Barely two weeks since John Henry and the New England Sports Venture took over Liverpool FC they have begun to put their stamp on the club. Not only has Damien Comolli been placed between the Directors at the club and Roy Hodgson but co-owner Tom Werner has also made it known how NESV will try to exploit the club going forward.
Damien Comolli is the Master of Liverpool’s Future:
The manner in which Comolli was installed as “Director of Football Strategy” will be a concern to many people who have links with the club, not least manager Roy Hodgson and “Ambassador and Head of Football Development” Kenny Dalglish.
The ex-player and manager was brought back to the club by Rafael Benitez, prior to the Spaniards sacking, with a view to taking a strategic role in the club’s youth academy.
Dalglish’s involvement at the club during Rafa’s last year was limited but when the board removed Benitez, the Scot legend found himself playing a key role in the hunt for the clubs new manager.
That issue became somewhat complicated when Dalglish decided that none of the potential candidates were good enough for the task ahead and he officially put himself forward for the job.
His application fell on deaf ears as Christian Purslow pushed for Roy Hodgson to get the job, leaving Dalglish as an “ambassador” for the club.
Fans famously chanted his name as Everton beat Liverpool 2-0 at Goodison Park, a result which left the Reds floundering in the relegation zone.
The loss against Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals immediately threw Roy Hodgson’s future at the club into doubt. However, just hours before the game against Everton, Hodgson received huge backing by Tom Werner.
“We have confidence in Roy,” co-owner Tom Werner told BBC’s Sportsweek.
“Nobody will be pleased with the start of the season but the club ought to gel and Roy needs to be given time.”
“I think the one prescription for disaster is to lurch to the left and lurch to the right and we see no reason why Roy can’t be our coach this year and in the future.”
Given the news that Comolli will now play a more important strategic role at the club than Hodgson it would seem that the ex-Fulham manager has been lurched to the left.
NESV did not even consult with him and one can only come to the conclusion that Hodgson’s future at the club will only be short term.
“I really didn’t talk that much with Roy over the week or so before we made the decision to bring Damien in,” Henry told Sky Sports News. “I think he may have been surprised when I brought it up a couple of days before we brought in Damien.”
Henry said Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team, recommended Comolli for the job.
The move to bring Comolli in only hastens Hodgson’s exit out the famous Shankly Gates despite his effort to put a brave face on the matter. The Reds manager released a carefully worded statement to Liverpool’s official website.
“I feel very good about it. (Comolli’s appointment) It is something we have talked about with the owners and something they were very keen to put in place. (Even though John Henry had already admitted that Hodgson was not consulted.)
“The owners come from an American sporting background where the team manager is very much responsible for team affairs, but alongside him there is a person who can have all sorts of titles, a type of sporting director in European terms.
“If you’re going to run a football club these days there are a lot of elements that need to be dealt with. Recruitment of players and scouting is a major, major aspect in this respect, as of course is the Academy and all the work you need to do to bring players through. All of this has a life of its own to some extent outside the life of a first-team squad. (Where does this leave Dalglish and the Academy?)
“In Europe I am very used to having a situation where you have to work alongside people like that and I think it is becoming more and more common in England as well, so that’s something the new owners wanted to introduce to the club and I welcome it very much. (Hodgson is used to the role because he was Sporting Director at Inter Milan)
“The days of the ‘dictator type’ English manager have long since passed anyway, where everything went through one man and no-one dared even buy a paper clip without that person’s approval. (So, the system that served Liverpool so well with Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, and Kenny Dalglish is suddenly wrong?)
“It is just a question of strategy which I think makes a lot of sense for all football clubs and certainly makes a lot of sense for our football club at this moment in time because we’re in a transition.
“I think it is going to be a great advantage to us to have a man of Damien’s qualities, knowledge and experience and I think we can only profit from it as a club. I am looking forward to working with him.”
