In the lead up to the 2008 Presidential election Barack Obama said:
“Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope.”
What exactly does that have to do with Liverpool FC? Well let’s look at that comment from a football perspective. Do we participate in football for cynicism or hope? It is the latter that actually makes being a football fan worthwhile. It is why football matters to so many.
In the past five years Liverpool have been on a turbulent journey; the by-product of which is that for some. hope has been destroyed and replaced with a great deal of cynicism.
That is understandable; given that the club has had to recover from the depths of financial despair, and has had to do a great deal of soul searching to transform itself from a social institution into a corporate and commercial machine. The soul of the club still exists, but it is harder to see in the haze of modern football.
When FSG came into the club in 2010, there was one thing above anything that I was desperate for them to achieve; and that was to restore hope.
In the main, they have achieved that goal. That is why each defeat this season really hurts. It is because under Brendan Rodgers supporters are daring to believe. But there is still that nagging doubt about whether or not this is another false dawn.
Another FSG owned sporting institution, the Boston Red Sox recently won a World Series title, which begs the question: what can we learn from this in terms of Liverpool following a similar pattern? Well, football is so unpredictable that looking to Boston and the Red Sox for the answer will only give you signs. But what those signs give you goes back to that magic word; hope.
FSG have proven in Boston that success is as important to them as financial return. They have laid the foundations for three World Series wins in a decade, which is a fantastic achievement as the club hadn’t won this title since 1918. They have transformed Fenway Park from a decaying stadium into an iconic and modern facility. They have changed the Red Sox by making every dollar count; and by being smart and innovative.
These things do not happen by luck. They happen by taking a long term, strategic approach to building something. Something sustainable, something that will not just win you one title, it will make you competitive every single year.
These things take time, building a sustainable football club from the bottom up isn’t easy, unless you have infinite resources to fast track investment in the playing squad. Liverpool is by no means poor, but they are a way behind some of the European power houses in terms of revenue, that is always going to impact on your competiveness.
There are some fundamental structural issues that FSG have inherited and had to take on, such as Anfield redevelopment. They have also had to play catch up in the commercial space, against a backdrop of financial mess and mismanagement that until recently saw 70p of every £1 the club earned going on wages alone.
FSG have been at the club three years, and it is only now that we are starting to see the green shoots of progress on some of these issues. FSG have taken a patient, methodical approach to building foundations at Liverpool – looking to make the right long term decisions rather than quick and easy ones.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing; there have been mistakes and a lot of trial and error. The entire hierarchy at the club has been on a learning curve, but they are learning from mistakes, and that is all you can ask.
If we look to what FSG have achieved in Boston, it gives you hope that they want and expect to see similar success in Liverpool, and they will do everything they can to make it happen.
So, now to the question: Can we win our 19th title under FSG? It is impossible to say whether we will win the title under FSG; nobody has a crystal ball. But the one thing I am certain of is that they will lay the foundations for success. They will do that by redeveloping Anfield, growing revenues, investing in the squad, and demanding the very best from the people they employ.
It is a big task for Liverpool to win the title in the short term, the top of the Premier League is incredibly competitive. There are teams with more maturity, talent and resources ahead of us. Our immediate aim has to be to get back into the Champions League and use the increased revenue and a new market of players to take us on to the next level.
Whether or not Brendan Rodgers can lead us to the title is an even more difficult question to answer. He certainly has the right attributes to be a great manager, but the path to his development has a number of obstacles. It is how he overcomes those that will define how good he can become.
Another great quote is “A leader is a dealer in hope”. And that is one quality I think Brendan Rodgers and John Henry share. Brendan Rodgers has such belief in his way that it is difficult not to believe in him. He may talk a lot, but he talks with passion and optimism. When I listen to Rodgers speak, it gives me hope for the future.
Talking the talk is one thing, and that is something Rodgers does very well, walking the walk is another. This season we have started to see signs that Rodgers has what it takes to take us back into the Champions League. He has made mistakes in games, and is still maturing tactically; you expect that of a manager that is a year older than Ryan Giggs. But he is improving all of the time.
Rodgers biggest tests are still yet to come, getting us back into the Champions League is the aim, and would be a fine achievement with the resources he is working with compared to others. But, it is only when we return to the Champions League we will see whether or not Rodgers can operate at the very highest level. My instinct is that he will grow with the club and meet the challenges ahead.
John Henry is also a ‘dealer in hope’ (not to be mistaken for a dealer in anything they are smoking over at the Emirates!). Henry is a dealer in hope because he has achieved success throughout his career; and clearly understands that a strategy needs to be innovation led if you are competing in an environment where money is the dominant factor.
For me, FSG’s biggest achievement to date is that they have given supporters hope for the future. That will not be the case for every supporter, but if you look hard enough, you can find it.
The club’s journey under FSG has been steady progress; as they stated at the outset there hasn’t been a lot of deficit spending, but they have invested in the squad. They have appointed a manager with the attributes – although not the credentials – to take the club forward. They are not afraid of making big, unpopular or risky decisions.
Some may view FSG as a safe pair of hands, and that is exactly what the club needs right now. But I think there is more to them than that – I think John Henry wants Liverpool to be successful – and I think he wants the league title and the Champions league, and it is the desire of Henry and Rodgers for us to success that gives me hope for the future.
And as a football fan, hope is all you can ask for. As a Liverpool fan, it is refreshing to participate in hope over over cynicism again.
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