Deja Vu: John Henry’s Open Letter to Fans

Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Liverpool Football Club’s principal owner John W. Henry has written the following open letter to supporters. Again.

Once more, I am as disappointed as anyone connected with Liverpool Football Club that we were unable to add further to our attack in the January transfer window. Believe me, I wanted us to sign Yevhen Konoplyanka. All I can say is that our failure to do so was — yet again — not through any lack of desire or effort on the part of all those involved.

Don’t believe me? Ian Ayre’s been in Dnipropetrovsk since Wednesday, and I can assure you, it hasn’t been a vacation for him. Dnipropetrovsk in January seldom is, and that’s before you consider that Ukraine is far from a picture of political stability at the moment. I can promise you there is no length that we are unwilling to go, as custodians of this great club, in order to secure the talent that will take Liverpool back to where it belongs. We’d send Ian to late-‘70s Tehran if it meant securing a player worthy of our aspirations.

No, our absence of activity this transfer window was not for lack of want. And as I’ve stressed before, our transfer policy is not about cutting costs. It remains, as it always will, about getting maximum value for what is spent. The fact of the matter is that Tom and I continue to be avowed proponents of Mr. Platini’s Financial Fair Play agenda, and are committed to complying with the guidelines set forth by UEFA. We look at the expenditures of our rivals at Chelsea and Manchester City, and we shake our heads at their irresponsibility. We look at the personnel strategies employed by Manchester United, and scoff at the price paid for “world class” talent. We look at Arsenal bringing in experienced cover in a position of need, and we ask, “Why bother?”

That being said, Tom and I came into this club with a couple misconceptions that we’ll readily admit were wrong. For one, we didn’t initially realize that breaking back into the Premier League elite would be, well, so hard. We failed to understand just how difficult a task it has become in this, the biggest, wealthiest, most competitive football league on Earth. We had no idea what was at stake — the millions in revenue, the global exposure, the sheer ambition that playing in the Champions League signifies to prospective players around the world.

We also didn’t know that Financial Fair Play is a complete joke, easily circumvented by clubs like City that can, for example, basically supply their own sponsorship revenue. We thought UEFA was a serious, centralized organization of the utmost authority, kind of like Major League Baseball. Boy, were we wrong. If we had known that we would actually have spend our own money and go wallet-to-wallet with the big boys to secure things like trophies and Champions League football, well, we probably wouldn’t have bothered with Liverpool in the first place.

So you could say that we’re still kind of coming to terms with all of this. We’re new to this whole soccer thing. But we remain as convinced as ever that this club, as presently constructed and under Brendan’s guidance, will achieve its goals this year.

For one, we’ve got the best player in the world and have just secured him to a brand new contract. And if there’s one thing we know about Luis Suarez, it’s that he will stay committed to this club through thick and thin, no matter what the future holds. He’s just that kind of person.

Besides Luis, we’re reaping the benefits of other past transfer successes. Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho have helped transform the club’s fortunes since their arrival a year ago. Joe Allen has worked his way back to become a vital part of Brendan’s plans. Fabio Borini and Oussama Assaidi are as exciting and promising as ever, now that they’re starting every week for their respective Premier League clubs. Iago Aspas scored against Oldham.

Even today, we’re still in the process of reversing the errors of previous regimes. This club, lest you forget, was in bankruptcy when we took over. We did not inherit a Champions League squad. It remains a harsh education, but I can confidently state that the club is healthier today than when we took over for a cut-priced fee that required little investment beyond the outstanding debts hoisted upon it.

Unlike Roman and Sheikh Mansour and even Stan Kroenke and the Glazers nowadays, spending is not merely about buying talent. People may doubt a personnel strategy that has left our manager with four healthy central midfielders to supply his three-man midfield for the next two months, or resulted in a loanee and a streaky 19-year-old as our only two recognized wingers. I can only assure them that our emphasis remains on developing our own players, and that much thought and investment has gone into developing a self-sustaining pool of youngsters imbued in the club’s traditions. You think Jon Flanagan became a first-choice fullback by chance?

We will not mortgage the future with risky spending, though we’ve mortgaged its name out to multiple corporations this very month in exchange for increased revenue streams. We will not be held hostage to the exorbitant demands of bearded Ukrainian oligarchs. We will invest to succeed, though it may not appear so, given that this one of the most open Premier League tables in years.

We’re sorry about getting our supporters’ hopes up. We recognize that our club is a sieve when it comes to personnel decisions, with seemingly every potential move leaked to the public for another club to seize and scupper. We know that, despite our vaunted transfer committee, it looks like Ian is basically handling all the club’s negotiations on his own, and that we’re incapable of pursuing more than one transfer target at a time.

As I said, it will not be easy. It will not be perfect. But there is a clear vision at work. We have no fear of spending and competing with the very best, though we decided against matching Chelsea’s valuation of Mohamed Salah. We will not overpay for players, even if we identified Konoplyanka as the kind of player we needed to push on for a top four finish this season — and all of the financial rewards that would come with it. In all my time in professional sports, I have never wavered from these principles.

I want to reiterate, our ownership is not about profit. Forget about the corporate sponsorships and the massive TV deal; forget about Champions League qualification and the financial incentives at stake; forget about the transatlantic professional sports empire, or the $70 million cash purchase of the major metropolitan newspaper, or the fact that player wages are dwarfed by the salaries commanded by our professional baseball players. We have only one driving ambition at Liverpool, and that is the quest to win the Premier League playing the kind of football our supporters want to see. We will deliver what every long-term supporter of Liverpool Football Club aches for.

It just won’t happen this year, seven points adrift with 15 matches left.


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