Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister, has said his government would definitely support any private sector bids from the country for Manchester United or Liverpool.
While the Saudi Public Investment Fund backed the purchase of Newcastle United last winter, Prince Abdulaziz said private businesses in his country have a strong interest in English football’s most successful clubs, with both instructing banks regarding potential investment or sale.
“From the private sector, I can’t speak on their behalf, but there is a lot of interest and appetite and passion about football,” he told BBC Sport. “It’s the most-watched league in Saudi and the region and you have a lot of fans of the Premier League. We will definitely support it if any [Saudi] private sector comes in, because we know that’s going to reflect positively on sports within the kingdom. If there’s an investor willing to do so and the numbers add up, why not?”
The prince also stated a wish to see Cristiano Ronaldo play in Saudi. The 37-year-old is a free agent after leaving United by mutual agreement this week and he recently stated that he turned down a two-year deal in the summer worth more than £300m a year from a Saudi club.
“I would love to see Ronaldo play in the Saudi league,” said Prince Abdulaziz. “It would benefit the league, the sports eco-system in Saudi and will inspire the youth for the future. He’s a role model to a lot of kids and has a big fanbase in Saudi.”
Ronaldo scored in Portugal’s 3-2 win over Ghana at the Qatar World Cup on Thursday and Saudi may make its own bid to host the tournament. “Who wouldn’t want to host the World Cup?” the prince said. “Any country in the world would love to host the World Cup.”
In hosting major sporting events including boxing world title fights Saudi has been accused of sportwashing to deflect criticism of its record on human rights. But Prince Abdulaziz claimed doing so has been positive for his nation’s people.
“The numbers don’t lie – when you look at participation in boxing, from six gyms in 2018 to 57 gyms today. A 300% participation increase, 60% are women, which was a shock for us. When you see appetite from the youth, men and women, they learned from it. If it’s making the country better and fixing a lot of the social issues we have in terms of participation then that’s a benefit for us,” he said.
Liverpool’s sporting director, Julian Ward, has decided to leave the club at the end of the season, only months after replacing Michael Edwards in the post.
Ward officially succeeded the influential Edwards in the summer after being promoted from assistant sporting director, although he led Liverpool’s recruitment of Luis Díaz and Darwin Núñez before then while operating in a transitional leadership role.
The 41-year-old’s decision has come as a shock and disappointment to Liverpool, who are now considering whether to continue with the sporting director model that was first introduced under Edwards in 2016. Jürgen Klopp, who likes the sporting director structure and was close to both Edwards and Ward, will have a pivotal role in deciding how football operations should be run come the end of the season. The chief executive, Billy Hogan, will also be involved in the final decision that could see Liverpool maintain the current setup and have a third sporting director in just over a year.
No explanation has been given for Ward’s exit but he has told Liverpool he intends to take a break at the end of the season and has no intention of starting a job at a new club in the immediate future. While the Liverpool-born sporting director has been in his post for only several months officially, he has worked for the club for more than a decade since joining from Manchester City.
Ward was a European scouting manager and a loans and pathways manager before becoming Edwards’ assistant during a highly successful period for Liverpool. He has a close working relationship with the head of recruitment, Dave Fallows, and the chief scout, Barry Hunter, both of whom will continue to have a central role in Liverpool’s transfer strategy.
Liverpool believe the advance notice from Ward, together with their long-established football strategy, will ensure business continues as normal this season. They have no reservations over their sporting director remaining in his role until the end of the campaign, with Ward’s character and professional integrity unquestioned.
Meanwhile, Uefa has still to be notified when the independent review into the chaotic scenes at May’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid in Paris will be published.
European football’s governing body commissioned a team led by Dr Tiago Brandão Rodrigues, a Portuguese MP, to look into the events at the Stade de France which saw dangerous congestion problems leading to a delayed kick-off, fans locked out, tickets failing to work and heavy-handed police use teargas on supporters.
Uefa stated it aimed to have the report published by the end of November but with less than a week remaining it is still waiting for confirmation of when the report will be received. “Uefa has not yet been informed of a concrete date for the publication of the report being currently prepared by the independent review team led by Dr Brandão Rodrigues,” read a statement.
