool was a proud old club, but one that looked to be stuck in the past.
Changing faces at Liverpool
Within three months of taking over FSG dismissed Roy Hodgson as manager and club legend Kenny Dalglish was placed in charge. The Scot was already involved as club ambassador and was a popular choice but despite winning the FA Cup in 2012, he struggled to make any significant headway in the league. Liverpool ended the 2011/12 season in 8th place and former Chelsea coach Brendan Rodgers was confirmed as the new manager.
Rodgers was known as a more progressive coach, something that suited FSG’s desire to make the most of their limited resources compared to wealthier rivals. Building a new-look team Liverpool finished a close second in the 2013/14 campaign, thanks in large part to the electric form of forwards Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge. It was an impressive achievement but not one that the club were able to build on as top-scorer Suarez left for Barcelona immediately after. Sterling made it known that he too wanted to leave and was snapped up by rivals Manchester City, while injury-prone Sturridge was never able to recreate that season’s performances. Liverpool would drop to 6th the following season and it was clear that the rebuild would have to start again.
FSG finally get their man in Jurgen Klopp
Rodgers had nearly delivered the Premier League title but had struggled to adapt to FSG’s collaborative approach to transfers. The Northern Irishman expected to have the final say on signings in the mould of the traditional British manager. Most notably, the recruitment team advised the signing of Roberto Firmino but Rodgers insisted on acquiring a more conventional number nine so the club stumped up £32.5million for Christian Benteke as well.
FSG had long coveted the services of German coach Jürgen Klopp, but had previously seen their attempts twice knocked back. Klopp’s eventual arrival was sealed during a six-hour meeting in New York where the German outlined his long-term, gradual plan to return the club to its former glories. That initial blueprint laid out in 2015 has remained in place ever since accordingly to Klopp’s assistant Pep Lijnders:
“If you look back at his message and see how we made all these steps over the years to get closer and closer to it, it is incredible,” explained Lijnders.
“He is very organised in that way – he knows the end picture. The character of the leader can be the most powerful tool and his character defines this team. We could see that from the beginning.”
Long-term investment and long-term vision
FSG’s meticulous attention to detail did not stop with the on-field concerns and a number of key improvements were made to the club’s infrastructure. A £114million expansion of Anfield’s Main Stand was the first major redevelopment announced in 2014. The club are now close to completion of their new £50million training base in Kirkby and have recently announced plans to expand the Anfield Road Stand to bring the stadium’s capacity to over 60,000. Long-term, joined-up thinking has been favoured over the quick fix.
Making the next step under Klopp
Liverpool have maintained a fairly modest net spend throughout Klopp’s time at the club but have been brave enough to splash the cash on targets that they felt warranted the outlay. When Southampton played hard-ball over the sale of Virgil van Djik in January 2018 Liverpool went big, breaking the world transfer fee for a defender. The following summer the broke the record for a goalkeeper, investing up to £66.8million in Alisson Becker. The fees were eye-watering, but covered in part by the sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for a reported fee of up to £142million.
For the first three years Klopp’s reign was marked by steady improvement but lacked tangible success. They were losing finalists in the Europa League, League Cup and the 2017/18 Champions League. That painful record looked in danger of defining Klopp’s, and consequently FSG’s, time at the club, but this side finally broke their silverware duck in the 2019 Champions League final. They went on to win the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup, before bringing home the Premier League title in June 2020. Nearly 10 years after taking over an ageing team in the relegation places, FSG had delivered the prize that had eluded the club for three decades.
Liverpool's next step
The £300million that FSG paid for Liverpool in 2010 has turned out to be a wise investment, with the club valued by Forbes at £1.7billion in 2019. Klopp has another four years on his contract and looks certain to stay for the duration at least. The squad, while not as deep as Manchester City’s, is brimming with quality and has been boosted in recent years with the introduction of the likes of Fabinho and Naby Keita.
A lot has changed since John W Henry’s first Merseyside derby back in 2010, which the BBC’s Phil McNulty described as a “gruesome illustration of the scale of the task”. But not only have Liverpool far outperformed their neighbours on the pitch in that time, they look to have laid the foundations for it to continue. In 2018/19 Liverpool were the second most profitable club in the Premier League while Everton fared the worst, recording total losses of £107million. It took a decade to reach fruition but the FSG era will go down as a defining one in Liverpool’s illustrious history.
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