Thursday, 30 August 2012

Brendan Rodgers: Early Impressions


When Brendan Rodgers gave his first press conference as Liverpool manager, it was faultless. His respect for the traditions of the club, his honesty about his “short career” and his infectious drive and determination bought him the good will of even the most sceptical fans. He summed it up like this: 


“For me, what I want to do is prove my worth and prove my honesty and commitment to Liverpool Football Club. History judges you as a manager, that's the reality of it. So it won't be now, it will be history – and I hope history will allow me to walk alongside some of the great managers here.” 

Rodgers is a great talker, but history will judge him on his actions rather than his words. There have been lots of positives since he joined but there are already some niggling concerns which are explored in detail below. 

Transfer Talk 

Rodgers has been too honest with the media when it comes to transfers and, in some press conferences, he has shown a small club mentality. He needs to learn quickly that at Liverpool every sentence a manager utters is magnified and this can lead to seemingly innocuous comments being blown out of all proportion. He also needs to learn that at Liverpool we do our business behind closed doors, not through the media. 

When asked about whether Daniel Agger could be sold, Rodgers responded by saying “Every player has a price.” This was a schoolboy error which led to a spate of “Agger up for Sale” headlines. Rodgers had fed the vultures and, in doing so, risked unsettling his best defender. 

When asked about Andy Carroll’s potential move to Newcastle he almost said the right thing, “I would need to be a nutcase to even consider at this moment to let Carroll go out.” He then let his true feelings clear by saying “unless there are other solutions.” It is hard to imagine Rodgers saying he would let Gerrard leave if he could find another solution, and the media interpreted his comments to mean “Carroll is surplus to requirements.” 

If Carroll or the fans were in any doubt about where he stands with Rodgers, it was put to bed with these extraordinary comments: “I am talking generically here, I'm not sure we are in a position to have £35m players as third-choice strikers.” How that statement is generic is anybody’s guess, and it was yet another example of a man who is far too honest when it comes to discussing his players with the media. 

He is not much better when it comes to the players coming in. When asked about Liverpool’s interest in Dempsey, he said "Ian Ayre has spoken with the club to see what the position is. That is where we're at. He's a very talented player but we don't like to talk about other clubs' players." His comments led to an official complaint by Fulham to the Premier League and unsettled Dempsey to such an extent that he has not played for Fulham since. The final part of his statement “we don’t like to talk about other clubs players” was all he needed to say. 

It will be very interesting to see how Rodgers handles the media when the pressure is really on. His tendency to be too honest with them could turn into a noose around his neck. 

Lucas Injury 

Lucas is out for three months with an injury that may not have been so severe had Rodgers and the medical team got a crucial decision right. After such a long layoff with a serious knee injury, Lucas needed to be wrapped in cotton wool. This did not happen and he was allowed to start the game against Manchester City despite carrying a thigh injury. In the post match interview Rodgers said, “in the warm-up Lucas felt his thigh muscle when he took a shot."  As soon as he knew there was a problem, Rodgers had an opportunity to say "I'm not risking him." He did not take it.

We will never know how long Lucas would have been out for had he been withdrawn prior to the match, but there is no doubt that the decision to play him was ill advised, even bordering on reckless. This is not directly Rodgers fault, but when it comes to team selection the buck stops with the manager. 

Where is Plan B?

Swansea City were electric at the beginning of last season. Their brand of attacking football was a breath of fresh air and, importantly, it was delivering results. However, there was always a question mark about whether they had a “Plan B”. As one Swansea fan put it, “don't expect a Plan B because Rodgers believes in Plan A so much. It can be frustrating at times ... when you're a goal down with 89 minutes on the clock you don't want to see your back four stroking it about in leisurely fashion!” Liverpool fans who watched the WBA game will relate to this. It was very frustrating to watch us outnumbered and getting outplayed, yet seemingly unwilling to try something different. The decision to bring on Joe Cole instead of Andy Carroll with twenty minutes to go summed this up. Even two goals down with ten men, Rodgers stuck to his philosophy. 

The biggest risk with this philosophy is that teams will bully us into defeat. It happened to Swansea against Stoke and Everton last season and it could well happen to Liverpool this term. With a team like Barcelona you do not need a Plan B because they execute Plan A so effectively, but there is a big question mark over whether a similar philosophy will bring similar success at Anfield. Ultimately, the success or failure of Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool manager will be dependent on how well Plan A is executed, because there is no Plan B. 