Concerns were expressed in some quarters over the appointment of Rodrigues just two days after the final as he previously worked closely with Tiago Craveiro, formerly the chief executive of the Portuguese Football Federation who in March this year moved to become an adviser to Uefa’s president, Aleksandr Ceferin. However, fears seemed to have been allayed, certainly among some groups on Merseyside, when Rodrigues and his team visited to gather information and take statements from the club and organised supporters’ groups.
The former Liverpool and England striker David Johnson has died at the age of 71. Johnson made 213 appearances and scored 78 goals in six years at Anfield. He also had two spells at Everton and played eight times for England, scoring six goals.
Playing tribute to his former teammate at Anfield, Kenny Dalglish wrote on Twitter: “Sad news about the Doc. David was hugely popular in the dressing room. A really good guy and condolences to all his family. RIP DOC YNWA.”
Another former Liverpool colleague, David Fairclough, wrote: “So sad to hear my great friend and Liverpool legend David Johnson has passed away today. Shared so many great moments and memories with ‘Jono’. Today is a very sad day. Condolences to all Dave’s family. RIP ‘Doc’.”
Everton confirmed the news by saying: “Everyone at Everton Football Club is saddened to learn of the untimely passing of David ‘Doc’ Johnson at the age of 71. Our thoughts are with David’s family and friends at this time.”
Johnson began his career at Goodison Park and scored in the Merseyside derby against Liverpool in 1971. He would go on to score for the Liverpool against Everton nine years later.
Johnson had a successful spell at Ipswich before moving to Liverpool in 1976 for a club record fee of £200,000. He went on to win three league titles at Anfield as well as the European Cup in 1981. Ian Rush’s emergence relegated Johnson to the bench the following season and he re-signed for Everton in August 1982.
Johnson later played for Barnsley, Manchester City, the American side Tulsa Roughnecks, Preston and had a spell as player-manager at Barrow before retiring in 1986.
Liverpool and Juventus are keeping track of the growing uncertainty around Mason Mount’s future after Chelsea’s talks with the England midfielder over a new deal were put on hold until after the World Cup.
Mount’s deal expires in just over 18 months and his situation has prompted clubs to check whether he could be lured away from Stamford Bridge. The 23-year-old has been in discussions with Chelsea since the summer and, with no sign of a breakthrough, negotiations are not expected to resume until January.
Chelsea’s owners have no interest in losing Mount, who has been attached to the club for his entire career, and remain optimistic that negotiations will end on a positive note. Mount has been built up as a future Chelsea captain and the hierarchy want to reward his performances with an improved deal.
However there have been indications that an agreement is not guaranteed. Mount is one of the lowest earners in the first-team squad and wants a new deal to reflect his status as one of Graham Potter’s most important players. Chelsea’s initial proposals have fallen below his expectations.
Mount has established himself as one of the brightest young talents in the Premier League during the past three years and he is attracting interest from Juventus and Liverpool, who need to freshen up their midfield options.
Manchester City have previously been linked with Mount, who has been valued by his managers for his ability on the ball, versatility, pressing and tactical intelligence. Whether Mount would see moving to Italy to join Juventus, who are having a disappointing season, as a good move at this stage of his career remains to be seen.
The prospect of some of Europe’s top sides targeting Mount could lead to greater urgency from Chelsea. Their owners, Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, will be keen to avoid a repeat of the messy situation they inherited. Chelsea lost Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen on free transfers last summer and Thiago Silva’s, N’Golo Kanté’s and Jorginho’s deals run out at the end of this season.
Chelsea, who have promoted their academy director, Neil Bath, to director of football development and operations, have shown a willingness to reward their young talents. Reece James and Armando Broja signed new long-term deals recently.
Meanwhile Édouard Mendy is considering his future after losing his place as Chelsea’s No 1 to Kepa Arrizabalaga. Mendy, who will be Senegal’s first-choice goalkeeper at the World Cup, could seek assurances after a difficult start to the season.
