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Liverpool and Henry will fail

By | 11th October 2010

The following piece is a column, not a news story. It represents the opinions and thoughts of the writer, and not those of Premiership Talk or its employees. Readers are invited to respectfully debate and discuss this column in the comments section below.

For those of you that have been living under a rock for the last week, Liverpool is on the verge of being sold. Not many news stories get me riled up and hot under the collar, but the announcement that Liverpool is being purchased by New England Sports Ventures is the most absurd news I’ve heard in a long time. This is bad business by all sides.

Before you read any further in this column, I want it to be made perfectly clear that even though I strongly dislike Liverpool, I do not want to see them fail. As an Everton supporter, I would love nothing more than to see Liverpool fail and get relegated, but football is bigger than two teams. Football is a way of life for billions of people around the world.

The fact that John Henry has bought one of the biggest clubs in the world is horrible. Having been born and raised just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, I have enjoyed the recent successes that John Henry has helped bestow upon my hometown Boston Red Sox. We won our first championship just two years after he, along with Tom Lerner and Larry Lucchino, bought the Sox. His deep pockets and intelligent hiring of Theo Epstein as General Manager and Terry Francona as manager helped reverse an 86-year championship drought. However, that is American sports success, this is football – two totally different beasts.

Since the announcement was made that NESV was purchasing Liverpool, I’ve been saying that Henry does not know what he’s been getting himself into. This statement has been met with lots of opposition, but the writing is all over the wall for Mr. Henry. Why would he want to take over a massive club when there are loads of examples clearly pointing to future failure? History is bound to repeat itself. American billionaires have had zero success in the football world, so let me refresh John Henry’s mind as he embarks on this brave new journey across the pond.

Each example that I will present to you follows the same exact path from success domestically to failure abroad. For simplicity, I’ve broken down each section of this metaphorical path down into different phases. This will only further back up my point while also providing clarity for you at the same time. So without further ado let’s go back into the history books and take a stroll down the path that John Henry and NESV is bound to follow.

The White Picket Fence Phase

In the United States we have something here called the “American Dream.” Everybody has their own variation of it, but the concept is still the same. For your average American, this dream consists of being happily married with beautiful children, a successful well paying job, and a beautiul, yet modest, house surrounded by a white picket fence. Basically, your life is perfect. This is how these American billionaires start off their sports endeavors.

The first ingredient is one sports loving billionaire. This billionaire has always dreamed of owning his own traditional* American sports franchise (*by traditional I’m referring to either a baseball, basketball, hockey, or American football team. Major League Soccer is not run the same way as the MLB, NBA, NHL, or NFL, therefore not fitting the traditional mold). As the new owner of said franchise, he enjoys early success. He is on top of the world, and everything is perfect. He is living the American billionaire’s version of the American Dream.

The five owners that we will be discussing are Randy Lerner, Malcolm Glazer, Philip Anschutz, Tom Hicks, and George Gillett. Let’s see how each of their American Dreams played out:

Randy Lerner: In 2002, Lerner purchased the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. That same year the Browns made it into the playoffs. Although the Browns have done horribly since then, Lerner has still enjoyed some success financially due to the Browns’ extremely loyal fan base.

Malcolm Glazer: Back in 1995 Glazer purchased the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He slowly built them up and, in his 8th season with the team, won a Super Bowl with them in 2003.

Philip Anschutz: In 1995, the NHL’s Los Angeles were in bankruptcy court. Philip Anschutz took the team over in October 1995 and started to rebuild a dismal club. Success finally came to fruition when, in the 2001/02 season, the Kings won their first playoff series since 1993.

Tom Hicks: During the strike-shortened NHL season of 1994/95, Tom Hicks purchased the Dallas Stars. In 13 years as their owner, Hicks’ teams won their division seven times, the Western Conference twice, had the team with the best regular season twice, and made two consecutive Stanley Cup Finals appearances – winning it once in 1999.

George Gillett: The NHL’s Montreal Canadiens were up for sale in 2001, and Gillett swooped in and purchased them. Up until the sale of the team in 2009, the Canadiens were consistent contenders in the league, always finishing near the top, while making deep playoff runs almost every year.

