London - “We came into this not knowing an awful lot about football. We knew how little we knew, but I don’t think we realised how large the gulf was between the sports we are used to and the way they are organised in the United States. This is a completely different animal.” - John W Henry, July 24, 2012.
The question Liverpool supporters are asking, in light of the latest, turbulent episode to engulf this ailing old club is how much knowledge John W Henry and his cohorts at Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the club’s American owners, really have of the English game.
While it may be admirable that FSG have an ideology and a philosophy to which they want to adhere, they should be fully aware now that, to be successful in football, flexibility is required, particularly in the transfer market.
In using Liverpool’s official website to publish an open letter to supporters on Monday, Henry robustly spelt out it will be FSG’s way or no way at all and the crux of his argument showed the reasons why new manager Brendan Rodgers was not allowed to sign Clint Dempsey from Fulham for £6million.
“Spending is not merely about buying talent,” said Henry, Liverpool’s principal owner. “Our ambitions do not lie in cementing a mid-table place with expensive, short-term quick fixes that will only contribute for a couple of years.”
Those words back up his declaration that he came into football not knowing an awful lot. No club should have a transfer policy that is unyielding, blinkered and set in stone. It is quite often the left-field signings that have the biggest impact.
Liverpool signed 35-year-old Gary McAllister in 2000. Within 12 months, Gerard Houllier’s side had collected five trophies, with the veteran Scottish midfielder playing a vital role.
Teddy Sheringham was signed by Manchester United in 1997, aged 31, to replace Eric Cantona. Two years later Sir Alex Ferguson won the treble.
In 2007 Ferguson asked the 35-year-old Henrik Larsson to join on loan as United won their 17th title.
When at Leeds, Gordon Strachan was crowned Footballer of the Year in 1991, aged 34, and led them to the title in 1992, while Patrick Vieira, also at 34, brought calm to Manchester City when arriving from Inter Milan to help them win the FA Cup in 2011.
This is not comparing Dempsey to those players, but the argument stands. Rodgers wanted him all summer. FSG knew that, but they refused to pay £6m for someone who scored 17 goals in the top flight last year.
They did, however, pay £1m for the untried 17-year-old Samed Yesil from Bayer Leverkusen. Many are wondering whether that fee would have been better utilised funding the bid for Dempsey.
Goals are what Liverpool desperately need. The wage bill may have needed a trim, but the departures of Charlie Adam, Dirk Kuyt, Andy Carroll, Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy have left Rodgers’ side bereft of potency.
That quintet contributed 32 goals last season and they have not been replaced, despite Henry claiming that the summer window could not be deemed a failure.
The atmosphere on Merseyside is now strained. Henry’s promise that FSG are committed both long term and to delivering a winning team will ring hollow in many quarters.
There are growing numbers on The Kop who view the scene with suspicion and it is hard not to feel that the man who succeeded Kenny Dalglish has been undermined.
“We needed reinforcements,” said Rodgers after Sunday’s 2-0 defeat against Arsenal. “But the window is shut and we have to concentrate on the players here. They have given me everything every day.”
But how much can they continue to give? Liverpool do not have the numbers to compete on three fronts between now and Christmas and it is likely that the Europa League campaign will assume least significance.
Trips to Switzerland later this month, and Russia in November are followed by domestic assignments against Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, and Rodgers is unlikely to sacrifice the likes of Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard in Europe.
A glance at the players available shows an alarming lack of depth. Right now, Liverpool’s immediate ambitions are nothing grander than just getting by.