It is strange that Hodgson was not consulted about Comolli but yet portrays that he was, and it is also revealing how he casually dismisses the great past of the club he currently manages. As a PR exercise his choice of words is poor to say the least.
He also continues to erode his own footing by insisting that Comolli’s appointment is good because, as he explains, there is just too much for him to do.
This is especially atypical when you consider that Hodgson actually performed the same role at Inter Milan. He has over 45 years of experience as a player and a manager, and all of a sudden considers Comolli, whose career at Arsenal and Spurs wasn’t exactly electric, the right person to advise him on new players?
No matter which way you look at the situation, it just does not add up.
A Director of Football Makes Sense…
Bringing a Director of Football in does make a lot of sense for a big settled club. Liverpool are simply too big a club to trust the present and future to just one man.
Since 1991, Liverpool has gone through seven management changes and not one Premier League title.
From Graham Souness’ traditional 442, to Roy Evans’ 352, to Gerard Houillier’s 4411, to Rafael Benitez’s 4231 formation, and back to Roy Hodgson; each change in manager represents a new change and direction for the club.
Conventional wisdom in Britain has a new manager coming into a club and taking a season or so to assess his team before embarking on his own transfer strategy and bringing in his own players for his own system.
And then—when that inevitably fails—in comes a new manager and the whole process starts again, with it a huge amount of money spent.
At all of Europe’s major clubs—Great Britain excluded—the role of Director of Football is heavily utilised. Ajax, Barca, Bayern, Madrid, Milan, Inter, Juve, Valencia, PSV, and Lyon: The list of clubs where the Director is used is long.
The main reason for using a Director of Football is to allow continuity at a club. It is he who decides on what style of play the club uses, what formation the club uses, and then that strategy is developed throughout the entire club.
Every team in the club, from underage to senior level, use the same formation and playing style; in that way, players fit in seamlessly as they move up the ranks.
And then, finally, the Director of Football—after deciding on these two key issues—goes out and brings in a manager who has to comply with these main areas.
What this brings to a club is continuity. Managers can come and go, but the formation and players are seamless, and can be moved on to the next manager who will utilise them, hopefully in a better way than the last.
Player recruitment is then spread between four or five knowledgeable persons. Namely the DoF, manager, Chief Executive, Chief Scout, and maybe an advisor or assistant manager.
A wisdom of crowds approach is used where the merits of a player are discussed and then voted on as to whether to sign him or not. This essentially means that there should be less risk of bringing poor players to the club. An accusation that has been levelled at the previous regime with some merit.
The sporting director should be the one consistent piece in the jigsaw, so that information, knowledge, and structures remain in place for the long term and help ensure sustained success.
At many clubs on the continent, the head coach is made aware from the outset that his job is simply to coach, prepare, and select the team. The head coach will hold regular discussions with the sporting director about players he wishes to sign and positions he needs to fill, but recruitment itself is the job of the sporting director.
That is the direction Liverpool should follow.
A sporting director would allow Liverpool to plan for the future, use the same formation every season, create players to fit in, and then bring in a coach who can pinpoint key areas that need strengthening.
Ultimately, a good director of football should be like a good referee—making crucial decisions, not interfering unnecessarily, and going about his business quietly so that everything around him runs smoothly.
This is where NESV has gone horribly wrong. They are imposing a new system upon Hodgson, a system that he did not agree to when he first signed but is now finding it foisted upon him. His natural reaction is to comply with his superior’s decisions but deep down he will be seething.
One other area where NESV have gone badly wrong would seem to be the appointment of Comolli. The troubles the Frenchman had with Martin Jol and Juande Ramos at Tottenham Hotspur are well documented with the Dutch manager feeling extremely undermined by Comolli while DoF at Spurs.
When Juande Ramos replaced Jol after his botched sacking against Getafe in the Europa League, he too fell foul of Comolli and complained bitterly of having players sold from under his feet without his knowledge.
