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Brendan Rodgers, Dirk Kuyt and Adaptability

I’ve held out on writing a first piece on Brendan Rodger’s appointment and a last piece on Dirk Kuyt’s Liverpool career, because I’ve wanted to organize my thoughts on both. (That, and I’ve been extremely busy for the last few weeks, but of course that’s irrelevant here. Somewhat.)

So, first, a warm welcome to Brendan Rodgers, and a fond farewell to Dirk Kuyt.

Let’s talk about Dirk Kuyt.

He’s been a staple in the Liverpool side I’ve followed religiously over the past few years. There are endless tributes all over the print media, all over the Internet on Kuyt’s work-rate, his indefatigable stamina, his knack for being at the right place at the right time, his selflessness, his teamwork, his passion towards the Liverpool cause. There’s no need to further extol his virtues, if only because I’d only be beating a (nearly-) dead horse.

To me, Dirk Kuyt will be remembered as who he was – a Liverpool great – because he adapted.

And, while he played at center-forward, second striker, left winger, right winger – no, this isn’t a tribute to his versatility, but rather his mindset. Dirk Kuyt adapted.

When he first arrived from Feyenoord, where he set scoring records as an out-and-out striker, Kuyt adapted to the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.

Then, when Fernando Torres arrived, bringing with him that all-too-rare world-class ability to turn chances in goals, Kuyt was moved to the right wing without even making a noise. He continued to deliver his big game-winning strikers. He continued to defend from the front. He continued to time his runs to help break up the opposition defence. All from the right wing. He adapted.

You see – to me, there is an added mental dimension to adaptability.

It’s like Steven Gerrard, who moved to right-back in Istanbul to shut out AC Milan’s Serginho. He did that with the team in mind. He was moved out to the right side of midfield to facilitate a new tactical approach in the 2005-2006 season. He finished that season with his best ever goals tally. He moved up to second striker just to provide the finishing touch to a world-beating partnership spearheaded by Torres.

Sure, Gerrard is famous for publicly expressing his preference for a central midfield position. But when push comes to shove, Steven Gerrard adapts.

Sometimes this kind of attribute is considered to be at the detriment of the player himself. Kuyt was never considered a world-class right-winger during his time at Liverpool. Gerrard has been used in all kinds of positions and had been overlooked as England captain all these years.

But those of us who step back once in a while recognize this adaptability. And we reserve the highest kinds of tributes for these players.

Enter Brendan Rodgers.

It’s been an impressive first week at Anfield for Rodgers, no doubt. He’s made all the right noises, impressing upon us fans the kind of approach he wants to bring to Liverpool and outlining the fact that he has the experience to take Liverpool up to the top.

All of which is well and good, but ultimately it counts for nothing if you can’t adapt to the job.

Rafa Benitez adapted. He came from Valencia looking for a challenge, and he got it with a sub-par Liverpool squad whose quality was reflected in a fifth-place league finish. Yet he worked with a squad containing the likes of Djimi Traore and Igor Biscan, and took home a Champions League trophy in his first season.

He studied his opponents and adapted his gameplans specifically against them. He brought in new players to add new options to the team, he revamped the youth academy, and he grew as a member of the Liverpool community.

Now, it didn’t always work – how many times were we frustrated when Torres got subbed around the 70-minute mark when Liverpool needed a goal? What about when he publicly pursued Gareth Barry at the expense of Xabi Alonso? What about when he persisted with a yet-to-mature Lucas?

But Benitez adapted. A look back on his record at Liverpool showed that, if anything, given the ownership situation during his reign, Benitez adapted, all right.

Roy Hodgson didn’t. He failed to grasp that Liverpool, hoping to climb their way back up the Premier League table following an underwhelming season, weren’t looking for underwhelming signings clearly not up to Top Four standard. He failed to grasp that a safety-first approach, while it worked at mid-table Fulham, wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the ever-demanding Kop. He failed to grasp that a defensive and conciliatory media personality didn’t fit with the bullish continental profile that a modern Liverpool want.

Kenny Dalglish, too, didn’t. Entering the Liverpool all-time records for Top Five most expensive signings four times in six months wasn’t what we were looking for. Nor was persisting with those same players when more clinical and experienced options were sat on the bench. Nor was adopting a confrontational approach to the media.

Unfortunately, in hindsight, Hodgson and Dalglish’s departures, while under different circumstances, were understandable and inevitable.

Whether or not Rodgers’ appointment is a useful solution depends very much on how he can adapt.