The Greedy/Mid-Life Crisis Phase

For any average person, the Greedy/Mid-Life Crisis Phase is not all that greedy. It normally consists of buying a new car, season tickets to your favorite sports team, or some other purchase that is slightly out of the ordinary. Billionaires take it to a whole new level. This phase of their life consists of purchasing things that we could never even imagine possible. In the case of billionaire sports team owners, this means buying another team.

There are only a couple reasons why it is necessary to purchase a second, third, or even fourth sports franchise. For one, their American sports team is having lots of success. The owner feels that he can translate it into success in the world’s biggest sport (football). Or second, the owner’s American team isn’t doing so well, but doesn’t want to sell the team because he feels success is not too far off, so he buys a European football club, hoping for success immediately while his American team works toward success down the road.

RL: Lerner purchase Aston Villa in 2006 for a paltry fee of £62.6 million. For those of you keeping track, that’s significantly less than Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer fee from Manchester United to Real Madrid.

MG: In 2003 Glazer started purchasing shares of Manchester United. Over the next three years, Glazer would continue to purchase shares until he fully took control of the club in 2005.

PA: Anschutz dipped into European football through Sweden. In 2001 the Los Angeles Kings owner purchased Allsvenskan (Sweden) club Hammarby to try his hand abroad.

TH/GG: Hicks (owner of the Dallas Stars) and Gillett (owner of the Montreal Canadiens) team up and made a bold move to purchase Liverpool, one of the most successful clubs in English football.

The One Year Honeymoon Phase

As is customary in marriage, after the wedding, there is a basically a grace period. Everything is perfect, and it seems like nothing will ever go wrong. The newly married couple is in complete bliss and harmony. If only it was that easy for these billionaires.

For these owners, the honeymoon phase is dealing with a successful love triangle. The domestic housewife (his American sports team) sits at home happily trying to please him (with strong regular seasons and playoff appearances) while he is always away on business trips. The wife either doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to admit, that these business trips consist of him traipsing around with his much more exciting girlfriend on the side (the European football club). This period lasts exactly one year as the businessman finds some way to balance his domestic life with his extracurricular activities.

RL: Lerner purchased Villa in 2006. After a mediocre 11th place finish in the table, the Villans rebound and finish 6th the following season in Lerner’s first full season as owner. Meanwhile, back in the United States, Lerner’s Browns enjoy their first winning season and playoff appearance under his ownership.

MG: After three down years – by Manchester United standards – Glazer’s new club won the Premier League title for the first time since the 2002/03 season. Back stateside, the Buccaneers finished the regular season with their first winning record (11-5) since their Super Bowl winning season.

PA: In Hammarby’s first season under Anschutz’s control in 2001, the Swedish club were champions of the Allsvenskan. That same year, the Los Angeles Kings enjoyed a terrific regular season and made the playoffs.

TH/GG: Upon the purchase of Liverpool in 2007, Hicks’ and Gillett’s NHL team both had a lot of success. Hicks’ Dallas Stars had a strong regular season which saw them make the playoffs. The Montreal Canadiens under Gillett’s control not only had a great regular season and made the playoffs, but they also won their division. Meanwhile, Liverpool rebounded from a 4th place finish in Hicks’ and Gillett’s first season with a strong second place finish over a very strong Chelsea side.

The Russian Mail-Order Bride Phase

There have been all too many instances where the white picket fence lifestyle gets ripped apart. A large portion of these are due to the introduction of another woman in the husband’s life. Once his wife finds out about the other woman, all hell breaks lose. The introduction of another woman into the American billionaire’s life (the European football club) causes the wife (the American sports team) to become neglected and she starts to suffer.

RL: In the two-plus years since the Browns’ last playoff appearance, and the subsequent purchase of Aston Villa, the Cleveland organization has floundered at best. The Browns’ combined regular season record (including the first four games this season) is a pathetic 10-26. Meanwhile, Villa have contended each and every year, finishing sixth twice and eighth last season.

MG: Since their last playoff appearance in the 2005/06 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have amassed a terrible 27-40 regular season record with zero playoff appearances. On the other side of the pond, though, Manchester United continue to dominate, having won the Premier League three consecutive times and finishing in second last season.

