Liverpool’s season to forget may have brought scrutiny on the present ownership, but fans have been delivered a “count your blessings” message from a football expert, who knows the club inside out.
In 2017 Liverpool fan and football sports academic Jan Ludvigsen, published a paper on fans’ perceptions of FSG. “I think that most Liverpool fans would much rather have someone who operates a bit like FSG than someone who comes in and then might use the club, in a kind of sports washing way”.
Liverpool’s recent struggles have prompted Social media hostility towards Fenway Sports Group. Intriguingly Ludvigsen’s research of 5 years ago has become relevant again now. “Sometimes fans are happy as long as things go well on the pitch, you have sporting success, but if there are times where results are starting to maybe stagnate a bit, where there is lack of investment into star players, then it can quickly turn.”
Liverpool FC chairman Tom Werner recently confirmed the owners are exploring the idea of selling the club. FSG are reportedly in no rush but say “new shareholders” would be considered.
The news prompted reviews of how successful the club has been under principal owner John W. Henry. It has been a rollercoaster ride for the American owners who saw the rise and rise to a team that has acquired legendary status, but given Liverpool’s dip in form, they are under increasing pressure for their lack of investment in the club.
When FSG, then named New England Sports Ventures, acquired Liverpool in 2010, the club was in financial disarray with debts piling up and banks ready to call default on the club’s loans. Fans were worried this would be the end of the club as they knew it.
“I think it’s important to remember that FSG, since they came in, have stabilized the club”, according to Ludvigsen. “They have obviously brought in Klopp, who has made sure that Liverpool have won everything there is to win in world football. They have also in a way modernized the club, they’ve expanded the stadium, it’s currently being expanded even further as well, and they’ve created a completely new training ground at Kirkby.”
Last season Newcastle United were bought by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, making the Tynesiders the wealthiest club in world football. For many fans, the takeover raised ethical questions about who should be able to own a football club. Human rights group, Amnesty International, have criticised the ownerships of Newcastle and Manchester City for sports washing the tarnished reputations of their respective countries, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
FSG is a multinational sports conglomerate that owns a number of sports franchises, and are in essence a sports investment company. If a buyer is found for the club, it would mean a large return on FSG’s initial £300 million investment, with US Sports magazine Forbes valuing the club at £3.6 billion earlier this year. Luvigsen says: “In today’s sort of football where we see ownerships like Man City, PSG and Newcastle, I think that it’s important for fans to be careful what they wish for.”
Whether FSG will sell the club remains to be seen, and uncertainty remains over how the arrival of new mega-rich owners would be received by fans. The only thing certain to make Liverpool fans happy is success on the pitch.