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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Paul Gorst

EXCLUSIVE: What Liverpool's players really think about FSG sale plan

As speculation over Fenway Sports Group's tenure at Liverpool goes on, any potential change ownership will be many of the squad's first taste of a takeover.

Joe Gomez was a teenager who was nine months away from his first professional contract at Charlton Athletic when Roland Duchatelet took over at The Valley in January 2014, while Virgil van Dijk was still a Southampton player when Chinese businessman Gao Jisheng acquired an 80% stake in the club in the summer of 2017.

Roberto Firmino was into the final months of his time with Hoffenheim when Dietmar Hopp made them the first-ever privately-owned Bundesliga team, but generally, most of Liverpool's current squad have not experienced playing for a club at a time when there is so much uncertainty at boardroom level.

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Certainly not on this scale, at least, with FSG scouring the globe for potential investors and content to start the bidding at somewhere between the £3-£4billion marks.

The questions over the actual identity of those in the leadership roles behind the scenes have even cascaded further down the chain of command at Liverpool of late, with sporting director Julian Ward set to depart at the end of the season after over a decade as a club employee.

The news came as a shock to many inside Liverpool when it was made public on November 24, with some of those who even work underneath Ward expressing their surprise at the development. Jurgen Klopp, meanwhile, tried to convince him to stay on after an impressive track record during his time in the role, both officially and informally, over the last 12 months.

Elsewhere, director of research Ian Graham handed in his notice over the summer and will also depart at the same time as Ward, leaving Liverpool's ownership team not only on the lookout for external investment or an outright buyer, but also in the hunt for two new employees in hugely important positions within the recruitment department.

With so much unknown for the long-term, wider future for Liverpool at present, it would be no surprise if questions from within the playing staff are privately being asked. The Reds continue to be linked to various organisations across the globe that range from Indian businessmen, joint ventures from private firms in Saudi Arabia and Qatar and a number of hedge funds in America.

Just who will come forward with a credible bid to land a blue riband Premier League club is a mystery just now and Liverpool are entering the unknown somewhat as 2023 draws in, even if Klopp and many of the team's top stars have long since committed their futures to the Anfield project.

But how has this apparent shake-up behind the scenes impacted those who are paid to get the results on the pitch? Does it play any part in the day to day operation at squad level?

"No, look, honestly, we just focus on playing football," Andy Robertson tells the ECHO, in an exclusive chat at the Reds' mid-season Dubai base. "Obviously you see the stuff in the press and you see stuff around potential new buyers or that the club has been put up for sale and things like that, but we can't control it.

"All we can do is play football, all we can do is control what is on the pitch. There's enough work on the pitch for us to not have to worry about anything else and yes, whatever else happens [with the owners] will happen."

Peter Crouch was at Liverpool when Tom Hicks and George Gillett completed a takeover from David Moores in February 2007. After plans from Dubai International Capital had fallen through the month prior, Moores and then chief executive Rick Parry turned their attention to Hicks and Gillett, who eventually completed a £435m purchase. That included £215m for the building of a proposed new stadium on Stanley Park.

While the reign of Hicks and Gillett will go down as one of the biggest aberrations of all time at Liverpool FC - after the reviled American duo had driven one of the biggest sporting institutions on the planet to the brink of administration in under four years - there was undoubted and understandable excitement when they initially joined.

Crouch tells the ECHO: "It was definitely something the players chatted about because it made back page news almost every day. It was newsworthy but it doesn't affect the players as much as you would think. The infrastructure is there on a day-to-day basis."

Jamie Carragher's legendary career in the Liverpool first team spanned 17 years that included two takeovers. The iconic centre-back was taken to Manchester's Lowry Hotel with fellow stalwart Steven Gerrard the week Hicks and Gillett took over. Carragher would later reveal his reservations from that initial meeting with the Americans.

“We all just told each other what we wanted to hear," he would admit years later. "We told them it would be great if they could do this and that and they said it will be great when we do this and that.