The 30-year-old’s deal runs out in 2024 and he is also one of the squad’s lower earners. He has so far been reluctant to sign an extension.
Potter has favoured Arrizabalaga since replacing Thomas Tuchel in September. Mendy got back in the team after Arrizabalaga was injured against Brighton last month, but there is no guarantee he will be a starter after Qatar.
Pep Guardiola was notably accepting of Manchester City’s defeat by Brentford in their last match before the World Cup. “My staff and I will have time to reflect on what we did well and what to do better,” he shrugged. Guardiola and his staff may also have to watch events in Qatar through their hands, clenching as heavy tackles fly in and muscle injuries stack up given City – with 16 players – are the Premier League club sending the most players to the finals.
Even if Erling Haaland will be spending much of the next six weeks on the Etihad Campus, key players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Rodri will return bearing the physical and mental scars of the tournament. And individual success in Qatar may not necessarily be good news for a player’s club. To take the example of England’s Euro 2020 finalists, a number of Gareth Southgate’s players made indifferent starts to their 2021-22 club campaigns.
Such are the intangibles for clubs of this World Cup. Jürgen Klopp is a vocal critic of the tournament being staged in Qatar, particularly in mid‑season, but he will see only seven players jet out to pre-tournament training camps. Like Guardiola, Klopp has a star forward getting a needed rest, in Mohamed Salah, but it is Uruguay rather than Liverpool who will be the immediate beneficiaries of Darwin Núñez’s recent flowering.
Overall the Premier League is providing more World Cup players than any other division, with 134 players at the tournament – 16% – plying their trade in the English top flight. The league leaders, Arsenal, have 10 players in World Cup squads but their England contingent of three contains two players, Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White, expected to be reserves in Southgate’s squad. The same may go for Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli among a Brazil squad featuring heavy competition for forward places. Mikel Arteta appears to be getting off rather lightly, though how to motivate players disappointed at being underused is yet another consideration to add to the pile.
The response of players to disappointing tournaments is also important. How, for example, might Antonio Conte coax the best from Harry Kane at Tottenham should England’s captain flop in Qatar? Or, to name another player among Spurs’ 11 call-ups, someone carrying a yet heavier burden for his national team, Son Heung‑min? Will his disappointing season so far – and the facial injury he is nursing – cast a shadow over his World Cup and consequently his return to Tottenham? Every player is on a sliding scale. How might they react to playing in a mid‑season tournament in which their country’s expectations are sky‑high while playing for a different coach using probably very different tactics?
For managers such as Graham Potter and Erik ten Hag, relative newcomers to their clubs trying to install a fresh playing doctrine, losing players in mid‑season is unhelpful. Manchester United, sending 14, have made significant improvements under Ten Hag, and though Cristiano Ronaldo can be discounted from the list of players whose fitness he will care about, Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martínez have all been crucial to United’s revival. Each is playing for a nation expected to go deep in the tournament.
Potter’s Chelsea have stalled of late. His players have appeared unresponsive to his tactics. Chelsea will have 12 players in Qatar but a mid‑season training camp planned for Abu Dhabi also gives Potter a decent core with which to work. Reece James, Wesley Fofana, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Marc Cucurella, Trevoh Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jorginho and Pierre‑Emerick Aubameyang are among those players not travelling.
Manchester United and Chelsea will return to action at Christmas looking at Newcastle in third place, and while Eddie Howe will not welcome a loss of momentum only five players are being lost from his squad to the World Cup, two of them – Callum Wilson and Nick Pope – likely to be on the England bench. And while Bruno Guimarães is a player Newcastle cannot afford to lose, other leading players from this season in Sven Botman, not picked for Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands team, and Miguel Almíron, whose Paraguay did not qualify, will return to Tyneside after taking short rests.
Further down the table, the World Cup break throws up an opportunity for Nathan Jones, freshly arrived at Southampton, who are sending only two players. Should Bournemouth appoint a new manager – or Gary O’Neil stay on – only the Wales pair of Kieffer Moore and Chris Mepham will not be around.
