Whatever the outcome of Fenway Sports Group’s search for new investment in Liverpool, the sales presentation that Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are conducting on its behalf will look far more attractive than it would have done when John W Henry and co acquired the club in the high court 12 years ago. They can sell Liverpool, part or whole, in a much better state than when they found it.
Another towering stand is currently under construction at Anfield that will take the stadium’s capacity above 61,000 when completed in time for the start of next season. The new Anfield Road stand is costing around £80m, £20m more than anticipated before the Covid-19 pandemic, and is the third major development overseen by Liverpool’s owner. The three most expensive capital projects in the club’s history – Anfield Road, the £114m main stand and the £50m AXA training centre in Kirkby – have all taken place on FSG’s watch. In the process it has resolved stadium and redevelopment issues that had dogged Liverpool and the wider Anfield area long before their arrival.
Of course, without the success that Jürgen Klopp has delivered on the pitch FSG would not be in a position to expand Anfield Road to meet increasing demand, or sound out potential investors in a club valued at around €5bn (£4.3bn). It was upon seeing an estimated crowd of 750,000 welcome Liverpool home as European champions in 2019 that FSG’s president, Mike Gordon, scrapped the original plans for Anfield Road in favour of a more ambitious scheme.
The deft hand of Gordon has been behind many of the key decisions that have restored Liverpool after the almost ruinous reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, two names that will make any fan shudder when a change of ownership is mentioned at Anfield. The appointment of Klopp, the sale of Philippe Coutinho, the protracted signing of Virgil van Dijk, the infrastructure projects and untapping Liverpool’s vast commercial appeal have all been directed by Gordon who, while Boston-based, is heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the operation.
The FSG president has developed a close personal and working relationship with Klopp that should not be overlooked whenever talk of a new owner surfaces. It has been instrumental in encouraging the Liverpool manager to sign three contract extensions, the last only seven months ago, supporting the view that negotiations with Klopp would not have been so swift, or so successful, had a full sale of the club been on the horizon.
In an inconsistent season for Liverpool, when much-needed midfield signings failed to materialise in the summer and Klopp made the rare admission that he wished FSG would take more risks in the transfer market, the owner’s frugal investment in the squad – though not on the wage bill – has encouraged criticism of their sporting model. But it was always one based on the strict implementation of financial fair play rules. FFP’s limitations were exposed long ago and so, as FSG struggles to compete with oil‑rich owners, the search for fresh investment has intensified.
FSG’s steady, successful stewardship of Liverpool has not been without its mistakes. The venture capitalists were prime movers behind the scandalous Super League project that ultimately brought little in the way of punishment but damaged reputation. It did, however, lead to the creation of a supporters’ board – with fan representation at main board and executive level. Pertinently, the club’s articles of association now include a commitment to maintain that representation in the event of a change of ownership.
There was also Project Big Picture, the attempt to furlough around 200 non-playing staff at the start of the pandemic, which was abandoned amid fierce criticism 48 hours later, the ticket price hike that prompted a mass walkout by fans in 2016, and was also quickly abandoned, and failed attempts to trademark the word “Liverpool”.
The bigger picture that bankers are now looking to sell to would-be investors, however, includes a modern, upgraded Anfield, a team that have reached the Champions League knockout stages for six successive seasons and one of the most celebrated managers in the game. For some critics it will never be enough but it is a long way from Roy Hodgson and Paul Konchesky.