Fenway Sports Group’s highs and lows during 10 years at Liverpool
Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group celebrate 10 years in charge of the club on Thursday.
Here the PA news agency takes a look at some of the significant moments of the decade since their £300million takeover in 2010.
Near the top, if not at the very top, has to be the appointment of Jurgen Klopp. Having flirted with success prior to his arrival, the American owners identified a man whom they were confident could herald a new era at Anfield and were prepared to make the calculated decision to sack Brendan Rodgers to achieve that. Klopp changed the environment at the club, turning “doubters into believers” as he famously said at his first press conference, and backed that up by winning the Champions League and a first league title in 30 years. Securing Klopp on a long-term contract until 2024 is another masterstroke.
One of the four promises FSG principal owner John W Henry made the day he bought the club was to attract the best players. The task he faced was laid bare as, in the first match of his reign – a 2-0 defeat at Everton – the team included the likes of Paul Konchesky, Sotiris Kyrgiakos and a fading Joe Cole. Fast-forward 10 years and Liverpool’s recruitment is the envy of their rivals. Helped by the promotion of Michael Edwards to sporting director, the club have signed the likes of Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker, at the time the world’s most expensive defender and goalkeeper respectively, as well as developing ‘bargain’ buys like Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah into world-class talents.
Another of Henry’s promises was to return Liverpool to its rightful place in English and European football: successful and competing for trophies. That box has been well and truly ticked as back-to-back Champions League finals, one which resulted in winning a sixth European Cup, and a long-awaited domestic championship have certainly returned the club’s aura and given fans plenty to celebrate.
The return of the King
The Liverpool FSG inherited in 2010 had Roy Hodgson at the helm, was a pale imitation of the glory sides of the 1970s and 1980s and was arguably the worst in living memory. Less than three months into their reign Hodgson was jettisoned and, in a clever move which immediately got distrusting fans onside, appointed former player and manager Kenny Dalglish. The Scot guided them to a League Cup victory and an FA Cup final in his 18 months at the helm but the symbolism was arguably more important.
Boosting the bank balance
When the club was bought in 2010 for £300million, virtually all of that was used to pay off debts to the banks run up by predecessors George Gillett and Tom Hicks. By the end of the 2017-18 financial year the club had posted record post-tax profits of £106m.
Just short of their second anniversary, FSG made another decision popular with fans by ditching the previous owners’ proposals for a new stadium in Stanley Park to remain at Anfield. They provided a £115m loan for the redevelopment of the Main Stand, which was completed in September 2016 and extended capacity to 54,000, and plans to redevelop the Anfield Road stand have been drawn up but paused until 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Champions League victory
After suffering a heart-breaking defeat to Real Madrid in the 2018 final Liverpool, against the odds, returned the following year where they beat Tottenham to lift their sixth European Cup.
Title wait ended
Almost 10 years after taking over, FSG’s crowning moment was ending the club’s 30-year wait for a domestic title. Despite interruption due to the coronavirus pandemic, Jurgen Klopp’s side raced to triumph in record time, winning by a remarkable 18 points having missed out by just one the previous season.
Arguably the lowest point of FSG’s ownership, coming just a year into their tenure. Manchester United defender Patrice Evra accused striker Luis Suarez of racial abuse on the field. FSG’s handling from the top down was poor, allowing important decisions to be made at a local level rather than stepping in themselves. That led to the cringeworthy incident of T-shirts bearing Suarez’s image, name and number worn by the squad and Dalglish in a game at Wigan. Despite pleading not guilty, the Uruguay international was found guilty and banned for eight matches.
Just when things seemed to be going well, a 2016 proposed ticket price increase to £77 sparked anger amongst fans and they staged a walkout in the 77th minute of a match at home to Sunderland, who were 2-0 down before the protest began but scored two late goals to draw. Within four days, FSG performed a U-turn on the price hike, with Henry, chairman Tom Werner and FSG president Mike Gordon issuing a statement admitting “part of the ticketing plan we got wrong”.
With the club riding the crest of a wave, just two victories away from winning the title, FSG shot themselves in the foot with another huge public relations gaffe. With the UK – and football – on lockdown due to Covid-19, the club announced it would be placing non-playing staff on the government’s furlough scheme designed to pay 80 per cent of wages. The decision was met with outrage – especially considering it was less than two years since they had announced world-record profits – and another climbdown was forthcoming, with the club saying they were “truly sorry”.