I have highlighted these concerns in the hope that they are teething problems rather than the tips of some very big icebergs. I will come back to this article at the end of the season to see how he has progressed with his handling of the media, his ability to get big decisions right and, most importantly, the success or failure of his football philosophy.

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Saturday, 16 June 2012

New Anfield: A Response to John W Henry


The likelihood of Liverpool getting a new stadium has taken a massive step backwards following an interview given by John Henry to The Anfield Wrap.

He states that “no one has ever addressed whether a new stadium is rational” and then sets out an argument built around it being economically irrational for the new stadium to be built. The full interview is available here: http://www.theanfieldwrap.com/2012/06/john-w-henry-on-the-stadium-question/

To put some factual evidence behind his argument, Henry posted the following chart showing the revenue per seat for various clubs:



Henry cherry picks Arsenal and Chelsea from the above list to show that their revenue per seat far outweighs Liverpool’s. He then points to the fact that they are situated in affluent London to back up his point. What he does not explain is why Manchester United, situated in Salford which has a similar macro economy to Liverpool, are able to generate £500 more per seat than Liverpool.

Let’s analyse the two clubs to see where this extra revenue comes from. Liverpool’s season tickets range from £725 to £802, whilst United’s range from £532 to £950. United have a bigger scale because they have more seats, but the average for both clubs is around £750. This backs up the point that the macro economics are comparable.

So, how do United generate £500 more per seat per year than LFC? The answer is that Manchester United’s corporate and premium seating far outweighs Liverpool’s, and it is the corporate customers who drive up the revenue per head. No matter how successful Liverpool are on the pitch, we will never be able to match United for spend per head in the existing Anfield due to its infrastructure.

When you take into account the fact that United also have 30,000 more seats than Liverpool, it is clear to see that staying at Anfield will lead to United’s spending power outgrowing Liverpool’s exponentially in the coming years. Success for Liverpool on the pitch will not help this aspect of our finances much, and it is a myth that global commercial income can bridge the gap. The truth is that the biggest gap between the revenues of the two clubs comes from match days and if we do not act it will continue to grow.

Henry’s argument is this: “If Anfield yielded £1550 per seat, without adding seats, LFC match-day revenue would rise from £41M to £71M.” What he fails to mention is that the current Anfield has no room for more corporate facilities. He also fails to mention that United’s increased spend per seat comes not from Joe Public paying more, but from corporate guests paying more. We have the fan base to match United on this front, but we do not have the infrastructure. That is why the new stadium is absolutely critical to our medium and long term success.

When Henry suggests that our future success on the pitch and through our global commercial revenue will lead to a new stadium, he is trying to get us to buy into the notion that he can get the cart to pull the horse. It won’t. His strategy will lead to us standing still, or moving backwards.

There is one potential chink of light at the end of the tunnel: "Redevelop Anfield". We have recently learnt that the previously impossible task of demolishing 1800 homes behind the main stand, and offering the residents a payment for these homes so low that they cannot afford to buy elsewhere, is back on the cards. It will be interesting to see what has changed since John Henry said in 2011 that redevelopment posed "so many obstacles."

Ian Ayre now speaks of "great dialogue" with the residents, a comment that bemused and angered the Salisbury residents committee (who have met Ayre just once) in equal measure. Salisbury have said "everybody can see which way this is going now." What they mean is that compulsory purchase orders will be sought and a massive fight will follow, one that could well end up with the European Commission and drag on for years. If you are wondering about timescales, a similar process started in the Edge Lane area of the city in 2001, it went to the High Court in 2006 and the European Court in 2009. The legal dispute was finally resolved in 2010, and the project is still a work in progress. 

The brutal truth is this: Without a new or redeveloped stadium, Liverpool have no hope of being able to compete with Chelsea, City, Arsenal or United financially no matter how well the team performs. Mr Henry needs to act on the stadium plans, and act now.



Sunday, 13 May 2012

The "Hit The Woodwork" League Table 2011/12

There is one Premier League table we do top, showing that we have not had the rub of the green this year. 

Here are some interesting stats:

  • Liverpool (33) have hit the woodwork more times than Aston Villa, Bolton, Norwich & Stoke combined (31). 
  • We have hit the woodwork 25% more times than second placed Fulham.
  • We have hit the woodwork more times than Manchester United and Arsenal combined.
Here is the table: 






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All stats via @eplindex

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Americanisation of The Liverpool Way

Liverpool FC need to evolve in order to progress. Stating the obvious, for this to happen we need revenue. Without the Champions League or a new stadium, revenues are hard to come by, so new innovative streams of income need to be found. 

