The journey to the title: Liverpool FC under FSG

The Fenway Sports Group (FSG), previously known as New England Sports Venture (NESV) was founded in 2001 by John W Henry and Thomas C Werner. They bought the Boston Red Sox, a Major League Baseball team in 2002. In 2004, they broke the famous ‘Curse of the Bambino’ and ended an 86-year wait for their 6th World Series win.

John Henry famously hired Bill James after seeing what Billy Beane achieved with the Oakland A’s by using Bill James’s sabermetrics (statistical analysis in baseball). Bill James and Billy Beane became widely known in the sporting world with the publication of ‘Moneyball’ by Michael Lewis and the Brad Pitt movie of the same name. 

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Since 2003, the Red Sox have won four world series and have been one of the most successful teams in the 21st century. In 2010, FSG expanded their sporting interests outside the U.S., and took over Liverpool FC from Tom Hicks and George Gillett in October 2010. In this piece we take a look at FSG’s 10 years at Liverpool and how they took a seventh place club to the top of English Football.

The first five years

When FSG first took over from Hicks and Gillett, they were paying £340,000 per week on interest on loans. They were not in the Champions League and had a new manager in Roy Hodgson. The first transfer window they faced in January was a massive one. On 8th January 2011, they replaced Roy Hodgson with club legend Kenny Dalglish. A busy deadline day followed with Fernando Torres leaving the club, with Andy Carroll and Luis Suárez joining the club.

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The following season, Dalglish won the League Cup and provided FSG their first silverware in Liverpool. However, they still finished 8th, outside the European spots. This led to Kenny Dalglish being sacked with Brendan Rodgers came in to replace the Scot.

Under Rodgers they faced a steady first season. What followed was the 2013-14 season and the infamous Gerrard slip against Chelsea. Demba Ba took advantage of the captain’s error, meaning that Liverpool’s wait for the Premier League trophy had to go on for longer.  They finished second that season. Rodgers could not replicate this in his third season in charge and Liverpool ended up outside the top four yet again. The next season did not start great either and Brendan Rodgers was sacked in October and replaced by Jürgen Klopp almost exactly five years to the day since FSG took over at Liverpool.

The Financial Side

FSG have completely changed Liverpool around from a financial aspect. Hicks and Gillett had left the club in relative turmoil with huge debts and bad financial errors to correct.

In their 10 years, FSG have made Liverpool a financially stable club not only at the present moment but with a promising future. When you compare their situation in 2010 to 2019, commercial income has trebled from £67.7m to £188m, broadcasting revenue has increased from £74.6m to £263.8m and match-day Income has doubled from £42.5m to £83.3m. These three areas of improvement can be seen through different measures taken by the club.

In 2014, work began to increase the capacity of Anfield by 8,500 seats which opened in 2016. Improvements were also made to the corporate facilities at the stadium. This means Liverpool now earn the third highest match-day revenue in English football behind Manchester United and Arsenal who have bigger stadiums.

These improvements made Liverpool attractive to sponsors and thus leading to the increase in the commercial aspects. Liverpool made nine new commercial signings in 2018/19 alone. Liverpool also signed a massive contract with Nike to replace New Balance as their kit manufacturer from the 2020/21 season. This is estimated to bring £75m-£80m of revenue every season with Liverpool’s red strip being one of the most famous in the world.

Liverpool have signed many commercial deals with regional focus such as a new retail outlet in Malaysia, a real estate partner and a bank sponsor in Egypt, built around Mohamed Salah’s success at Anfield. These factors have all helped make commercial revenue the club’s fastest growing revenue source for the club.

The improvement on the field plus their historic status as one of the biggest clubs in world football certainly helped the cause. This has helped the broadcasting side of it as well. With new TV deals for the Premier League and Liverpool consistently qualifying for Europe plus reaching consecutive Champions League finals has massively increased broadcasting revenue since the decade began. The drastic improvement financially is not only seen through commercial deals but player deals as well.

Sensible and successful transfers

One aspect in which Liverpool have continuously succeeded in the past ten years is to replace big players who left the club.

They began in 2011, selling Fernando Torres to Chelsea for £50m and they found a replacement in Luis Suárez, who was the top scorer in every full season he played for the club. In 2014, Suárez was sold to Barcelona for a fee rumoured to be around £65m.

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The following year, Raheem Sterling went to Manchester City for an initial fee of £44m plus add-ons. Then in 2018 came one of the biggest transfers in football history when attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona for an initial fee of £105m, rising to as much as £142m. Liverpool had lost arguably their three biggest players but got received handsome fees, and, most importantly, they managed to replace them.

Liverpool signed Roberto Firmino in 2015, Sadio Mané in 2016 and Mohamed Salah in 2017. These players now constitute arguably the best front three in world football. Liverpool also made major upgrades to their weakest area, the defence. They recruited Roma and Brazil keeper Alisson Becker and Virgil van Dijk from Southampton, for a record transfer fee for a defender at the time.

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In 2017, they signed Andrew Robertson for £8m from relegated Hull City – a once-mediocre move which now looks like one of the bargains of the decade. In 2018, Fabinho was signed to partner Jordan Henderson in midfield who stepped up to the role of captain when Steven Gerrard left the club in 2015.

Liverpool do not seem to miss Suarez, Sterling and Coutinho, and at the moment have one of the best teams in the world. The credit definitely goes to the club’s transfer board and mainly, one man…

Jürgen Klopp

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FSG went about choosing Brendan Rodgers’ successor in an unbiased and tactical manner. Michael Gordon, the president of FSG, described the process as similar to an investment business decision before taking up a big position.

So, they set aside Klopp’s popularity and analysed his previous roles as the head coach of Mainz and Borussia Dortmund. They looked at his points per game, average goals in a season and the financial impact his teams had on the club. Klopp seemed to be a perfect candidate from am investment arithmetic point of view. Later, when Klopp met with Gordon, John Henry and Liverpool chairman Thomas Werner, FSG were convinced they found the right man.

From day one, Klopp set out to activate the Anfield crowd. His passion, charisma and desire on the touchline are a clear example of what his character is and it matched perfectly with the club.

Jamie Carragher has said that he had never seen a manager with this much power over the supporters. Liverpool fans have taken to Klopp and he has taken to them. In these five years, Klopp has taken Liverpool to a Europa League final, two consecutive Champions League finals and won at the second time of asking.

Finally, after 30 long years, Klopp helped delivered the Premier League title to Liverpool. FSG can be proud of the fact that they could not have chosen a better man for the job.

A New Hope

A bleak start to the decade for the Merseyside club has turned into a fairytale ending. FSG have done a stunning job to revive Liverpool and get them back to where their fans truly believe they belong; at the summit of English football.

10 years after they took over, John Henry and company have managed to end another title drought. Klopp and FSG have brought a sense of belief and pride back to the club and every Liverpool fan believes that the wait for their 20th top-flight title is going to be much less than the painful 30 years.

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