PA: Since Anschutz purchased Hammarby back in 2001, his Los Angeles Kings teams have yet to make the playoffs. Their only winning season was last season when they finished 46-36. But between 2002 and 2009, the Kings have finished a whopping 196-274. During that same time period, Hammarby has only finished lower than sixth two times. So while the Kings were losing, Hammarby was busy contending in the Allsvenskan.

TH/GG: In the two seasons that Hicks and Gillett have owned both Liverpool and their respective NHL clubs things have not gone so well for the hockey teams. Hicks’ Stars have finished a combined 73-91 while Gillett’s Canadiens finished 80-84 over the last two seasons. In the last two seasons, Liverpool has finished second and seventh in the Premier League. Are you starting to see the correlation?

The Love Triangle Failure/Messy Divorce Phase

Nobody goes into a marriage expecting to get divorced. Maybe it’s just the constant spotlight, but it does seem that the richer you are, the more likely that at least one divorce is in your near future. With American billionaires and their sports teams, the “divorce” has always been with their mail-order bride (European team), which then sees them crawl back to their wife (American team) with their tail between their legs.

RL: Although Lerner has yet to divorce himself from Aston Villa, he’s really helped to turn the fans against him. The chairman found it alright to anger one of the best managers in the world, Martin O’Neill, by not appropriating additional funds to help take Villa to the next level and by selling off their two best players in the process, Gareth Barry and James Milner. If Lerner does not get his act together he could find himself leaving England and making his way back to Cleveland where the Browns could certainly use some help to fix their many problems.

MG: Although United continues to enjoy lots of success, the financial clock is ticking on Glazer. United is millions in debt, and it’s only getting worse. United was so far in debt that Glazer sold the world’s best footballer to Real Madrid for a cool £80 million, but instead of reinvesting that huge amount of cash into the team and improving the squad, Glazer was forced to use it to help pay off some of the massive debt that has accumulated since he’s taken over.

The United fans absolutely detest the Glazers and want the club to be sold immediately. They’ve resorted to wearing Newton Heath’s old colors (green and gold) and consistently chant and make signs and banners that read “Green and gold till United’s sold” at all the matches at Old Trafford. Glazer’s days in Manchester are numbered. The Buccaneers should be happy. They could use all the help in the world right now, and it would be great if their owner actually started caring about them again.

PA: It’s a wonder why Anschutz is still in charge of Hammarby. Last season, his Los Angeles Kings made their first playoff appearance since 2001, which coincided with a last place finish for Hammarby. This saw them relegated after years of contending in the Allsvenskan. Anschutz should cut his losses while he’s ahead and redirect his cash flow to Los Angeles where his hockey team could surely use some help in a league that is seeing more and more parity and competition across the board.

TH/GG: Leading up to the sale of Liverpool, it was becoming more and more obvious that the Anfield club was in shambles. Two seasons ago Liverpool finished in second. Last season they slid to a disappointing seventh place finish. This season, seven matches in, they have accumulated a total of six points and are sitting in 18th place on the table. They lost to Blackpool at Anfield last match. Sure, upsets happen, but it’s not very often that a huge club is ever seen in the relegation zone.

They will probably get out of trouble soon enough, but all title chances and Champions League aspiration are shot. At this point they can stick to fighting for a Europa League spot, at best. We’ll have to see how the Stars and Canadiens fare this season in the NHL, but I’ll bet they do substantially better than their records last season (which shouldn’t be too hard).

American v. European success

I’m not sure that you – or I for that matter – fully understand the implications of what I just said. If an American sports team owner owns both a traditional American sports team (Major League Soccer clubs excluded) and a European football club, only one of the teams will be successful. Both teams can have bad seasons, but both teams cannot have success simultaneously. The fact that the five people who have all tried this all fit the mold perfectly is mind boggling. In addition to this, at some point just a few years after their purchase of the European football club, the football club will fail from a success point of view, financially, or both, guaranteed.

Does John Henry fit this model?

We can’t compare every part of the model to John Henry’s sports team excursions, but we can compare up until his purchase of Liverpool. First, the White Picket Fence Phase. Henry, along with New England Sports Ventures, purchased the Boston Red Sox in 2002. In 2003 the Red Sox were one win away from making it to the World Series. In 2004 and 2007 they won the World Series. Sounds like a successful start to his marriage to sports to me.

