There was something wholly appropriate the news Fenway Sports Group were open to the sale of Liverpool emerged mere minutes after the Reds were paired with Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16 on Monday.
And not, as some wags instantly suggested, because Jurgen Klopp’s side have found it impossible to overcome the Spaniards in recent seasons.
Back in April 2021, FSG chief John Henry jumped into bed alongside Real Madrid president Florentino Perez with confirmation Liverpool were one of the founding members of the European Super League, before beating a hasty retreat and apologising profusely for the decision in the midst of anger, upset and opposition from both supporters and employees.
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FSG have largely kept their heads down since. But what the ill-conceived ESL initiative did blatantly highlight was how the Liverpool owners didn’t want to be left out of any conversation concerning a possible future shift in the football landscape. Not when vast amounts of money are at stake.
Certainly, matters have changed since FSG wrestled control from Tom Hicks and George Gillett 12 years ago. They were tempted into the takeover given the prospect Financial Fair Play would allow them to be competitive in a sustainable manner similar to which they had transformed the fortunes of hometown baseball team the Boston Red Sox.
Of course, the success of state-owned Manchester City and the permission for Newcastle United to follow a similar ownership route has effectively rendered any lingering FFP rules no longer fit for purpose.
FSG, like almost every other European club, simply cannot compete with that level of backing, as has been exposed by their unwillingness to spend beyond their means in the transfer market. It has prompted frustration among certain supporters, with boss Jurgen Klopp indicating he would prefer a little more risk being taken in hope of greater reward.
The owners have long been acutely aware of the situation, and that they are seeking a fresh cash injection in the form of outside investment is nothing new.
But the most interesting aspect of the statement released by FSG on Monday was what it didn’t say. While stating they “would consider new shareholders if it was in the best interests of Liverpool as a club”, it didn’t rule out a complete sale – the first real public hint they may be ready to move on.
Ideally, FSG would want a small but sizeable investment from a silent partner. They’d retain control and be bolstered by extra funds. However, as hardened business people, they know the chance of that is slim. Anyone wanting even 15% of Liverpool’s shareholding would have to cough up a significant sum and want a say in all aspects of the club. And the Hicks-Gillett era gave the Reds painful first-hand experience of the issues that can be brought by joint ownership.
It’s why a complete takeover is not off the table. Which of course leads to another delicate matter.
FSG perhaps acknowledge they have taken Liverpool as far as they can in their current state. Indeed, their ownership came with an accepted exit strategy. They will also have noted the volatile financial markets of recent months and could be tempted into cashing in.
When – and it is when – they depart, they will, despite the missteps they have taken along the way, leave a club in an almost unrecognisable state to the one they took over, on a far healthier footing both on and off the field, and with a stadium and training complex fit for the future.
The proof is in Liverpool being valued at a whopping £3.6billion by Forbes, more than 10 times the £300m FSG – then known as New England Sports Ventures – splashed out to buy the club. In those terms it has proven an outstanding investment, aided undoubtedly by the silverware accrued since Klopp was named manager seven years ago.
However, very few businesses could meet that asking price, and even fewer individuals, regardless of Liverpool instantly becoming the most attractive sporting outfit on the market.
For the most vehement #FSGOUT critics on social media, selling up to anyone who could provide much greater transfer funds for the team to compete with City, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and the rest is all that will matter.
For the more discerning Liverpool supporter, though, there could be a moral quandary. FSG aren’t perfect, but they remain preferable to the Reds becoming state-owned, being handed over to a faceless consortium or becoming the plaything of a wealthy individual.
Would being able to compete for more leading players really be worth compromising principles that have prompted their criticism of the Manchester City and Newcastle regimes? Reds supporters wanting change will hope it isn’t a case of being careful what they wish for.
FSG remain Liverpool owners for now, but it’s clear their journey is now much nearer the end than the beginning. And to whom they ultimately hand over the Anfield reins could yet be their greatest legacy.