He knows that John Henry’s preference is to build a squad on bargain signings. He did that at Swansea. But while we don’t need an Andy Carroll or a Luis Suarez every transfer window, perhaps free transfers like Mohamed Diame aren’t enough. Look to the capital for a £10-million Lukas Podolski or a £7-million Marko Marin for a perfect example of cost-effective ambition.

He knows that everyone’s preference is to play good football. He did that at Swansea. But during the journey to become England’s answer to Barcelona, perhaps a balance has to be made in view of goals, victories and points. Just because Andy Carroll is a traditional British targetman doesn’t mean he can’t fit into a multi-faceted Liverpool side, as so many pundits are suggesting. Arsenal, whose penchant for attractive football is legendary, hoofed it long to Robin van Persie this season. That’s how they scored both their goals in their 2-1 win at Anfield.

Most of all, Brendan Rodgers knows that ultimately, it’s up to him to do his talking on the pitch. His last stint at a Top Four challenger was as an assistant at Chelsea. He will have to adapt to being top dog at Anfield.

He said in a recent interview that there are three kinds of Liverpool fans: the ones that support the manager regardless of results; the ones that need to be convinced by results; and the ones that can never come round.

I’m a proud, unabashed member of the second club.

All you have to do, Mr. Rodgers, is adapt and show that you can lead Liverpool forward.

It’ll be a hell of task.

On Damien Comolli’s Departure

So Liverpool’s Director of Football Strategy, Damien Comolli, has left Anfield.

Let’s take a look at what this means for Liverpool:

1. This Season Has Not Been Good Enough

In the past weeks, Reds fans have been starting to voice their concerns about this season’s performances, and rightly so.

With a dismal record since the turn of the year, Liverpool have clearly underperformed, and a Carling Cup victory—which was achieved on the back of an unconvincing 120 minutes and required several strokes of luck in the ensuing penalty shootout—requires FA Cup success to be added onto it for 2011-2012 to be considered even slightly successful.

Because Liverpool currently find themselves in the worst position in the Premier League in recent memory.

And Damien Comolli seems to have been the first to pay the price.

2. New Signings Should Feel the Pinch

Whatever the claims of who makes the final decision on player transfers, Liverpool’s signings under the tenure of Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli, generously bankrolled by John Henry and FSG, have not delivered.

While Dalglish might still be staunchly backing his charges in press conferences and interviews, even the most blinded supporters would have to recognize that the majority of Liverpool’s signings since 2011 began have been vastly subpar.

Comolli’s departure seems to be an official confirmation of FSG’s realization.

Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll would do well to take note of recent proceedings.

3. Kenny Dalglish Is Under Increasing Pressure

Now that one half of the transfer team has had to leave Anfield, the spotlight will turn unequivocally to the other half—manager Kenny Dalglish.

Everyone will know by now that Dalglish’s return to the Liverpool hotseat hasn’t turned out to be the fairytale that so many envisioned—and Dalglish’s backers, who have been quick to point the finger at Comolli for the poor transfer record recently, have now had their main target for criticism removed.

Kenny Dalglish himself knows this as well. The pressure is well and truly on.

4. Cup Success Is Not Enough

Comolli’s departure also signals loudly to the backroom staff that a Cup Double—even if it can be attained—is not enough.

Way back in August last year, before the current season even started, John Henry sounded out his requirements for a Top Four finish in the Premier League this season, saying that it would be a “huge disappointment” if Liverpool didn’t qualify for the Champions League next season.

Six months later, Liverpool are further from that spot than they could possibly imagine.

Considering that players are signed to perform over the course of a season rather than merely in knockout competitions, Comolli’s exit shows that while silverware is important, league placing is ultimately more important for the competitiveness of the Club in Europe—and for the Club’s coffers.

5. Moneyball Is on the Verge of Failing

When FSG first arrived back in 2010, John Henry brought with him the famed Moneyball strategy that had served him so well in Major League Baseball with the Boston Red Sox, and Damien Comolli was supposed to spearhead a new transfer policy with this in mind.

Signing and picking players based on statistics and numbers seemed to be a perfect strategy in football—except it hasn’t proved so.

Selling players in case of bids over their supposed worth—as seen in Fernando Torres’ whirlwind departure for Chelsea in January 2011—and overpaying for deficient areas—as seen in Andy Carroll’s last-minute arrival as Torres’ replacement—are both seen as important components in Moneyball.

