The title is not enough for some Liverpool fans.
Instead of basking in the satisfaction of the club’s Premier League win this summer, a minority are boiling with frustration. The problem is transfers.
The window is open and high-profile targets are going elsewhere. Jadon Sancho looks to be on his way from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United. Kai Havertz could be on the move from Bayer Leverkusen to Chelsea. Timo Werner, who Liverpool appeared close to signing, has already arrived at Stamford Bridge. The rage among a subset of Liverpool supporters has grown with every headline. They blame Fenway Sports Group (FSG) for the inactivity. You have to wonder whether the critics would prefer Timo to a title. Sometimes it seems that way.
Social media amplifies the discontent and it is hard to imagine that the ‘FSG Out’ crew have any real credibility after successive seasons have delivered the Champions League and Premier League trophies to Merseyside. Jurgen Klopp has brought a new era of glory to Anfield. Positivity abounds. The American owners have backed the manager to the hilt.
Yet there is some substance to the concerns about recruitment. On the Kop, they are steeped in history. It has been hammered into the fans’ psyche that dominant sides build from a position of strength. The great Liverpool teams of the 1970s and 80s proved this dogma. Sir Alex Ferguson applied the same policy after Manchester United usurped Liverpool’s position at the top of English football. Logic says upgrade rather than rebuild.
Klopp did not reinforce in any significant manner after the Champions League success last year – although Takumi Minamino’s arrival from Red Bull Salzburg in January rather bucks the narrative. The ‘gamble’ of entering 2019/20 with the same squad paid off beautifully. The question is whether Liverpool can repeat the trick next season.
FSG do things differently. They have owned the club for almost a decade and, at times, their instinct to take an unconventional approach has backfired. The Boston-based investment group came into the Premier League under the misapprehension that their methods were cleverer and much more sophisticated than those of their rivals. Their first five years in charge showed the flaws in that way of thinking.
The owners have also had to deal with a residual well of mistrust that was the result of the actions of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who controlled the club before FSG acquired Anfield. Hicks and Gillett heaped debt on Liverpool and almost plunged the team into bankruptcy. Supporters were deeply involved in the battle to oust the previous American owners, and Hicks referred to a section of the fans as ‘internet terrorists’. FSG have little in common with their predecessors, except for their nationality. For some, though, a lingering doubt remains about the motives of John W Henry and co.
One of the big issues for those people is FSG’s ownership of the Boston Red Sox. Even though the two clubs are run as completely separate entities, there have always been some who are ready to claim that money is being syphoned off from Liverpool to bolster the Major League Baseball team – or vice versa. Nothing could be further from the truth, but in the world of internet conspiracy theories, the myth persists. Coronavirus has had an even more drastic impact on baseball than football and there is a possibility that the season will be abandoned. Even though this will not affect Liverpool, there will be a school of thought that uses the Red Sox’s travails to explain Anfield’s recruitment policy.
The truth is much more straightforward. The Covid-19 emergency has left everyone at Liverpool cautious about buying. If Klopp is going to spend big, it has to be on the right player. The German has an advantage because his first XI virtually picks itself. Everyone else in the Premier League needs to strengthen significantly – especially at the back – if they are to mount a challenge in the coming campaign. The arrival of Werner does not address Chelsea’s fundamental weakness in defence, and Havertz would not help either. Pep Guardiola needs to perform surgery on Manchester City’s defence. Manchester United will leak goals whether or not Sancho becomes a Red Devil. Because of the circumstances, Liverpool can afford to sit tight and avoid going into the market because of their position of strength.
That does not mean there will be no new faces at Anfield. In the short term, the priority is lowering the wage bill and getting rid of those surplus to requirements. Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren have already gone and more will follow. If Klopp finds a player he really wants, FSG will find the money. The squad will almost certainly be strengthened by 5 October when the window shuts.
Another factor in the criticism is the modern mindset where the fascination with transfers transcends the reality of what an incoming player can actually do to improve the team. A certain kind of supporter becomes obsessed with a potential signing and ‘marquee names’. Almost every year there is an individual whose name becomes associated with Liverpool. Thomas Lemar and Nabil Fekir, for example, generated irrational excitement. It’s possible to compile an entire squad of these boys of summer who never went on to kick a ball for Liverpool in the winter. Werner is the latest on the list.
When players with big reputations sign elsewhere, the fulminating goes into overdrive. It is bizarre that the close season and its manoeuvres excite some almost more than the action on the pitch.
The voices who cry “FSG out” never suggest who might replace the Americans, either. The owners have long let it be known they would listen to offers at the right price, although there is no rush to offload the club. There are very few buyers in this environment, and Henry, the principal owner, is extremely conscious of his legacy. He maintains he would never cash in and leave the club in the wrong hands. The woes of Newcastle United at the moment should give those who want rid of FSG pause for thought. Be careful what you wish for: Owners who have overseen the improvement of the past three years should be feted rather than demeaned.
Most matchgoing Liverpool supporters are enjoying the afterglow of the first title win in 30 years. They trust Klopp. FSG will buy if they find the right player and will not shy away from big price tags. Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker prove that. The owners will be careful, though, in this uncertain financial landscape.
Liverpool’s first team is strong, the youth system is producing options and squad morale is high. It makes sense to wait for the right deal. If it does not come this summer, there will be no sense of panic. It is foolish to rage over transfers when the smell of glory is so fresh in the air.