It is really important that, as we search for new revenue streams, we stay true to who we are. We must never deviate from the blueprint for success that Bill Shankly set out for the club, an ethos that can be summed up in three very simple statements:
  1. We play “pass and move” attacking football. Our fans always get value for money from the team. 
  2. The only important people are the fans. Everything the club does is for them. 
  3. We do our business behind closed doors. We do not wash our dirty laundry in public. 
These things together will bring success, and success will make the people happy. That, in a nutshell, is The Liverpool Way. 

To the credit of Fenway Sports Group, they have taken the time to understand these guiding principles and the critical importance of them. When asked last year about the Kenny Dalglish contract negotiations, Henry responded “What is going on in that regard is private. It is something called The Liverpool Way.” 

This brings us on to the recent announcement that Liverpool will be the subject of a fly on the wall documentary by Fox. The documentary will give viewers a close look into the inner workings of our club. What will this mean for the blueprint for success fed down to us from Shankly? 

Firstly, we will get to see the pass and move philosophy being bred into players at all levels of the club. The documentary will offer us a unique insight into how we are applying our traditions and ethos to the modern day game. It could offer fans who have doubts about the direction Dalglish is taking the club some reassurance that we are on the right track. Do we really need a documentary to show us this though? Surely the judgement on whether or not we are playing the right brand of football comes from our performances on the pitch.

Secondly, it is opening the gates of Anfield and Melwood to the fans. If the fans are the most important people, why shouldn’t they be allowed to see what goes on inside the club at every level? Fenway Sports Group must have great confidence that the cameras will capture the club in a way that enhances our image around the world and increases our global fan base. We are the only English club to grant our fans this much access. That’s got to be a good thing, right? Well, not necessarily. In opening the doors to our fans, we are also opening it to our fiercest rivals. 

The third element is the most concerning one. By its very nature, a fly on the wall documentary has to be dramatic. Every drama must have highs and lows, and it is how the low points are edited that will be most important.

Having watched the HBO 247 series, there are two key elements that make this type of documentary a success. The first thing they do really well is offer an intimate portrait of the players and staff. Cameras follow them into their homes to give a truly unique insight into their personal lives. They show “hotel hang time” and the banter between the players. Anybody who has seen LFC TV’s Melwood Soccer Skills show will see that we probably have nothing to worry about on this front. The banter is healthy at Melwood. Our team spirit is strong. 

The second element of the show is all about the cameras getting up close and personal with the team during the highs and the lows. In HBO's 247: The Road To The Winter Classic series it is the locker room rant by New York Ranger’s coach John Tortorella that is arguably the best part of the whole series. It is this sort of drama that the producers will be looking for from Liverpool FC. Is that really something we want the world to see?

The recent disclosures by the club, that Fox will not film during the FA Cup Final and that the club has full editorial control, are reassuring for fans but may well cause Fox an issue. If they let Kenny Dalglish loose in the cutting room they may have a very short series indeed. 

It seems inevitable that there will have to be some drama. Without some fireworks, it will be a ratings flop and that defeats the object. They will find it incredibly difficult to get the balance right. How can they paint an intimate portrait of the club without showing us washing our dirty laundry in public?

We now must wait to see how Fox's editors, guided by FSG, portray one of English sport's greatest institutions. If this series is done well, it will market the club in America in a positive fashion. If it is done badly, it will make us a laughing stock.


Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Changing Shape of LFC's Revenue Model

The 2012 Deloittes Money League was recently published, and there were some interesting numbers for Liverpool fans.


We continued to slide down the Money League table, falling behind Inter Milan into 9th place (our 2009 high point was 7th).


Here is Deloittes 5 year view of our total revenues:






What is really interesting is how the revenue model is changing. Here is how things look in a snap shot:






As you can see, we have lost significant revenues from TV and Match Day due to the lack of Champions League football. However, we have made up some of these losses due to the strong sponsorship deal signed with Standard Chartered. 


When we participated in The Champions League, "Broadcasting" accounted for 43% of our total revenue. Last year, it dropped to 36%. Before we signed the deal with Standard Chartered, "Commercial" made up just 34% of out total revenue. It now represents 42%. 


What these numbers show is just how good a job Ian Ayre did as Commercial Director, bringing in the revenue to enable us to compete in the transfer market with clubs enjoying the financial benefits of Champions League football. The numbers also show us just how crucial it is that we get back into that competition for the 2013/14 season.