But, as a Sabotage Times article has put it nicely, “perhaps the chalkboard should always come first; the spreadsheet comes second.”

6. There’s More Behind the Scenes Than Meets the Eye

John Henry and his boardroom team have often said that they are still getting to grips with English football.

But, as seen in the sudden turnaround of events during the Luis Suarez racism scandal, when both Suarez and Kenny Dalglish apologized for their controversial contributions in the aftermath of the visit to Manchester United’s Old Trafford, FSG have played their hand in subtle ways.

Some supporters might have been querying the thoughts of Henry across the Atlantic on Liverpool’s current plight.

It seems that FSG have always been paying attention—just that they prefer to go about their business behind the scenes.

7. FSG Mean Business

Which is a good sign for all those involved at Liverpool.

Especially after the tumultuous reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the fans want to see an owner who cares about the immediate fortunes of the Club.

The players want to see a Club who has a clear direction from the top.Dispensing of Comolli might have been a ruthless decision, but it might prove to be an inspired one—a decision that will have been taken for the good of the Club.

FSG mean business—and Comolli found out the hard way.

8. Kenny Dalglish Must Deliver This Summer

With Comolli out of the way, the sole decision-maker in Liverpool’s transfers will presumably be Kenny Dalglish.

Another summer of extravagant spending to no avail will be absolutely not tolerated by either his employers or Reds fans.

If he is still trusted with the Club’s money.

9. Another Revolution Might Be on the Horizon

Will a Cup Double be Dalglish’s only saving grace this season? Or will he ultimately pay the price for failing to lead Liverpool to a Champions League finish?

Only time will tell if Dalglish is still in the job come next season—but regardless of his job status, another revolution might be coming for Liverpool.

Transfer-wise, this summer might be the one where FSG abandon their Moneyball principles and allow signings to be made on a “chalkboard,” rather than “spreadsheet,” basis.

According to the Telegraph, Comolli claimed just a few weeks ago that Liverpool fans should not expect a great deal of summer activity this year—but perhaps we’re in for a ride yet.

10. Liverpool’s Future Might Be Bright After All

One thing’s for certain—John Henry and FSG have shown that they are willing to make big decisions when the situation calls for it.

The players—especially the underperformers—would do well to take heed of this message.

The coaching staff would do well to notice that no one’s job is ever safe. (The Telegraph reports that FSG have already requested an end-of-season explanation of this season’s travails.)

All of which means that, with owners willing to take decisive and calculated action, Liverpool fans should be confident of having a sound team backing their beloved Reds.

Liverpool’s present might be in all sorts of trouble, but Liverpool’s future might just turn out to be bright after all.

 

Original article from Bleacher Report

Liverpool the Business: A Beginner’s Guide

Ever since Kenny’s return to L4 at the beginning of the year, ever since Luis Suarez walked through the Shankly Gates in place of El Nino, ever since we turned around our league form to come within an inch of finishing the season among the European places, most of what we’ve heard about Liverpool Football Club has been on the pitch. Rightly so, given the traditional “Liverpool Way” of focusing only on the next game and leaving everything else to the side.

A year ago, we were struggling with the Hicks and Gillett regime. “Finance” (or, more accurately, “refinance”) was probably the word that we Liverpool fans dreaded the most. Liverpool the business was hampering Liverpool the football club. We didn’t like Liverpool the business; we just wanted our football club back. Business and football were the last two words we wanted to see together ever again.

Oh, how a year has turned things around. Now, we can’t go a week without hearing an ex-player or someone in the Liverpool hierarchy sing the praises of the way FSG has revolutionized Liverpool as a business. Behind the scenes, the reality is that the business side, the “everything else” of our football club has undergone as radical a change, if not more so.

Let’s go all the way back to the Standard Chartered sponsorship deal. Now, before we fans got any wind of this partnership, we were cruising along perfectly content with the Carlsberg logo splashed across the front of our shirts. Sure, we saw O2 on the shirts at Highbury, and we saw vodafone, and subsequently AIG, at Old Trafford, and then we saw Ashburton Grove renamed as the Emirates Stadium. Those corporate sell-outs. Carlsberg: the best beer in the world. Liverpool: the best football club in the world. End of story.

But then, one fine (or cloudy, or rainy, I forgot which) day in 2009, the news came through that we struck the largest shirt sponsorship deal in football history. I very clearly remember that day. That was the day that made me sit up and take notice of what we were capable of achieving as a company. That day, on the back of a successful Premier League season, as I saw Rafa Benitez, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres swapping shirts and posing for pictures with the Standard Chartered management, I realized that our club still had an amazing appeal to it.