"I knew George Gillett had been interested for a while and it came out that he didn’t have enough money and had to get Tom Hicks in for his cash. In the back of my mind I was thinking: this isn’t right. One of them hasn’t got the cash and the other doesn’t really want to be here. This could end up going wrong.

“Also, I wasn’t happy with joint bosses. We should have known better after having Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier as joint managers. I don’t care what anyone says, there has to be a number one in everything. Eventually there’s got to be a problem and will end up falling out.”

Prior to FSG, who were known as New England Sports Ventures in 2010, taking over after a dramatic battle in the High Court of London, Carragher told LFCTV: "Everyone knows [a takeover] will be a good thing for the club. Hopefully it will be sorted sooner rather than later and we can start looking forward on the pitch." One suspects he might have pulled fewer punches had he not been speaking to official club media on that particular afternoon.

Twelve years later, Carragher, who turned out 737 times for the Reds, spoke of his intrigue last month at the news of FSG's plans to potentially sell the club at a huge profit. Having still been a first-team star at the time of the Boston-based group's takeover in October of 2010, few are as well placed to offer insight into their time on Merseyside.

"It’s funny with FSG," he told Sky Sports' 'The Overlap'. "I think they have done a great job with the club. I don’t think they have ever proclaimed to have the funds of United, Chelsea, Man City.

“But they were talking about how they would run the club and they were the owners that brought the title back, they’re the owners that brought Jurgen Klopp, the stadium has been transformed, the training ground has been transformed. They are almost a model for a club like Arsenal in some ways who are probably in a similar situation to Liverpool."

Ultimately, though, ownership issues are something that players are not too concerned about as a general rule of thumb. As long as club facilities and the stadium they turn out in are of the desired standard, there are few grumbles at squad level, according to former striker Crouch.

"You see an amazing stadium here in Anfield, there are great players on the pitch and they have an amazing training ground; that is what players really care about, being around that," Crouch adds. "It doesn't always matter who is in charge [for the players].

"Very rarely you would meet the owners. Of course it is a bit uncertain and you'd prefer a bit more certainty but I don't think it will be any excuse for the players whatever is happening at board level."

But what about the current crop? The next decision Liverpool - or rather, FSG - make could define whether or not Klopp and the squad he has assembled are able to go again in their pursuit of Manchester City at the top of the English game.

It's understood that FSG president Mike Gordon has been surprisingly candid in private about Liverpool's increasing difficulty to stay stride for stride with a City side who enjoy the backing of one of the richest owners on the planet in Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi.

To back-up Gordon's assertions, it's also been conceded by a handful of club sources that FSG simply don't have the means to finance the sort of recruitment drive that City are able to do as a matter of routine every summer. The self-sufficient model preferred by the Americans has worked for Liverpool, but when the squad is in need of a midfield makeover and top players routinely cost anywhere between £60-£100m, such a way of working has its obvious challenges.

Admiration in Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham, for example, is firm within the Liverpool ranks, but with the Bundesliga side likely set to demand in excess of £100m for the teenage England star, legitimate questions over the Reds' ability to finance a potentially club-record deal persist under the current ownership model.

While Pep Guardiola is able to fetch sizable sums for wantaway players like Ferran Torres (£46m, Barcelona), Raheem Sterling (£45m, Chelsea) and Oleksandr Zinchenko (£32m, Arsenal), the Premier League champions don't necessarily have to shed such valuable assets to bring in Erling Haaland £51m) or Jack Grealish (£100m).

Robertson adds: "We can't control anything [over ownership.] That is the way we think as a squad, that's our view on it and we can't control anything. I think the owners we have got have been very successful at this club and if they want to move on or whatever then fair play to them.

"They have nothing but good to me and nothing but good to this club in my opinion and yes, what happens will happen and we will try and sit back and control what happens on the pitch. And if things need to be controlled off the pitch then we will let the people who are a lot more intelligent than me and higher up than me to sort, that's for sure!"


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