Next year's accounts will show a further shift towards "Commercial" as the key driver of revenue. "Broadcasting" and "Match Day" revenues will fall further due to non-participation in the Europa League whilst our commercial revenue will grow thanks to the new kit deal with Warrior. It is looking highly likely that "Commercial" will soon account for 50% of our total club revenue.


There are only two ways we can buck this trend: 1) Get a new stadium 2) Get back into the Champions League. The big risk is that the longer we go without both of these revenue drivers the harder it will be for us to strike such lucrative sponsorship deals.


The 2012/13 season will be a crucial one for Liverpool's future, both on and off the pitch.


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Monday, 9 April 2012

Selling Dirk is Moneyball Gone Mad


Reports in the news recently suggest that Dirk Kuyt could be on his way out of Anfield for as little as £1m. The story has been reported in numerous newspapers and interestingly by Dominic King, who is a respected Liverpool reporter with good contacts at the club. It would therefore appear that this is more than just ‘paper talk’.

The thinking behind the move is that Kuyt’s wages of £70k are excessive and, given his age, such money could be used more efficiently by bringing in a younger player on a lower wage. Kuyt also has just one year left on his contract, hence the low fee. It is classic FSG style ‘Moneyball’.

However, it is in cases like this that the Moneyball model is fundamentally flawed. There is no way we could replace what Dirk Kuyt offers Liverpool for £1m, and £70k per week is below the going rate for a top class midfielder.

The fact that Kuyt is one of the more mature members of our squad is actually a benefit. We are short of players who are proven to excel at the very highest level, something Dirk Kuyt has done throughout his career. Having him around for another year makes perfect sense as Liverpool’s transition continues. Selling him for £1m makes no sense at all.

This is a player who has scored in the quarter finals, semi finals and final of the Champions League. This is a player who started every game of the 2010 World Cup for Holland, who was instrumental in their march to the final. This is the man who came off the bench in the 100th minute of the Carling Cup final to score a goal, clear an effort off the line and then score again in the penalty shoot out. Without him, the Carling Cup could well be sitting in Cardiff now.

When the going gets tough, Dirk Kuyt gets going. He sweats blood for the cause every time he puts the shirt on. He is a vital cog in our chain and the squad will be weaker next season without him. His agent has confirmed he wants to stay, so let him.

If we are looking to replenish our squad, we should start with some of our newer flops, not a tried, tested and trusted legend.


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Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Closing The Gap: Why FSG Must Act Now

The gap between Liverpool and Manchester United can be measured in more than just league points. The total annual gap between the two clubs in terms of revenues generated now sits at a very concerning £148m per year. The chart below shows how this is broken down:

Source: Deloittes Football Money League 2010/11

Here are the same numbers broken down by the actual revenue gap between the two clubs for each sector:



A large part of the gap in TV revenue can be closed by Liverpool’s actions on the pitch. For example, £30m in TV revenue would be immediately generated through participation in the Champions League. This scenario would also mean a higher merit payment from The Premier League (c. £6m) and more lucrative gate receipts and commercial sponsorship opportunities (up to £4m).

The £26m commercial gap could be partially closed by selling naming rights for the existing Anfield stadium. Whilst this would not generate anywhere near the £400m paid by the Abu Dhabi government for the Etihad stadium, it is not inconceivable that it could bring in an additional £15m per season.

Here is how the revenue gap between Liverpool and Manchester United would look if we incorporate the £55m of increased income detailed above:



Clearly, even with success on the pitch there is still a very significant gap between the two clubs. The majority of this gap comes from the difference in match day revenue. Even with Champions League qualification, the match day revenue gap would stand at £66m per year. Here is a breakdown of this huge difference:

Source: Swiss Ramble

This revenue gap is a huge problem for Liverpool. From 2013/14, the FFP rules will put severe restrictions on a club’s ability to invest over and above its annual income. Even if Liverpool manage to qualify for the Champions League each year, the £93m revenue gap Manchester United will command will mean that they can invest far more heavily in squad improvements. The doomsday scenario for Liverpool is that United’s superiority off the field will inevitably be matched with more success on it, as the quality of both squads drifts further apart.

United’s Achilles Heel

There is another aspect to the FFP rules which does not sit as comfortably in United’s favour: that of club debt. The following chart shows the sheer scale of United’s debt and the financial burden it puts on them each season. Here is a breakdown of their actual profit performance last year:

Source: Swiss Ramble

Any operating profits United make are massively reduced by their need to service the £540m acquisition debt. In 2011 alone, the interest payable was a whopping £43.5m. The net effect of this in terms of FFP is that United will have a break even spend allowance of £45m per year. However, given that the last Liverpool FC accounts available show a £2.3m loss before interest, and the general consensus that FSG will not spend more than they earn, this total is highly likely to be considerably more than Liverpool’s available spend. That is, of course, unless Liverpool’s revenue streams are significantly increased.

