Liverpool FC Resurgence: A Success Packaged from the Boardroom!

Anfield was lit last Thursday night, despite the lockdown measures, just after it was confirmed that Liverpool were the champions of England. With seven games to spare, the new champions had broken a record in winding up so early in the season.

Liverpool’s last title win was when Kenny Dalglish, as a manager, led a grief-stricken club to the summit in 1989/90 season. This was the 11th time they had won the championship in a period of 20 years. And that particular year it was a touch of comfort with the Hillsborough disaster taking place earlier in the season. However, from that time they went on a pause unbelievably for 30 solid years!

During this drought, the exploits of the club were still a global phenomenon.  They had some famous stories like the “Liverpool Istanbul champions league night” of 2005 and the sweet victory in Madrid in 2019. For a team that had success in Europe, the premier league was shockingly elusive. As the league became bigger and more famous due to a wider TV audience, their faithful and adoring fans were becoming increasingly impatient.

For three decades, Liverpool chased the premier league without success. How the mighty had fallen! They needed to step up a gear and this they did in the recent years as they charged closer and closer. It was just a matter of time before a breakthrough would arrive. The 2018/19 season could have been the year to re-establish themselves at the top only to miss out by a point to Manchester City. The fact that they went through the season with only a single loss confirmed they were back where they belonged. And coming back they did this season only to be delayed by a coronavirus. But when the league restarted and their fierce rivals Manchester City lost at Chelsea, Liverpool were English champions again!

The transformation that has made Liverpool compete at the very top is mainly attributed to the peerless German Coach Jurgen Klopp. In Klopp, Liverpool found a manager of vision and a real character and who completely transformed the club and made it an irresistible force. Their work rate is second to none and their winning mentality is unmatched. One just needs to be reminded of that night when they humbled Messi and co four-nil at Anfield to overcome a three-nil deficit suffered in the first leg at the Camp Nou. They would march on to lift the champions league trophy. This was at a back of a superb performance of 2018 where they only lost the trophy to Real Madrid in the finals of the campaign.

Liverpool’s premier league wins have been ridiculously high in the reign of Klopp. They have only lost twice in the past two seasons! In the likes of Henderson, Mane, Salah, Firmino, Van Dyke, and others, they have undoubtedly world-class players. The team is a group of winners and results on match days speak volumes.

In the midst of the euphoria, however, it is possible to overlook those who work behind the scenes to make success a possibility. Liverpool was almost on the brink of administration a decade ago. But now the fortunes have turned and it has a lot to do with the top hierarchy. Liverpool became a global brand when they won the title 11 times between 1970 and 1990. This success was to a great extent associated with John Smith who had been a chairman from 1973 and only stepped down in 1990. During his tenure, Liverpool enjoyed its greatest spell of success. He was a firm believer in stability and continuity and was behind the highly managerial appointments of Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, and Kenny Dalglish. In his resume, he added a remarkable business acumen that helped to provide the much-needed resource base for the club.

When he finally left, Liverpool forgot how to win the league. However, the brand he left ensured that there was enough fanbase to push for improvements whenever things were not going on well. Liverpool never walked alone even during its tumultuous times that surfaced when it was sold to American businessmen George Gillett and Tom Hicks on 6 February 2007. Disagreements between Gillett and Hicks, and the fans’ lack of support for them, forced the pair to seek to sell the club.

With the club facing a possible administration, it was sold to Fenway Sports Group (formerly New England Sports Ventures), on 15 October 2010 for £300m (FSG is jointly owned by John W. Henry and Tom Werner). The major shareholders quickly took a back seat and put suitable men to run the club. The Liverpool FC board that was put in place ensured that they made the right key decisions and invested the necessary money to help the club progress in all areas.

Much of the current success for Liverpool emanated from Mike Gordon, Fenway Sports Group president. According to the Guardian, he is the man behind the decisions for hiring Klopp, the signing of Virgil van Dijk, the sale of Philippe Coutinho, and investment in infrastructure. Gordon has been astute in his major calls and his biggest decisions have shaped Liverpool’s present and long-term future. Gordon made his own mistakes at the beginning but was quick to learn from them. He is said to have dismissed Brendan Rodgers based on a strategic consideration to pave way for the direction he was comfortable with regardless of the results at the time. His preference for a sporting model over a promising manager and preserving the club’s vast commercial appeal while keeping the fans onside was key to the Club’s success. He welcomed the charismatic Klopp, a two-times Bundesliga-winner to Anfield, and then promoted the analytical Michael Edwards, to Sporting Director in 2016. Klopp has had no qualms working with his technical director and that harmony has been central to Liverpool’s revival.

Liverpool premier league resurgence shows the crucial role governance and management issues play to attain success in a football club let alone in any organization. The new owners put together a board that understood not only the ethos of the club but also the key areas that needed focus. Their stakeholder analysis was spot on. They needed the fans on their side and with tabs on what mattered most, financial success was only a matter of time. Now, with Klopp in charge, they have one of the strongest and youngest squads in Europe and a stable financial outlook. Liverpool recently rose two places in the Deloitte Football Money League to rank seventh. There are also reports suggesting that the club is now making profits in millions. It is evident that FSG has scored on their promise of making the club self-sustaining.

Finally, and importantly, the supporters that stuck with the club demonstrates to us that building brand loyalty is very key for sustained competitiveness. Secondly, the fans sticking with the club shows that persistence pays. As long as you keep pushing, and don’t give up, one day your dreams will come true. The Liverpool fans can now sing their anthem, you never walk alone loudly. And without doubt, many others will join in that chorus!