MARTIN SAMUEL: Liverpool sale nailed on day Super League dreams died

MARTIN SAMUEL: FSG’s decision to put Liverpool on the market confirms that the Super League was the end game, after all. The backlash here saved English football, but has exposed the elite

  • Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group have put the club up for sale  
  • FSG have owned the Merseyside club since purchasing it back in October 2010
  • The decision to sell confirms that the European Super League was the end game
  • Backlash over the plans saved our game but has also exposed football’s elite 

There can be many rationalisations — the weak pound, the rise of state-owned rivals, monetisation that is the heart of venture capitalism. Yet, most of all, Fenway Sports Group’s decision to put Liverpool on the market confirms what English football feared.

That the Super League was the end game, after all. That when John W Henry and his co-conspirators talked strategy, the only way he could achieve the humungous profit he truly desired was to destroy our game and emerge as one of the victors from the smoking rubble.

Now the Super League has collapsed, Henry has endured all of one full season before putting the For Sale sign up.

As agents like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are not engaged overnight, and full sales presentation brochures not compiled in a day, we must presume this has been in the pipeline for many months.

Fenway Sports Group (owners John W Henry, second left, and Tom Werner, second from right) have announced they are ‘inviting offers’ to sell Liverpool after 12 years at the club

The sale would have been in the pipeline for many months and it comes after their end game of the European Super League failed to materialise following heavy backlash over a year ago 

Their decision to sell the club confirms the Super League was the end game and while backlash among the game has saved our game it has also exposed the elite

Venture capitalists sell as much as buy and Henry has always been determined to collect a substantial pay-out from his investment in English football. The great deception was that in the aftermath of the Super League debacle, Liverpool, and others, were allowed to position themselves as if it was an error of judgement, a foolish dalliance, rather than the flint-hearted motivation all along.

Would Liverpool be on the market today if that breakaway had succeeded? We cannot know for sure, but it is unlikely. What would be the point of cashing in when the financial boom had not yet materialised?

Now we know that, for the English elite at least, that dream is dead. So, shorn of the monetisation bonanza FSG hoped for, Henry has done the next best thing. He is selling, while setting his price on the back of Todd Boehly’s deal for Chelsea, valued at $4billion.

Liverpool would be worth more. So $4bn would be FSG’s and Henry’s return, given that the club was purchased for £300m in 2010. It’s a very fair exchange. Liverpool have done well out of Henry’s stewardship which has been largely excellent, with a first Premier League title, the Champions League, four domestic cups, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.

But their owner has done well from them, too.

The  sale of Chelsea to Todd Boehly is thought to be a key reason behind FSG’s decision

John W.Henry leaves Liverpool in a better place but the owner has done well from them too (Henry and wife Linda celebrating Liverpool’s Champions League triumph back in 2019

Henry leaves Liverpool a considerably better place than when he arrived, with one of the greatest managers in the world in Jurgen Klopp and a squad of outstanding players.

It is unlikely that the motivation for sale is the expense of a further squad rebuild, or a factor as transitory as a poor start to the season. Henry will have looked at greater certainties in a recession like sharp interest rate rises and a weak domestic currency. It is not about patchy away form.

If the $4bn asking price is correct, buying Liverpool in dollars would have cost $400,000 more several months ago.

Yet it will certainly have focused Henry’s mind that the arrival of Newcastle makes success, and the consistent revenue streams that come with it, harder to guarantee. If the Premier League now has a Big Seven, almost half of those clubs will miss out on Champions League football each season.

If the $4billion asking price is correct, buying Liverpool in dollars would have cost $400,000 more several months ago 

The arrival of Newcastle after their takeover makes future success harder to guarantee

Liverpool have invested heavily on players, but often finance these deals through astute trading. The inflated price extracted for Philippe Coutinho was the basis for the moves for Virgil van Dijk and Alisson. Yet deals like that cannot be made every year without harming the team and Liverpool now reside seven points outside the top four, albeit with a game in hand on Tottenham.

The Champions League represents a significant annual income boost. This year alone, for coming second in the group stage to Napoli, it has brought Liverpool £71.68million, not including gate money. Imagine a season when, instead of that going to Liverpool, it washes up at the door of Newcastle.

It is this thought that will be terrifying FSG. The prospect of a future in which such a giant revenue stream is far from certain and, with failure, the resulting toll — loss of prestige, of global recognition, the damage to the brand.

Fenway Sports Group bought Liverpool in 2010 from American businessmen Tom Hicks and George Gillet and they are set to make a massive profit from the £300million they paid 

So Henry is selling with Liverpool close to its prime. Who knows where the club will be, say, five years from now?

That question would have been answerable had the Super League project worked. Everyone would have known where Liverpool would be because it was a closed shop. When that dream died, Liverpool were back to living on their wits, to a future that could no longer be predicted.

The backlash here saved English football, but exposed the elite to the vagaries of a market they greedily shaped. Henry is not an adventure capitalist and that is why he is selling.

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