This, remember, was a financially unstable club with rumors about our long-term financial stability. Amidst ownership struggles behind the scenes, we managed to pull off a deal like that. I almost immediately started idolizing Christian Purslow (and latterly Ian Ayre, when I read that he was the Commercial Director then). When it was first established that we had genuine financial concerns going forward, I didn’t panic. We even appointed Martin Broughton from the British Airways. Despite his outspoken Chelsea links, here was the chairman of one of Britain’s most famous corporations, brought in to “save” our club.

We would’ve been forgiven for thinking that ousting Hicks and Gillett was the final piece to the financial jigsaw.

But there are bits and pieces to the journey that cannot, and should not, be ignored. We saw Rafa overhaul the Academy. Yes, the headline news was that we want to go back to our famed traditions of graduating top players to our first team. But we didn’t just see Rafa take full control of our youth development. He restructured the Academy and brought staff in to take up managerial positions. He brought Kenny back to spearhead our youth recruitment drive and latterly as a Club Ambassador. These were all new roles. What Rafa noticed was not just that we were falling behind as football club; we were also falling behind as a company, a business, a corporation. And these were his first steps to establishing a structure at Liverpool, to the greatest extent he possibly could.

And when FSG recruited Damien Comolli and gave him the position of Director of Football (later renamed as the fancy Director of Football Strategy), it was not just a signal of our intent to bring in the world’s top footballing talent; it was our owners’ way of further instilling business organization and structure to Liverpool the corporation.

Outside the club, FSG helped us establish links with LeBron James, one of the biggest stars in modern basketball (and indeed in modern sports), in the process linking us with the Boston Red Sox. FSG and Standard Chartered put together our Asia tour this past summer with great aplomb, complete with a tour-specific website, extensive media coverage of all the players’ football and sponsorship activities, and a chance for our Chinese Reds to win a meet-and-greet with LeBron James. The express plan for our summer activities next year is a money-spinning trip to the US: imagine the fervor that would greet Gerrard, Suarez and co. as they run out onto the Fenway Park pitch.

But it’s not just the dollar signs and star brandnames that show our transformation as a corporation. Look at the way we have been catered to (in business terminology: customer experience) – comments in almost every LFC.tv article, expansion in the LFC.tv forums, the Bootroom Sports Cafe, our first ever official Supporter’s Committee, The Kop fan blogs and social network…

Oh, and don’t forget that key business buzzword: corporate social responsibility. For all the corporations that might have skeptical motives behind such activities (for example, a tobacco company sponsoring a health clinic), our family- and community-oriented traditions makes CSR a perfect fit for our promotions. Here’s an observation: have you noticed a significant increase on LFC.tv in the promotion of free football clinics in the Liverpool area? Coaching sessions in Korea? Summer camps for disabled children both in Asia (while others were promoting our business interests) and in the UK? We’re beginning to hear a lot more of these campaigns that are a win-win-win combination: they sustain our image and reputation within the footballing community; they help our players and staff understand the community better and thus form a stronger bond with Liverpool Football Club; and they bring us commercial opportunities in previously untapped areas. We are already in talks to establish Liverpool-themed cafes and lounges in India after setting up our academy there.

And on I ramble.

During my short working career, I’ve been exposed to the way businesses and corporations are run on a strategic and institutional level, and I hope I was able to give you some basic insight on the good work being done by FSG, and to help you make some sense of the commercial operations and developments that might sometimes slip under our radars.

I will wrap things up with a quote from Ian Ayre: “The absolute reality – in the case of Liverpool, not everyone – is that this is a global brand, one of only a handful of clubs that are truly globally recognized and supported.”

Liverpool as a business: I personally have been very excited about the way our management team has driven commercial growth and organizational change. Keep up the good work, gentlemen.

————

If you’re interested in further reading, here’s a list of articles that I’ve referred to in this post:

http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/news/1068601/Ian-Ayre-transformed-Liverpool-FCs-commercial-fortunes/

http://businesstoday.intoday.in/story/liverpool-fc-cafes/1/18199.html

http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/news/2011/08/04/lucchino-liverpool-football-club.html

http://www.bitc.org.uk/community/communitymark/communitymark_companies/liverpool_football.html

http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/corporate/charter

http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/corporate/lfc-is-listening

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703280904576246640754493456.html

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/premier_league/liverpool/article6831489.ece