As Liverpool sat top of the tree at Christmas, and enter the New Year just six points off the League leaders, it's easy to forget just how far they have come in the three years since near oblivion under George Gillett and Tom Hicks.
This past year has been a hugely successful one for Liverpool both on and off the pitch, finally showing signs that the nightmare reign of the American duo is over.
Liverpool were one of the few sides to have had stability entering the 2013/14 Premier League season. While others changed managers, sold star players and underwent restructuring, Liverpool kept hold of Luis Suarez, built upon the foundations laid the year before and solidified their structure.
When New England Sports Ventures, as they were then known, purchased Liverpool in the autumn of 2010, they embarked upon a process that they perhaps did not realise the full extremities of.
Mistakes were made, as you may expect with a first venture into a new area—not that football supporters can be so understanding and patient.
Primarily, Fenway Sports Group placed too much trust in their appointment of Damien Comolli, which subsequently led to the exorbitant fees paid for Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson.
Righting the Wrongs
2013 has seen Carroll and Downing both leave on a permanent basis—recouping £21 million on the pair. Indeed, the £15 million received from West Ham for Carroll in the summer is almost as good business as the original £35 million spent was bad.
Others on high wages that did not reflect their squad statuses, such as Joe Cole and Alexander Doni, have left the club too.
The newly formed transfer committee has also started its work this year, replacing the role of a single director of football, or similar. Transfer fees are no longer decided by just one man's opinion but instead a shared pool of key men at the club.
That has led to the excellent business in signing Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho last January—both for impressive fees. Those two would recoup double what Liverpool paid for them 12 months ago if they were sold today. This is the type of signing FSG desire—where value can increase.
The summer, similarly, saw some shrewd business with the decision to bring in Simon Mignolet for Pepe Reina proving justified as the season progresses.
Signal of Intent
John Henry's handling of the Luis Suarez saga this summer is indicative of where FSG and Liverpool are at. The club dealt with the situation admirably and somehow managed to move on from what looked at times an irreparable situation.
The recent signing of a new contract, as little as contracts can mean in the modern game, is another sign of progress and intent from the club—FSG know the value of a truly world class player and are prepared to put the proverbial money where their mouth is.
Off the Pitch
Off the pitch too, the club has made progress. The redevelopment of Anfield remains high on the agenda and progress has admittedly been slow, but this is largely out of the control of the club's owners.
Once progress is made, via the compulsory purchasing of the homes around the Main Stand by the council, plans can be announced and real progress be made.
The aforementioned sales of Downing, Carroll et al. have enabled Liverpool to reduce their wage bill dramatically, and players are now earning within their squad status. No longer are some of the highest-paid players sat on the bench or merely making up squad numbers.
Clear Vision and Philosophy
As evidenced by the recent debacle at Cardiff with Vincent Tan and Malky Mackay, and previously under Hicks and Gillett at Anfield, one of if not the most important relationships at a football club is that between the manager and owner(s).
For Liverpool, they now have a manager and owners who share the same vision and philosophy in order to move the football club forward.
FSG are happy for Brendan Rodgers to make brave decisions such as the one to loan out Reina and replace him with a younger keeper who will be the club's future for several years. Similarly, FSG made the double-signing of Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori despite centre-back not being a primary requirement. They know the importance of safeguarding the future of the club.
Further, similar decisions will soon be made with the likely replacements for the likes of Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel and Lucas Leiva—but Rodgers can, crucially, make those tough calls knowing he has the support of the owners.
Liverpool's squad is a young, exciting group of players who will only improve—especially under a similarly young, modern coach.
Progress may have been slow and a case of "two steps forward, one step back" at times, but overall the club is moving forward and in a healthy position for the future.
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