FSG out? Klopp out? Liverpool need calm heads rather than a pointless blame game

Mo Salah scores for Liverpool against Leeds United Credit: Alamy
Mo Salah scores for Liverpool against Leeds United Credit: Alamy

A second succesive league defeat to modest opposition has started to raise questions, but ‘blame’ will only get Liverpool so far.

 

Not for the first time this season, the inquests began in the first seconds after the full-time whistle. Liverpool had just been beaten at home by Leeds United for the first time in more than two decades, and with much of the talk before kick-off about whether Jesse Marsch would be able to hold onto his job if Leeds lost heavily, the sense of shock was palpable.

Liverpool had played badly before this season, but a second successive league defeat to a team in the Premier League’s relegation places was of another order. And this wasn’t just a matter of the raw data of the league table talking, either; Liverpool were deficient in almost every area, blunt in attack, with a midfield so easy to play through that it might as well have not been there, exposing an accident-prone defence which seemed somehow simultaneously both panicky and passive.

This patchy form looks greater than simply a series of mistakes from individual players, and attention has now started to turn to the broader question of where responsibility rests for this sluggish start to the season. Liverpool are struggling thanks to a conflation of different factors, but even these have been muddied by the glimmers of light that the team have managed to provide.

For example, their Champions League group matches may have started with a pasting at Napoli, but with a game to spare they’re already through to the knockout stages after completing fairly comfortable doubles against Rangers and Ajax. And for all the furrowed brows over those defeats to Nottingham Forest and Leeds, it is also worth remembering that the only other two teams to have beaten them in the Premier League this season are Arsenal and Manchester United, both on a clear upward trajectory. Add beating Manchester City (twice, if we include the Community Shield) into that mix and what we can see of Liverpool’s start to this season has been nothing if not contradictory.

So if there is a blame game to be played, who wins/loses? Under normal circumstances, the obvious answer to this question would be the manager, but the relationship between Liverpool supporters and Jurgen Klopp can hardly be described as ‘normal circumstances’. This is, after all, the manager who restored the club’s sense of grandeur, leading them to both the championship of England and of Europe.

There will always be those whose reflex reaction to any on-field issues will be ‘sack the manager’, but Klopp retains significant goodwill in the bank. And regardless, even if they were to consider getting rid of him now, two factors would complicate the matter.

Firstly, Klopp is contracted to Liverpool until 2026 and getting rid of him would be expensive. And secondly, who could they could possibly employ who would be in any way an improvement?

Jurgen Klopp hasn’t suddenly become a terrible coach or tactician over the last few weeks. This doesn’t mean that he’s completely ‘blameless’ for everything that’s been going wrong at Anfield, but there’s plenty of evidence of his qualities as a coach and no obvious succession plan, so it simply doesn’t make sense to make that sort of leap into the dark.

All of this means that talk surrounding Liverpool’s current issues is increasingly circling back onto the club’s owners. Drawing the lens back a little, Fenway Sports Group (FSG) have generally been very good for Liverpool. Under their ownership, Anfield has been redeveloped to increase its capacity to more than 54,000, and further development of the Anfield Road End will increase that further to 61,000 by next summer. The club won its first English league title in 30 years on their watch, as well as the Champions League. The contrast with the chaotic days of George Gillett Jr and Tom Hicks couldn’t be more striking.

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

But it hasn’t all been good news. Player recruitment has been inconsistent over the last couple of years, with the current squad looking unbalanced and tired, while their eagerness over both Project Big Picture and the European Super League seemed to demonstrate that they were out of step with the fanbase, which ended with John Henry’s now-infamous mea culpa video. They might be about to find out that there is considerably less goodwill stored up towards them than there is towards Jurgen Klopp.

That goodwill may well be further stretched by a Twitter thread from Swiss Ramble on Monday morning comparing Liverpool and Manchester City’s spending over the last few years. It’s been a common complaint that Liverpool have been trying to compete with one arm tied behind their back in recent years, but to what extent is this actually the case?

He confirmed that Liverpool have had a higher net transfer spend than Manchester City this season and for the last two, three and five years, with City’s being reduced by the large amount of money that they’ve recouped by selling players. City’s gross spend – that’s to say, just the amount of money spent on new players alone – is just over 50% higher than Liverpool’s, but this reduces considerably when wages and player amortisation – how players are reported as assets on accounting balance sheets – are also taken into account.

His conclusion, that ‘As always, when comparing finances of football clubs it is best to look at more than one metric, then consider the impact over different time periods’ confirms that the subject is more complicated than most of us understand. But while this sort of nuanced view might not play very well in Football Twitter’s banter wars, it does reveal the potential for further fault-lines to open up between the club’s supporters and its owners.

But there is one major issue here. Fans who call for managers to be sacked often get their way because there is someone who will end up listening and agreeing with them who can make that change. But club owners are a different matter altogether. There’s no-one to tell them the right time to leave, and no-one can force them out. The Glazers have never seriously looked like leaving Manchester United. Stan Kroenke has never looked like leaving Arsenal. And both Manchester United and Arsenal have been the subject of far more vituperative protests than FSG have seen over the last decade.

Furthermore, should FSG decide to sell up, who do they sell to? If it is increasingly likely that a club will need the resources of nation states to compete, what happens should Liverpool be bought by a sportswashing project themselves? Does that result in protests that dwarf anything seen in recent years at The Emirates Stadium or Old Trafford, or do Liverpool supporters opt for ‘well, if you can’t beat them, join them’, in the event that getting FSG out results in someone more ethically dubious arrives in their place?

If we’re asking who’s to blame for the way in which things have gone wrong so far this season for Liverpool, the most reasonable answer is that no-one involved in the running of the club can be completely absolved. But perhaps the biggest issue is that word ‘blame’ in the first place. Blame can be useful. It’s cathartic, and it can help to sharpen the focus on fixing whatever is going wrong behind the scenes at the club.

But getting too hung up on blame can start to become counter-productive. What Liverpool need right now is a sense of their ship being steadied, of there being a solid and coherent plan to set their course straight again.

The World Cup break and the January transfer window may offer an opportunity for something of a reset, if handled smartly. That would appear to be a far smarter way of improving the club’s fortunes than any yelling matches about whose fault all of this might be, because even if ‘blame’ for this could be reasonably apportioned, Liverpool will likely be dependent upon those very same people to get them out of their current funk.

For all the shock of successive defeats to Nottingham Forest and Leeds United, what they now need more than ever are cool heads to navigate their way through these currently choppy waters.

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