Put simply, in order to operate on a par with United off the pitch, Liverpool must get back into the Champions League and get the right financial model in place for a new stadium.

Given how fundamental a new stadium is to Liverpool’s finances, why is there not already a spade in the ground?

The answer to this question comes through the key words ‘right financial model’. FSG are reportedly looking to generate £150m of the estimated £300m cost through up front sponsorship deals. Should they pull this off, the cost to service the additional £150m would be somewhere in the region of £10m per year. This cost would be offset by an additional £1.2m per game in match day revenue (Based on £47 per head) which would bring in close to £35m per year.

There are lots of risks attached to this financial model. If FSG are unable to secure the funding up front, the debt servicing costs could double. Another risk factor comes from the possibility that Liverpool will fail to fill the stadium or attract corporate guests, leading to the revenue per head being significantly reduced. This is a very real possibility, given that the Isla Gladstone corporate facility was only half full during the last days of the Hodgson era. Yet another risk is that there could be short term cash flow issues affecting Liverpool’s ability to compete in the transfer market and therefore the league. 


However, taking everything into account, there is absolutely no alternative for FSG: They must find that right financial model for a new stadium, and find it now.
The consequences of building works not starting in the immediate future are almost too much to bear.

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Note: The main source for the Premier League finances in this article is the exceptional www.swissramble.blogspot.co.uk.







Sunday, 25 March 2012

Why Does Carroll Keep Getting Dropped?


Liverpool are a much more effective team with Andy Carroll than they are without him. That is not an opinion, it is a fact. For proof, take a look at the following chart, showing our results when he does and doesn't start:

Liverpool Performances With and Without Carroll Starting
With Carroll starting, Liverpool’s record is W13 D4 L4 – a 62% win percentage. When he hasn’t started, it drops to W8, D6, L7 – a 38% win percentage.

This is not a coincidence. The work he does off the ball, dragging defenders out of position and generally being a nuisance, creates the space for the likes of Suarez and Gerrard to exploit. In the 3-0 win against Everton, he was a constant menace, jumping for just about every ball that went up in the air and not allowing either of the central defenders any time to settle.

In their first start together, Suarez, Carroll and Gerrard showed that together they could offer Liverpool a formidable attacking threat. It is therefore very surprising that Carroll has not started a game in the league since. Less surprising, given the stats above, is the fact that we lost the subsequent games without him.

So, if it is not his performances on the pitch that are getting him dropped, what is it?

Carroll has yet to start more than four consecutive games for Liverpool. For a young player trying to find his way into a new team, these stuttering appearances cannot be helping his development as a player. When you consider that he is getting dropped even when he plays very well, it is bound to also be affecting his mentality.

He has had well publicised off the field issues since he started his career. It could well be, therefore, that there are things happening off the field that are stopping Kenny from giving him a good run of games on it.

I would be interested to know your views on why Carroll isn’t a regular starter, because it is a mystery to me.

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Friday, 17 February 2012

Suarez’s Old Friends Show His New Employers What Loyalty Means

After a week in which Luis Suarez was left to walk alone by the power base of his current club, it was some old friends who showed the unreserved loyalty and support that he should have got from Fenway Sports Group and the Liverpool FC board. 

The day started with Suarez’s Uruguay captain, Diego Lugano, claiming he "did not deserve" the criticism levelled at him throughout the past few months. Speaking with a level headed self-assurance, Lugano said "He has gone through a few months he did not deserve. He followed his principles. We live in a democracy and if you do not want to greet someone, do not greet them - and less so if that person has made you experience bad moments. It's a football argument and many false moralists and hypocrites have profited, and Luis is the only innocent party."

This statement was followed up by Uruguay President Jose Mujica, who underlined that there is “solidarity with Suarez” throughout the country. In a direct reference to Evra’s privileged upbringing, Mujica said “He’s a child born from poverty who’s leagues away from having received academic training in diplomatic protocol.”

The next event in an extraordinary day of support for Suarez came in the game between his former club, Ajax, and Manchester United. Before, during and after the game, the Ajax fans chanted Suarez’s name and even conducted a rendition of “We are not racist we only hate Mancs” in Dutch.