Currently, he’s in the Greedy/Mid-Life Crisis Phase. The Red Sox, who are expected to make a deep playoff run each and every season, have not performed as well as we would have liked. Yes they made the playoffs in 2008 and 2009, but nothing came from those trips, and they were short-lived appearances. This year the Sox just plain missed the playoffs. Injuries deterred what could have been a great season, and many are deeming this season a success, but no playoffs means no chance at a title, plain and simple.

Now that it’s come out that Henry has been pursuing Liverpool (his version of the exciting woman on the side), the model is fitting more and more. He was busy focusing on extracurricular activities while the Red Sox were fighting for the playoffs.

What are the implications for Liverpool and the Red Sox?

An incredible amount of Red Sox fans on this side of the pond are ecstatic about John Henry’s splash into the world of European football. Those people are also uneducated when it comes to the success and failures of American sports team owners and their journeys abroad. They are so excited to see Liverpool play the New England Revolution at Fenway Park that they can’t even bother to take a step back and look at the facts.

Maybe after reading about what is bound to happen to their Red Sox based on the previous examples they will think twice. Meanwhile, lots of Liverpool fans appear to be happy about the thought of getting rid of Gillett and Hicks and replacing them with Henry. Not so fast my friends, look back at the examples.

Based on the model, both teams will be in trouble. Let’s first start with the Red Sox. With John Henry focusing most of his resources on Liverpool and learning the ins and outs of European football, the Red Sox will be failing. Just looking at the five examples above, the best case scenario will have the Sox winning the World Series next season, but then finishing with a .500 winning percentage each and every season after that. In all of the cases the teams did substantially worse, and usually found themselves toward the bottom of the league. Given that the AL East is the hardest division in baseball, this is perfectly capable of happening to the Sox.

People may argue that the Sox will be fine because we basically have an inexhaustible amount of money to spend on free agents and re-sign our star players. Too bad in the other five instances the owners were too busy losing money because they were in debt with their football clubs that they had substantially less money to spend on players for their American teams. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Red Sox fans. I want nothing more than for my Sox to win the World Series every single year, but facts are facts, and the future looks bleak for Boston if Liverpool is officially transferred into the hands of John Henry.

Liverpool’s future appears less bleak, but bleak nonetheless. The good thing for Liverpool fans is that John Henry will be so caught up in running your club, he will virtually stop paying attention to the Red Sox and let Theo Epstein take care of everything without question. Based off the earlier examples, Liverpool will flourish initially. They may win the league in a few years (I know that seems doubtful currently), or at the very least qualify for the Champions League time and time again.

However, during this entire process Henry will be amassing ungodly amounts of debt due to his inexperience in the world of European football. Eventually you will just have another Hicks/Gillett situation on your hands, but instead of two moron American billionaires running your club, you’ll just have one. So soak up all the success of Liverpool in the coming years while it lasts, but don’t come crying to me when you hate John Henry for running your club into financial ruin.


After reading this article you may think I hate John Henry. That is anything but the case. As a Red Sox fan I absolutely love the guy! He’s brought my team so much more success than I’ve been used to over the years. However, I don’t want my team’s owner risking it all in a league that he has little to no knowledge of. Americans consistently fail when they ply their trade in foreign sports leagues. My message to John Henry is simple: Stay in America for the sake of everybody. Red Sox fans will be happier for it and Liverpool fans would be happier with a non-American owner (whether they believe it now or not).

If this deal does end up getting finalized before the October 15th deadline, then I will fear for my Red Sox each and every day that he owns Liverpool. The writing is on the wall, and I hope I’m not the only one reading it.

Reader Comments

The below views are those of our readers and do not reflect the opinions of Premiership Talk or its employees.
  1. steven. says:

    if Henry can end a 86 year old drought for your beloved Sox then you'd think you'd have a little more faith in his abilities than that…

    can't wait to see him at Goodison with the prerequisite Red scarf in his hands.

  2. JP Hegarty says:

    So No chance then ???????

    Like no chance at all ?????????

    Oh Dear !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Poor bitter blue

  3. Andy says:

    RBS Win!!! just waiting to hear if they appeal or not. I bet they do though.

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