Yesterday, as John Henry innocently tweeted about the night’s upcoming Super Bowl, I read a torrent of replies from angry Liverpool supporters blaming him for our poor form and questioning why we hadn’t spent any money in the January transfer window. The level of abuse varied from some fairly misinformed comments about the club’s spending, to disgusting, personal insults and threats that gave a bad name to Liverpool fans everywhere.
I should start by clarifying that I don’t think FSG are the greatest of owners for Liverpool. We’ve had worse, but it’s hard to believe that their hearts are really in it. They came in with a bunch of wacky, bizarre philosophies that they implemented believing they held the secret to success, they pulled a dirty stunt in their initial ticket pricing before protests forced them to backtrack, their lack of knowledge of the game is often a worry, and they don’t appear as passionate or involved in the club as we see with other owners.
But criticising them for not strengthening the squad in January is just plain wrong. Because it wasn’t their choice. They didn’t have Jürgen Klopp phoning them every day wanting a deal sanctioned for a player, but getting rejected. If Klopp wanted signings, we would have them. We may have had an interest in Julian Draxler, Christian Pulisic, and Julian Brandt, but it was Klopp’s decision not to pursue them – due to the extreme wages of the former, and the unattainability of the latter two.
Maybe people think FSG may have told Klopp that they weren’t willing to stump up the £150k a week it would have taken to acquire Draxler. But does that really fit with what we know of Klopp, too? His principals on the transfer fee/wage issue are perhaps even stricter than FSG’s are. He simply will not overpay when he senses he’s being taken for a ride by clubs or players who are completely money-oriented. By all accounts, it was Klopp’s decision to pull out of negotiations with Draxler when it became evident that it wasn’t the pull of Liverpool FC that was appealing to him, but the potential wage packet. Just like it was Klopp who declined the chance to sign Alex Teixeira 12 months ago for similar reasons, when FSG were in fact more than happy to pay the required fee.
FSG have made mistakes, and maybe under Brendan Rodgers they felt they had a manager who they could teach their ideas to and would be the medium to transfer over their American principles and idealisms to the Premier League. But in finding a manager who wouldn’t oppose them too much, they hired someone evidently underqualified for such a huge job, and that clearly showed in Brendan’s three years at the club – particularly the last 16 months when the pressure really kicked in.
In Klopp, they have a man who has been there, done it all, and has more experience of how a top football club runs than anyone at FSG will ever have. I firmly believe that they have bitten the bullet, and put every single footballing decision in the hands of Jürgen Kloppp and his staff. They may have had to swallow their pride, but they know how lucky we are to have him, and there’s no way they’d risk that by refusing to back him in the transfer market, or telling him that he can’t sign certain players because his valuation of them is off.
There’s plenty of evidence there for that. Klopp, widely known as a manager known for developing young talent and rarely breaking the £20-30m mark on signings, asked for Sadio Mané at £34m, and got him without a question asked. At the time it seemed a huge price. But FSG trusted Klopp, and over the course of the season Mané has been one of our best players, with his fee barely warranting a mention. Georginio Wijnaldum too came in for a fee that raised eyebrows, but that deal was done incredibly swiftly as soon as Klopp indicated that Wijnaldum was our new target when our pursuit of Piotr Zieliński proved fruitless.
Philippe Coutinho has only just signed a new contract putting him as our highest paid player between the £150-200k a week mark. Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana are also set for pay rises in the coming weeks. Mario Balotelli, a player FSG wanted to sign for £16m, develop, and then make a profit on, was allowed to leave for free at Klopp’s wishes. Ragnar Klavan and Alex Manninger were both signed, despite FSG’s perceived aversion to older players.
The honest truth is that FSG probably do not have the financial capacity to propel us forward at the speed we demand. Certain other club’s owners thrive on splashing the cash and throwing money at the biggest names going to try to achieve their aims, but ours aren’t like that. More to the point though, neither is our manager. So it’s hypocritical to pin all the blame on the owners, when they’re simply taking instructions from Klopp and following through on the decisions he makes. So I hope the people condemning John Henry yesterday realise that they were really condemning Jürgen Klopp – or else implying that they want FSG to go over Klopp’s head and make signings for the sake of it that the manager didn’t even want.
I accept that seeing John Henry’s tweets and replying to them knowing he’ll read his responses and get the gist of LFC fans’ frustrations may have just been a channel though which fans could vent their anger, but it was the wrong way to express it – and would still have been even if what they were expressing was true. It’s the manager who has put his faith in this squad of players since the summer, and his decision not to add any fresh faces. Any qualms fans have about that should be aimed at Klopp himself, something I imagine everyone would be much more reticent to do.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)