No longer able to compete with the big teams, finishing behind Newcastle in the Premier League, and attracting the managers of teams who were tipped for relegation at the start of last season. Are Liverpool facing the drain as a football powerhouse?
How many chances do big clubs get to cock-up? It’s a question that could be running through the minds of more than one Liverpool fan at the moment.
There was a time when Liverpool were unquestionably one of the greatest clubs in the world; masters of both the domestic and European game. But that was a long time ago. And in football there is no entitlement to ‘great-club’ status or a guaranteed place in the football elite simply because a team once reigned supreme.
A casual glance at the history of European football during the last century can throw up any number of clubs, such as Leeds, Parma or St Etienne, that were once very successful but who have been subsequently humbled.
In football there is no entitlement to ‘great-club’ status or a guaranteed place in the football elite simply because a team once reigned supreme.
And these were all teams that at some point failed to capitalise on their lofty position and instead through a mixture of bad buys, poor financial decisions and inappropriate managerial appointments found themselves tumbling downwards into a chasm of mediocrity.
Despite forgoing their position of seventies and eighties dominance, Liverpool cannot yet be said to be a mediocre club. They have had intermittent periods of success over the past twenty years, possess significant national and international support and remain commercially robust.
But there is a sense that they are in a downward trajectory. And this is not merely confined to the past three years, which have been characterised by particularly disappointing seasons. Discounting Charity Shields, since the dawn of the Premier League they have won just ten trophies, the lion’s share of which have been League Cups.
Compare this period to the twenty years preceding the inauguration of the Premier League, a time when Liverpool were rampant, collecting European trophies and league titles galore, and you get a sense of their gradual slide.
The main problem at the club is that they have made, and continue to make, mistakes in an industry where mistakes can be very costly. The last twenty years have been littered with them: the purchase of Andy Carroll, the appointments of Evans and then Houllier, the whoring themselves out to Gillett and Hicks, the purchase of Andy Carroll, the lavish budget handed to Benitez, the appointment of Hodgson, and the purchases of Downing, Henderson and Andy Carroll.
Discounting Charity Shields, since the dawn of the Premier League they have won just ten trophies, the lion’s share of which have been League Cups.
And the mistakes just keep coming. During their recent search for a manager Liverpool opted to include the likes of Jürgen Klopp, Frank de Boer and Pep Guardiola; men who were never remotely likely to join the club. The only names on the list that ever made sense were Brendan Rodgers, a manager with a less than startling pedigree, and Roberto Martinez, a manager whose experience seems to be largely in getting a club into a relegation position and then affecting a narrow escape.
Say what you want about Dalglish (pre-school haircut, pr disaster, wearer of oversized, unseasonal adidas coats) but at least he was a safe pair of hands. And so it seems an enormously reckless gamble to replace him with a manager so unproven in the domestic game.
Might it not have been a more sensible idea to have kept ‘King Kenny’ in the job while at the same time waiting for a more fitting replacement to materialise? The owners seem to have made the mistake of rushing to create a vacancy in the misguided assumption that the European managerial elite would be falling over themselves to join the club.
The purchase of Andy Carroll, the lavish budget handed to Benitez, the appointment of Hodgson, and the purchases of Downing, Henderson and Andy Carroll.
And in the next few weeks this mistake will be followed by the club’s latest howler; namely the decision to forego the building of a new stadium and instead go for the cheaper alternative of re-developing Anfield.
While Liverpool remain good at generating commercial revenue, their ability to make the most from match days has long been outstripped by rivals such as Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea. To give you an example, during 2011 United generated £122 million from match-days alone. By contrast, Liverpool’s revenue just about broke the £50 million mark or ‘One Fernando Torres’.
Gaps such as this were meant to be closed by the building of a brand-new 60,000 seater stadium on Stanley Park; a proposal that was first mooted over a decade ago and remained a stated aim until recently. Through this Liverpool envisaged that they could build in enough corporate facilities to make money in Manchester United proportions.
Say what you want about Dalglish (pre-school haircut, pr disaster, wearer of oversized, unseasonal adidas coats)
While the redevelopment of Anfield will increase capacity it won’t allow the club to start from scratch and turn their stadium into a money making cash-cow, geared towards that all important corporate crowd. It’s a decision that seems to suggest a limiting of horizons, an acceptance that Liverpool simply can’t (or won’t) compete with the ‘big boys’.
To date, the game has been kind to Liverpool. Despite successive cock-ups, they retain their place (just) in the domestic football elite. But whether this remains the case in the future is less clear. They have already ceded their once dominant position to the ‘big-three’ of United, Arsenal and Chelsea. Unless Liverpool engender a change in their financial and footballing fortunes then it’s a good bet that they will soon fall behind Man City and Spurs too; finding themselves outside the ‘elite’ for the first time since the 1960s.
Indeed, their recent search to replace ‘King Kenny’ has already revealed that the managerial labour market considers them a team on the wane. After all, had Man City, Man Utd or even Arsenal found themselves with a managerial vacancy this summer it’s plausible to assume that, like Liverpool, any short-list of potential suitors would have included the cream of the European managerial elite. But, unlike Liverpool, it’s also plausible to assume that those on the list would have been realistic targets.
To give you an example, during 2011 United generated £122 million from match-days alone. By contrast, Liverpool’s revenue just about broke the £50 million mark.
Mediocrity in the Premier League is not necessarily something to be feared. It’s not great but as a fan who has twice seen their club escape relegation on the last game of the season, I’d take mediocrity over Championship football any day of the week.
Somehow though I doubt this sentiment will comfort many Liverpool fans. They expect great things of their side, as any fan who followed a club with as rich a pedigree as Liverpool’s would. But in the modern game that pedigree counts for sh*t. It might sound unpleasant, but all that really matters is that you create as much money as possible and limit the amount of mistakes you make; two lessons that Liverpool have failed to heed.
The club hasn’t yet reached the point of no return, their own football ‘event-horizon’ if you like; but if they continue in this vain for much longer then it’s likely they could. Mediocrity awaits Liverpool with open arms, as it has done for so many other clubs that have royally f*cked-up before them.
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