Three managers ended the season’s first tranche of fixtures under pressure. At West Ham David Moyes will have mixed feelings if England progress deep in the tournament, with Declan Rice a key midfielder. Lucas Paquetá, the summer’s big signing, is yet to shine in east London but is favoured by the Brazil coach, Tite. Perhaps a good showing in Qatar can energise Paquetá’s club season. Jesse Marsch will be roaring on Team USA, though in Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams he will fear fatigue in two players who have become important to Leeds.
Which leaves Frank Lampard, with Everton losing four players to the tournament. Until his mistakes at Bournemouth at the weekend, Jordan Pickford had been exemplary in goal. An injury or the loss of form that can follow for players scapegoated for English failure could mortally wound Everton. Such are the myriad equations the World Cup must turn over in the minds of Premier League managers.
Caoimhín Kelleher reprised his role as Liverpool’s Carabao Cup saviour as Jürgen Klopp’s team scraped into round four at the expense of League One Derby. The Republic of Ireland international, who scored Liverpool’s 11th and final penalty in the shootout victory over Chelsea in February, made three saves in another penalty shoo-out after a goalless 90 minutes at Anfield.
Kelleher saved from Conor Hourihane, Craig Forsyth and on-loan Everton striker Lewis Dobbin in the shoot-out after the introduction of several big names from the Liverpool bench had failed to break the deadlock in normal time. 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic and Roberto Firmino failed to convert their penalties for Liverpool, and Darwin Núñez only just did, but Harvey Elliott sealed the holders’ passage with the fifth and final spot-kick.
The business intentions of Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owner, was in no way a distraction in the third round tie. Liverpool simply lacked the precision to find a way past Wildsmith, although it was not all one-way traffic and Derby had their opportunities to cause an upset against the holders.
Derby had the backing of an impressive 5,600 away support and the defensive structure to contain a young, inexperienced Liverpool forward line. Klopp made 11 changes from the team that beat Tottenham on Sunday and gave five youngsters their full Liverpool debuts – Bobby Clark, son of former Newcastle and Fulham midfielder Lee, 18-year-old Spanish midfielder Bajcetic, forwards Layton Stewart and Melkamu Frauendorf, plus summer signing Calvin Ramsay. Technical quality was on display from all five, with Clark’s nutmegs and midfield runs catching the eye, although their understandable eagerness to impress contributed to a sloppy first-half display by the hosts.
Paul Warne’s side looked to hit Liverpool on the counterattack but, despite several determined runs down the right by Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, they did not have an attempt on Kelleher’s goal before the interval. Derby’s best opportunity fell to Eiran Cashin from a Mendez-Laing corner but the centre-half headed high into the Kop.
Liverpool, with a more experienced defence and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain making a rare start in midfield, controlled proceedings without seriously troubling Joe Wildsmith in the visiting goal. Oxlade-Chamberlain was just wide with a volley when Craig Forsyth headed a corner from Kostas Tsimikas into his path on the edge of the area. The roles were reversed when Wildsmith palmed an Oxlade-Chamberlain cross on to the unmarked Tsimikas but with the same result, the left back slicing a volley wide when he should have struck the target at least. Liverpool’s best chance of the first half was created and missed by Stewart. A heavy first touch by Cashin on the edge of the Derby penalty area allowed the 20-year-old to feed Fabio Carvalho in space on the left. Carvalho picked out Stewart with the return cross but, while well-placed in front of goal, the striker was off-balance and skied his shot over.
The second half witnessed more attacking intent and quality from both teams, mercifully, and Derby captain Max Bird had a fine chance to break the deadlock when Louie Sibley’s dangerous low cross picked out his run into the Liverpool box. Bird’s first touch struck Nat Phillips but rebounded kindly into his path, inviting a shot that was dragged across Kelleher’s goal and wide.
Wildsmith came under sustained pressure thereafter. The Derby goalkeeper reacted sharply to change direction and save a heavily deflected shot from Oxlade-Chamberlain that seemed destined for goal. He then pushed away a curling effort from Carvalho and saw Oxlade-Chamberlain slice over after Frauendorf’s back post headed was only half cleared by Haydon Roberts.