Ramos used knowledge gleaned while manager of Sevilla to fight back against Comolli when he questioned the signing of Kevin-Prince Boateng to Spurs for £5m from Hertha Berlin when Sevilla were the other bidder and refused to go above £2m.
The Spaniard also questioned Comolli’s role at the club when 32-year-old Gilberto was signed from Hertha Berlin for £2m when there was only six months left on his contract and Spurs were the only team interested in trying to sign him.
Conspiracy theorists on the internet began to formulate the idea that Comolli was spending a lot of money at specific clubs while bringing in very little.
In the end Daniel Levy sacked Ramos and Comolli and replaced them with Harry Redknapp.
There is little doubt that the DoF role can be an incredibly important role and a good one for a club but in this instance Liverpool have done everything wrong. Comolli is plainly not the eight man for the task, nor is Roy Hodgson the man to lead the club as manager.
But Hodgson would make an extremely good Director of Football…
Where is Kenny Dalglish in all of this?
From the installation of Comolli we can ascertain that NESV are putting their stamp on the club and want everything to do with the old ways gone. Christian Purslow has already been replaced on the board by an NESV member and now NESV can not be out-voted the way that Tom Hicks and George Gillett were.
It would seem that Dalglish is little more than a peripheral figure at the club now, Liverpool’s version of Manchester United’s Bobby Charlton if you like.
Liverpool, NESV, and Asia:
The other area where NESV will try to exploit Liverpool is through television marketing. In this regard they are world leaders. The Boston Red Sox are not the most supported team in Baseball but they off field revenue allows them to compete against the largest of franchises with ease.
On buying Liverpool they will have already begun working on a strategy to expose Liverpool in the Middle and Far East, particularly China.
If these untapped markets can be broken then NESV and Liverpool could literally be sitting upon a goldmine.
One of the key elements to this strategy is playing matches in these regions.
Even before he has succeeded Martin Broughton as Chairman of the club, Tom Werner has spoken about exploring the concept of playing an EPL match away from England to promote his club.
“Pre-season matches are great but why not have an actual match in season?” Werner told BBC Sport.
“I think first of all the Premier League is the strongest league in the world and its reach is global,” added the 60-year-old American.
“It’s been very impressive to me, the number of people globally who watch, and we hope to expand that imprint. I think the more important the game the more excitement.”
“We consider Liverpool to have untapped potential globally and we’re focused on how to increase revenues so we can compete with Man United and Arsenal and Chelsea,” Werner said. “One place we’ve been focused on is Asia. We’re making a trip there after the season ends. When I saw the support the club had in Singapore a few years ago, that’s the tip of the iceberg.”
“We don’t have the wealth London has. If we were Chelsea or Arsenal, we’d concentrate on London but we can’t concentrate on Liverpool when it comes to generating the kind of revenues that will compete with other clubs.”
“We are planning to make a trip to Asia in the summer. Liverpool is a great club in Asia but we plan to expand our reach there.”
“We’ve got potentially millions of fans there. I think we’ll grow revenues in the UK but it’s a great opportunity globally.”
NESV will try to exploit the areas that Tom Hicks and George Gillett were unable to.
While another element that NESV will attack is Liverpool’s expanding wage bill. Under Rafael Benitez’s reign the Reds wage bill increased from £66m in 2004 to over £100m in 2010.
“There were a number of unpleasant surprises during our due diligence. The wage bill is high, it’s going to be higher next year and we’re not a young team. That was disappointing,” Henry said.
Judging by NESV’s actions this week it would seem that they will look at reducing the clubs wages while bringing in younger players at the same time. And while all of that is going on they probably retro-fit Anfield and expand it slightly to be ready for UEFA’s rule changes on financial fairplay.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for Liverpool fans, but a lot will rest on the shoulders of Hodgson.
He has lost all the power at Anfield but still holds all the responsibility if things go wrong on the pitch…