I don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to talk about it. Nobody ever wants to talk about the dreaded “R word”.
But right now I think it’s necessary. It’s no different than talking about the Birds and the Bees with your parents. It’s just a conversation that needs to happen. Granted, Liverpool fans have never had to have this conversation before. But things have changed quick, fast, and in a hurry and it’s time we put things out in the open.
Saturday’s loss to Arsenal showed us exactly where this club sits right now. A thin roster (courtesy of a frantic final week of the summer transfer window) is trying to learn a brand new, highly difficult to master style of play. And then there’s Liverpool’s group play opponents for the Europa League. The team’s most valuable player is currently out for 2-3 months with a thigh injury. Once unflappable, goalkeeper Pepe Reina now seems capable of a howler at any moment. Captain Fantastic has been anything but and he looks to be succumbing to shackles of old age and tired legs.
Make no mistake about it: this is not a good football team.
Not only that, but the current ownership group seems content to balance its checkbook before making any more signings this season. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing…if you see Liverpool Football Club as a business; no different from your local supermarket or bank. But this is a football club and as any wealthy oil baron from Russia or the Middle East will tell you, you have to spend money to make money. The only way to become a great team is to get the best players and that requires lots of money.
So what does this harsh lesson have to do with relegation? I’ll get to that in a moment after I make this sure to be controversial statement.
Liverpool must be relegated this season!
There, I said it. I want Liverpool to face the drop this season. Liverpool are owned by a group of Americans. In America, we do not have promotion and relegation. Nothing bad happens to an American baseball team (like John Henry’s Boston Red Sox) if they lose a lot. Instead, you are rewarded with the opportunity to get a high draft pick. American sports have weight lottery systems to determine which terrible teams will get the first crack at selecting the rights to young, highly rated prospects in each respective sport. The Fenway Sports Group owns a baseball team, so it’s easy to understand why they want to adopt a strategy of stockpiling young, ambitious prospects to remain with the team for the next 5-10 years. It can be done in America because we reward athletic mediocrity instead of punishing it.
But you and I know that this is a foolish strategy when it comes to European football. You are only as good as the size of your wallet. Players who spend more than five years at a club are quite rare. Even more rare than that is finding a really talented 20 year old prospect who would willing stay at Liverpool if a team like Barcelona or Juventus came calling. Such a player would throw a fit and refuse to train or play hard until they destroyed the locker room chemistry or eventually got their wish. Usually it’s the latter.
John Henry and FSG don’t understand this concept. Nor do the Glazer Family, which owns Manchester United. The same can be said for Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke and Aston Villa’s Randy Lerner, although the latter has sold his NFL team (the Cleveland Browns) in an effort to focus on the Villains. So how do we get wealthy, American businessmen to finally understand the truly capitalistic nature of European football?
Should Liverpool be forced to play in the Championship next season, it will be a harsh wake up call to their American owners and their colleagues. They won’t have the warmth of Premier League TV money to fill their coffers. They will be forced to learn the lessons of the transfer market the hard way. I can understand why this sounds like an unpopular idea. Nobody WANTS to be relegated, least of all the most prestigious club in England. But Liverpool is not Leeds or Portsmouth. They have the brand power to attract great players. Clint Dempsey WANTED to come to Anfield. But John Henry would not let him. Perhaps a season in the Championship coupled with a fire sale of players like Steven Gerrard, Pepe Reina, and Lucas used to combat the lack of EPL TV dollars will make Henry realize just how much he is in over his head.
You know who just signed a young, promising Brazilian talent for over 50 million Euros? Zenit St. Petersburg. That’s right, a club in Russia outbid the far more famous Chelsea Football Club. Chelsea are a better team with better prospects to win both their domestic league title and a Champions League title. Hulk no care! Hulk want payday! And he got one from a fairly obscure team in terms of European pedigree because they were the ones willing to fork over the money. I’m not saying every single club needs to do this to be successful. Malaga thought they would become Barcelona or Real Madrid simply by spending like them. But nobody outside of Spain knew who Malaga was two years. Great players have played at Liverpool year after year. Great players will come to Anfield if you pay them enough.
Several years ago Newcastle United, another English club with tons of pedigree and history, went down to the Championship. They ran away with the title and were back in the Premier League after one season’s absence. Last season they finished several spots ahead of Liverpool. Granted they did this by purchasing younger players for microscopic transfer fees, but Newcastle would never be in the running for a player like Clint Dempsey or even Alessandro Del Piero, who is reportedly interested in signing with the Reds. Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin know that Liverpool is better than a club like Newcastle and always will be. Even after fans ridiculed him and he failed to live up to the amount of money paid for his services, former Magpie forward Andy Carroll wanted to stay at Liverpool! He rejected a second large payday from West Ham United to stay and try to make a name for himself at Anfield. But he isn’t ideal for Brendan Rodgers’ system and so he was deemed surplus and loaned to the Hammers. I think Rodgers would like to have a mulligan on that one.
The point is, relegation can be a good thing. It will show everyone that Liverpool are not invincible, as so many fans seem to think. Relegation will expose the flaws in John Henry’s “16 year plan” for Liverpool. Oh and you’re mental if you think an American will hold onto a sports team for 16 years. Henry is out to flip the club just like every other Yankee business man. I see it happen every day here in America.
So forget about a respectable mid table finish. It won’t change anything. It will only fuel the fantasy in FSG’s heads. There’s only one way out of this nightmare for Liverpool: hit rock bottom.
Then real change be affected.
“Walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone!”