During his spell at Ajax, Suarez scored 81 goals in 110 games, was awarded the captaincy of the club at the age of 22 and joined the likes of Cruyff, van Basten and Bergkamp in their “100 Club”. His place as an Ajax legend is comfortably secured.

Following close behind the Ajax game was a match involving his first club, Nacional. Before the game, the players paraded a “Fuerza Luis” banner around the pitch to rapturous applause from all four corners of the ground. 




In the crowd, there were lots of banners in support of Suarez, including two which read “Suarez is from Nacional so Evra must be from (hated rivals) Penerol” and “Wash your mouth out Ferguson before you speak of Sir Suarez” 



Suarez will always be a hero in Nacional. He joined as an 18 year old in 2005 and scored 10 goals in 21 appearances to fire them to the domestic title. 

The support Suarez has received from around the world is in stark contrast to the way he has been treated by Liverpool. Ian Ayre, the Managing Director, has changed his mind on Suarez based on the views of people who he perceives to be more important than the players and fans of the club.

Speaking just a few weeks ago, Ayre said “We will support him and our fans will support him. We’ll work with him because he’s a great player and a great guy. He’ll get 100% support from Liverpool Football Club.”

This 100% support did not last long. One article from a minor shareholder in FSG (New York Times) and some inappropriate comments from Standard Chartered were enough to convince Ayre to turn against Suarez. In cutting remarks over the hand shake incident he said “We are extremely disappointed Luis Suarez did not shake hands with Patrice Evra”.

The forced apologies from Dalglish and Suarez which accompanied this statement from Ian Ayre showed clearly that the current hierarchy at LFC are prepared to put money over morals. Worryingly for Liverpool, it was another sign that they have one of the weakest MDs in the Premier League.

In the wake of the rebuke from those he should have been able to rely on for support, Suarez will have taken great comfort from the events at Ajax and Nacional. The incredible mark he has left on these clubs is clear to see. It underlines how fortunate Liverpool are to have him on their books. It also shows their terribly misplaced priorities over this affair.

Two continents spoke with one voice yesterday to ensure that Suarez will not walk alone. In doing so, they showed up the current Liverpool hierarchy for what they are: misguided, financially motivated capitalists.


Sunday, 12 February 2012

Suarezgate: Why FSG Finally Got Involved

The silence from Fenway Sports Group since the Suarez race row began has been deafening. Where did they stand on the scandal? Did they back Kenny, or were they embarrassed by the whole episode? As they never publicly commented on it, we will never know.
One thing we can be pretty sure of is that, in the hours following Suarez’s refusal to shake Evra’s hand, FSG finally said to the Liverpool management “enough is enough.”
Looking at the incident itself, Suarez’s refusal to shake Evra’s hand was not such a big deal. It was far less controversial than the racial abuse allegation which started it all. It was also less provocative than the T Shirts worn by the Liverpool players in support of Suarez. In many ways, it was a storm in a tea cup.
So why did that incident finally force FSG into action?
Firstly, there was the reaction of the players on the pitch, including their bust up at half time. The Manchester United players were in no mood to play the incident down and actively sought out a confrontation with the Liverpool players in the tunnel. The police got involved and the finger of blame was pointed at Suarez and his handshake snub.
All this occurred during the biggest game of the season, with a worldwide television audience of half a billion watching. Whoever was to blame, we did not portray the global image John W Henry had in mind for the club when he bought it.
Secondly, the media and social network sites turned the storm in a teacup into a hurricane. This lead to John W Henry’s Twitter feed getting completely bombarded by a general public who had been whipped into frenzy by Sky Sports. In simple terms, Henry will care more about the global image of the club than he will about a local rivalry. The feedback he was getting on Saturday night was that our global image was in tatters.
Thirdly, and crucially, the New York Times decided to have their say.
The New York Times owns 7% of FSG (until recently they owned 17.75%). Therefore, when they speak, Henry and Werner listen to what they have to say. In a direct challenge to their fellow board members, the Times position was as follows: “If the Fenway Sports Group is to be the responsible team owner in soccer that it has proved to be in baseball, it needs to get hold of Liverpool, its club in England's Premier League, and repair its global image fast.
"On Saturday, Liverpool lost at Manchester United, 2-1, allowing United to temporarily move into first place in the Premier League. There is no disgrace in such a loss; United, the defending English champion, is vying to keep that title this season, and it very rarely loses at home.
"But there was disgrace, witnessed by television viewers around the world, in the refusal of Liverpool's Luis Suarez to shake the hand of United's Patrice Evra before kick-off."
The article concluded by saying: "It is time for John Henry and Tom Werner, leaders of the Fenway Group that controls Liverpool, to state clearly the direction the team will take on this issue."
Within hours of this article being published, all the defiance in Liverpool’s dressing room had disappeared. Ian Ayre put a statement out which directly attacked Suarez. Kenny Dalglish sided with his managing director. Suarez fell into line, issuing his own unreserved apology.
It was a turn of events that demonstrated where the real power at Anfield lies: thousands of miles away in Boston. There is no doubt that FSG have the long term health of their global brand at heart, but their actions could have far reaching implications for Suarez and Dalglish. Serious questions are already being asked about what the future will hold for them.


