Liverpool FC: Fenway Sports Group Are Messy Choosers in Search for New Manager

Andy Thomas@@drcornwallisContributor IIIMay 25, 2012

Let’s start from the beginning.

Kenny Dalglish needed to go. Hopefully he was offered a prestige retirement role and not just outright sacked, but he’s a proud man and would likely turn down such an offer.

Many Liverpool fans are now angry that a replacement was not sought before sacking Dalglish.  However, the simple truth is that these same Liverpool fans would have been outraged if they heard that Fenway Sports Group (FSG) interviewed incumbents while Dalglish was still employed. As messy as all this is right now, it’s nothing compared to what would have happened if it appeared that Dalglish was being undermined and disrespected by FSG.

So, with that decision made, the search for an incumbent then begins.

This list includes the potential candidates for the job of Liverpool manager, however unlikely some of them seem to be. And therein lies the problem.

Frank de Boer: Ajax

Rafael Benitez: Unattached

Jurgen Klopp: Borussia Dortmund

Roberto Martinez: Wigan Athletic

Frank Rijkaard: Saudi Arabia national team

Brendan Rogers: Swansea City

Andre Villas-Boas: Unattached

Josep Guardiola: Unattached

Liverpool Football Club are not as big a club as one would think. They were once a massive club, but rapidly became irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Nottingham Forest, Leeds and Aston Villa were once massive clubs as well, but they faltered and became less and less relevant.

Of course, Liverpool are not at that level—yet. I say "yet" because in no way can you say it will never happen. I bet all three of those clubs once thought they would be immortal. Liverpool’s future is in Liverpool’s hands. It’s how they manage in the present that will determine their future. 

The other aspect of all this is the working conditions likely to be imposed on the club by FSG. They want an American sports model, whereby there is a head coach/trainer and a general manager. This sort of combination is mostly unheard of in European football. The manager has always been the one to make personnel decisions as long as he answered to the chairman. 

However, I do see some logic in what FSG is trying to achieve. It’s brave—very brave—and if it works it could change the landscape of management in football.

Then again, tradition is all-powerful in Europe—especially England—and it’s not guaranteed to be a successful transition.

The one problem with such a system is where do you get the head coach? It will be difficult to find an experienced coach willing to accept a diminished role after experiencing great power within an organization. 

That’s not to say that the head coach will not have input in personnel decisions, but the general manager will ultimately have the final say. That’s fine by me—that’s a good thing. Football managers spend money like confetti and don’t suffer any real repercussions or audit examination. 

Fine. They might lose their jobs, but they’ll get a hefty payout and will likely find a job shortly after. Harry Redknapp has dragged Southampton and Portsmouth through massive financial turmoil with his previous buys. Such a practice is totally unhealthy. 

And that’s why I understand FSG’s take on this. There has to be more checks and balances in place.

The other aspect of it all is the ethos of a club. Each new manager appointed is like a brand new dawn—everything changes. Change ends up being the norm, and nothing ever settles. So here is where FSG sees the chance to refine and improve the system, and I applaud them for it. Make the director of football (general manager) a long-term appointment, and then hire and fire the head coach as results dictate.

This will not change the ethos of the club or the staff or the players. They play in a certain way and believe in a certain ideal. If you join this club, then you understand this and do not deviate from it. If you don’t believe in it, then the job is not for you.

Of course, this can have pitfalls if the director of football does not have good ideas, and this is why you move heaven and earth to find a brilliant director of football. Names like Johann Cruyff have been mentioned, but it looks highly likely to be Louis Van Gaal who is favoured to get the position. 

This Dutch flavour may then excite fans to the point that Rijkaard and De Boer were mentioned as possible managers, but it also raises two issues. The first issue is Van Gaal’s ability to work with others. Can he finally do so? The second issue is the diminished responsibility of the job. Would it scare Rijkaard and De Boer to enter into a high-profile job with such little overall power?

These questions have led to the name Martinez being mentioned more and more. Therein lies a manager who could be the sort of person to work under a new regime. He’s not massively experienced enough to expect star treatment at a club, but his star is seemingly in the ascendancy in the coaching world. 

Liverpool are basically looking for a man to coach the players, test them, get them playing, get them excited and push them. Success on the field will basically be down to this individual, but he will have to work with what he is given.

Although one can ask for better tools, one cannot use it as an excuse when such tools are not implemented. Can Martinez handle this? Will the players respond to him? It’s highly debatable, and maybe this is part of the problem. Liverpool have some players who perhaps see themselves as more important to the club than other players, and that sort of attitude will sink a struggling club. 

One of the first jobs of the director of football might be to remove any dissenters, however senior they may be The voice of dissent has led to the loss of four managers in two years now, and it has to end. Some of these players talk a good game, but the medals in their club trophy cabinet suggest a career of waste rather than a career of achievement. 

I’m not sure the DoF should listen to a word coming from the Anfield dressing room; I don’t think they’ve earned the right to dictate terms to a club like Liverpool after bringing the club to this point.

The big gripe for many fans has been the seeming exclusion of Rafa Benitez from the shortlist. I’m not sure he could tolerate working under the conditions to be imposed by FSG. The same can be said for Klopp, Low and just about every other name on that list that.

What Liverpool need, perhaps more than Benitez, is a coach like Pako Ayesteran to come in and get the team functioning, fit and open to learning. Although Liverpool supporters may complain about the status of Martinez as a possible head coach, I actually think that he is quite a big name when it comes to accepting a position like the one being offered by FSG.

What FSG is doing is fascinating. Whether or not it’s correct remains to be seen, and I think their ideas would have been better tested at a lower-profile club first, but we could be witnessing a revolution in football management systems. Or we could be witnessing the biggest disaster in modern football history.

Either way, it’s essential viewing.


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