Improvement without an end product was not enough to satisfy Klopp and with 24 minutes remaining he summonsed Núñez, Firmino and Elliott from the bench in a bid to confirm Liverpool’s supremacy.
The impact of the triple substitution was almost immediate. Firmino and Elliott combined to release Oxlade-Chamberlain behind the Derby defence for the first time and, though he just got his toes to the ball, Wildsmith spread himself well to save.
The visiting keeper made an excellent stop with ten minutes left when the prominent Oxlade-Chamberlain floated a superb pass over the Derby rearguard into the run of Elliott. The midfielder attempted to steer a first time effort into the far corner but Wildsmith read the intention to flick the attempt to safety. He also foiled Firmino in the dying moments when the Brazilian headed Ramsay’s inviting cross towards the near corner.
Derby also had chances through their substitutes to deliver a cup shock. David McGoldrick sent Lewis Dobbin racing away from Joe Gomez down the right flank. The on-loan Everton striker took his shot first time but sent it bouncing into the arms of Kelleher.
McGoldrick should have done better when found unmarked at the back post by a deep cross into the area. His tame header was easily collected by Liverpool’s second choice keeper, however.
Liverpool fans know to be sceptical about any change in ownership; we’ve been burned once before, so it’s certainly a case of more worry than excitement regarding Fenway Sports Group’s possible sale of the club. While FSG have their critics and have made mistakes, on the whole they are good owners. The only thing Liverpool need really is for their owners to be a little more risky in the transfer market, something Jürgen Klopp has even admitted recently.
So where do you find owners like FSG but who are just a little more risky/willing to put their own money in to keep up with Manchester City and co? It’s certainly not an easy find. Any new owners open up a lot of questions, such as ticket prices, transfer meddling, and plenty more besides. There should be worry.
Personally, I’d prefer FSG to continue to hold a majority stake while selling some shares, allowing for an injection of cash that would enable Liverpool to compete financially with their state-owned rivals. But that could be just as hard to find as an investor with a good human rights record that has £4bn to spare.
Neil Atkinson, presenter and CEO of The Anfield Wrap
I don’t really care who owns Liverpool as long as it isn’t a state, isn’t fascists, isn’t attention-seeking weirdos giving it the big one, isn’t someone looking to raise their profile to avoid political assassination, or looking to launder money, and is an organisation which wants to develop the club on and off the pitch, including the women’s side, and is committed to hiring good people to work at all levels of the club and doesn’t take cash out of the club.
Bar a significant blip on the women’s side, which is hopefully in the process of being corrected, FSG have broadly managed to clear those low bars; most Premier League owners have fallen foul somewhere along the line. It’s important to acknowledge FSG haven’t turned your stomach, have been part of making Liverpool very competitive and when they have been wrong – which they have – they U-turned quickly when the opposite case has been forcefully made. But who wants to put an owner or ownership of all things on a banner? Yack. Also stomach turning.
So what’s next if not them? The percentage shout is someone who will further erode at least one of the above. The smart shout is to return to the Crouch review and ask again about having a far greater set of rules and regulations and, if need be, legislation regarding who should get to own the enormous cultural institutions that are our football clubs.
On the surface this could be a tribute act to when Liverpool’s then-owner David Moores was trawling the waters for investors 20 years or so ago, offering 10% of the club to the likes of Steve Morgan and Granada Television in exchange for bags of money and little significant say in the direction we would be travelling. Alternatively, we are maybe looking at the first step toward FSG’s endgame at Anfield. That said, I’m not convinced this is anything other than speculative, considering they are mid-rebuild of the Anfield Road end. Who builds a new stand if they have a premeditated eye on the exit door?
Either way, FSG have sent a clear message that they are happy to listen to interested parties. Should they soon be taking their leave of the club then nobody could seriously argue that they wouldn’t be leaving us in a significantly healthier position compared with where they found us. They haven’t been perfect though, and when they have got it wrong it has often been spectacular, yet they have been willing to do U-turns.