It will be very interesting to see how events transpire.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Through The Fog: What Makes Liverpool FC Unique

In the wake of weeks of PR turmoil for the Liverpool FC, with the Suarez race scandal and the abuse of a black player at Anfield confounded by a national press with an anti-Liverpool agenda, us fans did what we do best. We came together as one.
Anne Williams has been waiting 23 years for justice for her son, Kevin, who died needlessly at Hillsborough. The government’s e-petition scheme finally gave her the opportunity she needed to force those responsible for Kevin’s death to be held to account. Together, we have helped Anne take a big step along the road towards getting that justice.
The campaign started really slowly, with just a few thousand of the 100,000 signatures needed. Some notable journalists, like Tony Evans, were behind Anne’s quest for justice from the very start. However, the national media in general ignored it. Supporting Liverpool FC in the wake of all the scandal was not very fashionable on fleet street.
There are a lot of comments made mocking the so-called “LFC Family” on Twitter, but that is the best way to describe how thousands of Liverpool fans have united behind this common cause over the past week. Together, our voice was too loud to ignore and, slowly but surely, the mainstream media started to sit up and take notice.
Last night and this morning, watching as 60,000 names turned to 100,000 with breathtaking speed, I felt a sense of pride to be part of this family. When the chips are down, and the world is against us, we stand together as one. Bob Paisley, who knew the club and fans as well as anyone, summed it up perfectly when he said, “When you're lost in a fog you must stick together. Then you don't get lost. If there's one secret to Liverpool, that's it.”
Over the past week, we have shown that our spirit makes us truly unique. We’ve shown once again that together, Liverpool Football Club can achieve absolutely anything. Just like we did in Istanbul, just like we did in Rome. Just like we have done on countless occasions on the fields of Anfield Road. And just like we will do again.
For more information on why the fight for justice is so important, visit this website http://www.contrast.org/hillsborough/ 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/joescouse_lfc

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Suarez, Evra & Reliable Witnesses

The verdict in the Suarez case hung on the reliability of the witness testimony. In blunt summary, the FA decided that Evra was a more reliable witness and therefore found Suarez guilty. Here are the crucial parts of the testimony with some analysis...

Is the Word “Negro” Racially Offensive?

The panel of language experts used by the FA described the connotations of the word “negro” as follows:

 “It is important to grasp that the word "negro" is ambiguous in all countries and regions of Latin America. The word "negro" is by no means, however, always used offensively. The term can also be used as a friendly form of address to someone seen as somewhat brown-skinned or even just black-haired. It may be used affectionately between man and wife, or girlfriend/boyfriend, it may be used as a nickname in everyday speech, it may be used to identify in neutral and descriptive fashion someone of dark skin; several famous people in Uruguay are known as "el negro/la negra such-and-such".

The experts concluded that if the panel believed Evra’s version of events, they could assume the word "negro" was used in a racially offensive way. However, they say of Suarez’s version of events:

“The experts concluded their observations on Mr Suarez's account as follows. If Mr Suarez used the word "negro" as described by Mr Suarez, this would not be interpreted as either offensive or offensive in racial terms in Uruguay and Spanish-speaking America.”

The panel therefore needed to deem one of the accounts to be false in order to establish guilt, since Suarez’s defence was proved to be inoffensive in racial terms.

How Events Transpired

The conversation began with Evra saying "Concha de tu hermana" which translates as "your sister's pussy". Evra says he meant “fucking hell”. There is no dispute about who started the argument: it was Evra. There is no dispute about who threw the first insult: Evra. The dispute is whether Suarez’s reaction used racially offensive words. The FA ruled that it did.

So, how unreliable a witness was Suarez, and how reliable was Evra?

Immediately after Evra’s insult, the video evidence that can be lip-read shows Suarez saying "What did you say?" Suarez, before this video evidence came out, told the FA he said “What did you say?" That is a reliable statement.

