By Mark Robinson
John Henry recently gave a 10 minute interview to the American broadcaster Fox Sports about his motivations and ambitions concerning LFC. Leaving aside the nauseating reality that Fox Sports is owned by the same evil empire which owns the Sun newspaper; I highly recommend that fellow Liverpool fans take a look (if you haven’t already).
Readers my age (30) and above will probably have already realised that this is a strange new era of football we’re currently living through. I’ve been trawling my brain for memories of the owners and chairmen of my childhood to try and place it all in context. I remember David Moores (because he was in charge of my club), for some reason Ken Bates always comes to mind (I put that down to his self-promotion), I also recall Robert Chase at Norwich City (but only because I grew up in Norwich where everyone hated him), and of course Elton John (because he’s Elton John). On the whole chairmen were anonymous unless their own fans chose to put them on the back pages through protest.
20 years on and owners/chairmen are football personalities in there own right, no longer known only to their own fans but fully part of the PR circus following the Premier League. Thanks to Roman Abramovich (Chelsea), Malcolm Glazer (ManUtd), Sheikh Mansour (ManCity), Randy Lerner (Aston Villa), Daniel Levy (Spurs), Mike Ashley (Newcastle), Bill Kenwright (Everton) and Mohamed Al Fayed (Fulham) and of course our own FSG; I can name 9 of the 20 head honchos of the EPL off the top of my head. And be aware I am not some football nerd who studies other clubs; my interest in football begins and ends with the Reds. Yet without even Googling ‘premier league billionaires’ I have become aware of their existence and by extension their importance to outcomes on the pitch.
Like most things I don’t like, this state of affairs can be blamed on Rupert Murdoch, or more accurately Sky Sports. The hype they generate around the Premier League draws rich men looking for the prestige of fancy toys (what do you get for the man who has everything?); while the huge TV revenues it funnels into clubs has drawn the attention of the profit driven business establishment. In H&G, Liverpool were saddled with the latter, while some of the teams below us were receiving the benefits of the former.
Now we are told there is a third option, a group of rich (presumably) men who live for the thrill of sporting immortality. For Henry it seems like the draw of owning Liverpool is for FSG to recreate the circumstances of their tenure at the Boston Red Sox. By bringing a desperately sought after prize to a club and in doing so “break [the] curse” hanging over it Henry positions himself in the role of saviour. Had Liverpool won the league 2 seasons ago it seems unlikely that the appeal, or indeed price, of the club would have provided necessary temptation for an FSG bid. As thing currently stand, a man who promises the title fits quite nicely into a Liverpool fan’s expectations of a saviour.
From the interview, and in fact all the interviews he’s given so far, we’ve learnt that he’s a man who, at the very least, knows the right things to say. That may sound obvious in this era of chairmen addressing fans as if at a shareholder’s meeting. Debates about long-term stability, business models and the growing of revenue streams are no longer restricted to accountants in the boardroom but regularly take place amongst fans in pubs and internet forums. Fans demand to know these finer points of club administration. Liverpool fans especially who have been stung once by owners who assured us of their business credentials only to learn the financial realities behind a leveraged buy-out.
To Henry’s credit he has done well to layout the clubs future direction for the fans to scrutinise. The club will spend only what it generates which, unlike the business models of some other clubs, complies with the new UEFA restrictions from day one. Those of us hoping for short-term Sheikh style spending would be disappointed (presumably Torres would fall into this group). However those of us with more patience know that it won’t be long until a debt-free Liverpool with a legion of fans will out earn the clubs who have relied on billionaire sugar-daddies. An emphasis will be placed on the youth system under the obvious assumption that it costs less to produce a player than buy one. On that point it was good to see Henry’s observation that players brought through the youth system tend to have greater affection and loyalty to the club; suggesting that he sees players as more than mere assets but rather individuals with an important role in the local community.
Overall John Henry comes across as a very clever man. His body language is always presenting a reserved, relaxed and thoughtful character that seems to understand the psychology of the Liverpool fanbase. A psychology which incorporates decades of achievement and expectation with the distasteful experiences wrought by our previous owners. Our new owners can only say the right thing if they know what we expect from them and considering this interview it is clear that FSG are at least listening to the fans. Only time will tell whether they become the saviours that they position themselves to be but I, for one, will be giving them the benefit of the doubt. So when John Henry says “you just gave me Goosebumps” as a reply to a question about Liverpool winning the Premier League I will believe him and take it as a sign that there is more than a desire for profit in this man’s heart.