LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 06: American businessmen George Gillett (L) and Tom Hicks pose inside the players tunnel after their takeover of Liverpool Football Club on February 6, 2007, in Liverpool, England. Gillett and Hicks have reached a deal, thought to be worth GBP470m, to buy the football club. Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have confirmed their intention to sell Liverpool FC. (Photo by Peter Byrne - Pool/Getty Images)
In a backwards sort of way, the final days of the Tom Hicks and George Gillett reign are some fond memories. Everything was a catastrophe, of course, and it's more or less been that way since, but as far as the blog is concerned it was a time of terrific growth and expansion. That was really the first time we banded together against a cause--previously we joined forces in support of heavy drinking, which was more force than choice--and it gave way to a community that could unite against common enemies, both foreign and, tragically for myself, domestic.
The happy stuff ends there, though, because that was an insufferable time when administration and relegation were things that people were actually talking about. Not just people from Manchester or London, but people that cared deeply about Liverpool and wanted nothing more than to see them succeed. On the pitch Liverpool were as bad as we'd seen, but off the pitch, almost impossibly, things were even worse.
Enter Fenway Sports Group, who purchased the club in a state of turmoil and, at least initially, became saviors. They had a vision, no pretense about their knowledge--or lack thereof--about football, and immediately sought to ingratiate themselves amongst supporters. January 2011 furthered the positive sentiment, as they fired Roy Hodgson, who's found a role as Jesus in the interim, albeit as a fairly average, noncommittal, very defensive-minded savior, and hired Kenny Dalglish, then warded off Fernando Torres' transfer request just long enough to celebrate the arrival of Luis Suarez, make Torres look the villain, and then buy Andy Carroll for an amount that nobody's cited in nearly a year and a half.
Since that time, however, the attitude towards the ownership group has trended negatively, with the past calendar year proving plenty ugly. Their openness about how much they had to learn became weakness, their lack of transparency about plans for the future equated to deception, and the missteps during last summer's transfer window and the subsequent struggles during the 2011-2012 season did little to improve a narrative that had begun to cast them in the same light as the previous owners.
Kenny Dalglish's firing was about as bad as it got for many, and from there it was fairly common to see supporters writing off another set of naive, self-interested American owners. The stadium plans were non-existent (and there's not been much news about it lately, to be fair), and all signs pointed to Liverpool supporters having been duped yet again.
But in the months since Dalglish's dismissal, particularly over the past few weeks, there's been a relative uptick in attitudes around Liverpool. And while it's mostly focused on Brendan Rodgers and the glimpses of a more positive, promising brand of football, the Liverpool Echo turned their attention to John Henry and Tom Werner for an update on where things stand off the pitch, and how things have gone since they took over.
"Looking back at the day we bought Liverpool, I was trying to make a point then about how much of a challenge it was going to be because of the issues we inherited. We had a lack of depth in the squad and some really high payrolls. We also had issues with the age of the players and so forth. We knew it was going to be very difficult."
The payroll issue has been a topic du jour over the past few weeks, with exits for Alberto Aquilani, Craig Bellamy, Maxi, and Dirk Kuyt explained as casualties of the need to balance wages. And I guess that's passable as an explanation, especially in light of talk about Liverpool becoming self-sufficient and avoiding a pattern of operations that's seen clubs risk their livelihood in service of splashing cash that they don't actually have.
For many it still won't ring true, and that's fair enough. The Daniel Agger situation has them looking disconnected and out of touch, very much the picture of owners that are interested in business, not sentiment. That may well be the case, and as somebody who's love for Agger is verging on unhealthy, there's nothing I'd hate more than to see him sold for the sake of business.
I'm conflicted, though, as I want few things more in sport than for Liverpool to be stable moving forward and back among Europe's elite. And as much as there might be to argue over--the stadium plans, the personnel, the manager, the wage bill, transfers--it's hard to disagree with their vision.
"Do we feel that it is possible to get on a level with (top European) clubs? Absolutely. Can we close that gap and compete at the very highest level? Absolutely. We are just getting started."