They both agree that Evra then said "Why did you kick me?" What they dispute is the answer. Evra claims Suarez said "Because you are black". Suarez claims he said "it was just a normal foul" then shrugged his shoulders. The video evidence shows Suarez shrugging his shoulders, backing up his testimony. So far, the video evidence supports Suarez.

Next comes the crucial piece of Suarez evidence, the part the FA panel relied heavily on to find him guilty. Suarez said in his statement “I was trying to defuse the situation”. Under cross examination, Suarez more or less admitted that he was not trying to defuse the situation. The FA used this admission to discredit Suarez as a witness.

The really important thing he says comes just after this comment: “Under no circumstances was this action intended to be offensive and most certainly not racially offensive. It was not in any way a reference to the colour of PE's skin.” This, the FA deemed, was also untrue.

The other evidence the FA panel relied on was the fact that Suarez’s story changes slightly. However, all of the changes can be fully explained by the fact that the situation happened very quickly and the fallibility of memory means that the exact sequences of events often merge into one. The FA acknowledge this as a possibility but do not accept it as an excuse.

There are inconsistencies in Evra’s testimony. In his evidence, Evra states that he told the players after the game that Suarez said he kicked him "porque tu eres negro" (“because I am black”). None of the four Spanish speaking Manchester United players recalled Evra saying this in their witness testimonies. In the FA’s report, they confirm this is the case but state that it is possible the players simply forgot he said it. They do not point to the other possibility: that he did not say it. Under this scenario, it could be used as evidence that Evra is an unreliable witness.

There were four pieces of evidence presented by Suarez's lawyer to the FA that suggest Evra is an unreliable witness. The interesting one is the coin toss. Here is the transcript of that incident:

“Mr Marriner explained that he used a FIFA coin which is blue on one side and yellow on the other. He asked Mr Evra, as the visiting captain, to call the colour. Mr Marriner tossed the coin, it came down yellow, and he awarded it to Steven Gerrard who elected to stay in their current ends. Manchester United had kick off. Mr Evra remonstrated that he had called correctly but, Mr Marriner said, he had not. Mr Evra then spoke to Ryan Giggs about it, and Mr Marriner walked over to Mr Evra to assure him that he (Mr Marriner) had got it right. Mr Evra's evidence was that when such a coin was used, he always called yellow given that the alternative, blue, is a Manchester City colour, which he would never call. The toss came down yellow and so Mr Evra knew that he had won it. He particularly wanted to change ends at the start, he explained to the referee that he had called yellow, and why he had done so. Mr Evra was angry but the referee did not change his mind.”

Evra either could not remember what colour he chose or lied about it afterwards. This at best questions his reliability as a witness and at worst suggests he is willing to lie to gain an advantage. Crucially, he reacted outwardly far more to the coin toss than he did in the goalmouth when he claimed that Suarez used the word “negro” five times. Had that really been the case, surely Evra’s reaction would have been much stronger?

Another inconsistency is Evra's use of the term "ten times" to describe how many times Suarez allegedly said "negro". Evra has retracted this claim and said it was a "figure of speech". Really?

What about previous form? Suarez has no history of any form of racism and is an ambassador for racial equality. Evra, on the other hand, has been at the centre of a racism scandal in the recent past. It was alleged that ground staff at Chelsea racially abused Evra in 2008. The allegation was thrown out and here is how the panel described Evra's testimony:

"We find Mr Evra's description exaggerated... There was no good reason for Mr Evra to have run over and barged Mr Griffin as he did. It was unnecessarily and gratuitously aggressive of Mr Evra... Mr Evra's suggestion that he was concerned about Mr Strudwick's safety is farfetched. They were two grown men having an apparently strong verbal disagreement but no more than that. The clear implication by Mr Evra that Mr Griffin's pitchfork gave some reason for concern about Mr Strudwick's safety is ridiculous...We find Mr Evra's account exaggerated and unreliable. It is an attempt to justify a physical intervention by him which cannot reasonably be justified..."


Compare this to the conclusions drawn by the panel in the Suarez case:


"We considered it improbable that Mr Evra would act in such a dishonest way in order to damage the reputation of a fellow professional whose footballing skills he admires, with whom he had had no previous run-ins, and who he does not think is a racist."
There is therefore evidence to suggest that both Suarez and Evra made statements that were not 100% true during this case, and that Evra has a history of doing this. By using Evra’s account as “the truth”, the FA have concluded that Suarez’s entire evidence can be completely discredited whilst the inconsistencies in Evra’s testimony, and past, can be ignored.


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