x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

New owners learn from Liverpool predecessors

It is an ideology that is utterly in keeping with their newest acquisition's traditions. 'Under-promise and over achieve' is the new mantra of NESV.

Jermaine Beckford, right, the Everton substitute, scythes down Martin Skrtel, the Liverpool defender.
Jermaine Beckford, right, the Everton substitute, scythes down Martin Skrtel, the Liverpool defender.

It is an ideology that is utterly in keeping with their newest acquisition's traditions.

"Under-promise and over achieve" is the new mantra of New England Sports Ventures (NESV), according to Tom Werner, the chairman. That was the Liverpool way when self-effacing figures such as Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan conquered Europe.

Overpromise and underachieve, the legacy of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, is an approach with fewer merits.

Werner and John Henry, the NESV founder, have made the right noises, impressing observers by being sensible, dignified and respectful and, in process, the antithesis of their predecessors.

But as they sat in the Goodison Park directors' box, they could have reflected upon the words of Mr Justice Floyd, the presiding judge at the High Court in London. He is not renowned for his footballing knowledge but spoke of the "underlying damage done" in the previous American administration at Anfield.

He was referring to balance sheets, interest payments and debt, but as a critique of the club, it suffices. In every respect, the football has been neglected.

With transfer-market profits in 2009 and 2010, with the sales of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, with the recruitment of some mediocre players, this has been a dramatic fall from grace from the dynamic side who were almost champions 17 months ago.

This is a team with two world-class players and too many ordinary ones.

Much has been made of the parallels with the Boston Red Sox, an institution revived under NESV's ownership. Among the comparisons, however, it was rarely mentioned that Merseyside hosts the two contenders to be England's equivalent of Fenway Park, Boston's historic baseball temple.

They lie either side of the Walton Road and, at Goodison Park, Henry and Werner encountered the blend of antiquated grandeur and old-fashioned class that renders Everton a special club in its own right.

The fervent support and intense atmosphere provided everything associated with Anfield.

The Everton team allied passionate commitment with considerable quality, all overseen by a manager, in David Moyes, who possesses a fierce bond with the fans.

The club they have acquired, in contrast, seems a shambles. By completing his eighth game in charge with only six points to show, Roy Hodgson equalled the worst start by a Liverpool manager, made by the long-forgotten George Patterson in 1928.

His charges were insipid, unimaginative and unable to trouble Everton for the most part. Yet a worry for owners who have acquired a credibility with their words should be Hodgson's rather implausible analysis.

"I refuse to accept it was a bad performance," he said. "I refuse to accept we were in any way outplayed or in any way inferior. In the second half that's as good a performance as I have seen a Liverpool team under my management."

That is inadvertently damning. Beyond accepting that Fernando Torres is short of confidence and that Liverpool let in too many goals and score too few, it was an interpretation that ignored the patent flaws; a slow defence, an uncreative midfield, new signings who are yet to settle and, in several cases, convince they are of the calibre Liverpool require.

The context heightened the focus on both the result and the manager.

Off-field distractions cannot be an excuse any longer and as Hodgson admitted: "This would have been the ideal opportunity to really turn things around on the back of the positive entry of the new owners. To win the game would have been utopia."

For 48 heady hours, consigning Hicks and Gillett to an ignominious place in their history may have equated to utopia in itself. Their achievements include changing the framework of the club.

Liverpool's appeal used to lie in their simplicity. They had a reluctance to complicate the game and an organic model that turned graduates of the Boot Room into European champions. Supporting them was an act of faith, a respite from the problems of a city suffering decades of decline.

Now following Liverpool has entailed an interest in fiduciary matters, in leveraged buyouts, on the penalties for failure to repay loans, on the constitution of the club's board and legalities of takeovers. And yet, amid the prospect of the renewed investment that could transform a team, Moyes made a salient point. "Am I jealous? Yes," said the Everton manager.

"But if we all wanted football to be about money, we wouldn't enjoy it as much.

"Seamus Coleman cost £60,000 (Dh351,000) from Ireland and I wouldn't swap my chairman [Bill Kenwright] for anybody from America or Saudi Arabia because my chairman is a supporter."

And, high as his demands remain, Moyes has become a byword for overachievement on Merseyside.

For Henry and Werner, lessons can be learned from the men they beat in the High Court and the man they lost to on the football field.

sports@thenational.ae