Any prospective new owner remains as hypothetical at this point as FSG’s departure, but I wouldn’t want us to go down the same path as Manchester City and Newcastle United. I’d class myself as being within a low-level state of trepidation.
Amar Singh, sports marketing expert
This week’s news has some Liverpool fans – particularly the younger ones – dreaming of a state-funded sportswashing consortium swooping in and signing Kylian Mbappé and giving us the spending power to match Manchester City. My message to those fans is simple: be careful what you wish for. For those of us who remember the state the club was in 12 years ago after the disastrous ownership of Hicks and Gillett, FSG will go down as saviours.
They have not been perfect owners; their role in the Super League debacle is a significant blot on their copybook. But Liverpool have won every trophy going during their tenure. Furthermore, they have invested heavily in Anfield, the new training ground in Kirkby and have helped the club grow its commercial revenue exponentially. FSG also made one of the most significant decisions in Liverpool’s history – hiring Klopp.
Liverpool have a deep history and a fanbase with a very clear set of shared values. If it was ever to be used as a tool to further the agenda of a nefarious state with values and laws that run contrary to what the club stands for, many of us would find it hard to stomach. So if FSG are selling up, it’s more important that the new owners aren’t using the club for geopolitical interests than whether they sign Mbappé.
Ian Salmon, playwright and author
I’m torn. I’ve no desire to see my club owned by a nation-state and used for influence in a way that sits badly with my politics, nor become the latest hobby of an oligarch; and I don’t want any hint of creative accounting to stain our achievements. The reality, though, is that if you want to compete at the top of the Premier League you need the limitless funds of owners willing to invest heavily and frequently rather than work toward self-sufficiency.
I’m not sure what actually constitutes a “good” owner now: I don’t think free-spending ethically sound billionaires in it for the love of the game exist, and I think we may be about to find out that FSG were preferable to many alternatives. They are owners who have made major mistakes in various areas but have achieved to a high level without being as problematic as we as a supporter base may view others.
Some fans are saying this could be the moment they can no longer support the club. I can’t see that as an option. My first game was five decades ago; it’s the club my grandfathers supported. I can’t let that go.
Pep Lijnders says Fenway Sports Group is acting in Liverpool’s best interest by seeking new investors for the club, with the assistant manager insisting Jürgen Klopp’s team are not distracted by the news.
On Monday the Boston-based company said Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley had been instructed to attract fresh investment. Lijnders, speaking before Wednesday’s Carabao Cup tie with Derby, views the move as positive.
“I always know the owners act in the best interests of the club and they always did,” he said. “I believe they always tried at least. This relationship was very important for us [him and Klopp]. Everybody who saw us in the last years, who realised who we are as a club, realised we have a strong relationship with the owners. They are good owners and I will explain a few reasons why.
“First one, [in April] they tied down one of the best managers in the world for seven-plus years. That says a lot. Second, they tied down the best players in the squad. The difference between top European or world clubs and sub-top is that the latter have to sell their best players. We tied down – [for example] Mo Salah’s contract.
“And then what is even more important, we have a stable academy. They invested in the academy, they invested in where we are sitting now – it’s one of the best training grounds in world football and it’s our new home. Then the main stand [at Anfield and] the new stand. We won a lot of cups: international and national prizes. They are acting in the best interests for this club to take it further.”
Lijnders insisted focus remained. “The statement was very clear,” he said. “How did it distract us? This is what I like about our club. We are so focused. There was a small discussion between Jürgen and me but from that moment on we started focusing [on] a big game coming up.”
Lijnders was asked whether his understanding was that new investors rather than new owners were being sought. “The statement was clear,” he said. “It’s nothing new for a club to try and find investors. They are trying to take the club forward. We knew before [the statement was released], of course. We knew about the statement but nothing more than you guys [reporters] knew.”
When Lijnders and Klopp signed their news deals it was on the understanding FSG would remain owner for the foreseeable future. “Of course but we are not naive to think that things [can’t] change in football,” he said.
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.
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.