When New England Sports Ventures took over at Anfield its principle owner, John W Henry, spoke of his vision for Liverpool, a vision which would see Liverpool Football Club produce and attract some of the best young footballers in the world.
Henry is not an expert in the world of football, but his time spent with the Boston Red Sox shows his experience in sport. When NESV took control of Boston’s baseball team in 2002 it had been decades since their last World Series win, just two years later the team won the competition and repeated the feat again in 2007.
So whilst Henry may not be versed in the game his compatriots would call ‘soccer’ the Bostonian, and the others which make up the Fenway Sports Group board, knows how to make a winning team, so his strategy of investing in the future and searching for value in the transfer market should be taken seriously.
It’s certainly not a new system, indeed in modern football two shining examples of clubs focused on their youth systems are Spanish champions Barcelona and North London outfit Arsenal, who have both had considerable success with their academy systems.
Barcelona’s success with their home grown players is well publicised, with the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi being products of their academy. A team primarily made up of Catalan-based, or at least academy produced, players has won all there is to be won in the past three years, from La Liga to the European Cup.
Arsenal are ever-presents in Europe’s top competition the Champions League, with long-term manager Arsene Wenger often throwing one of the many starlets produced by the academy into the team in games in the competition, a clear sign of the boss’ faith in the products of the academy which Wenger has been building since he arrived in the capital.
Yet the system isn’t a perfect one, despite all their success Barcelona have felt the need to invest heavily in their squad in recent years. In the summer of 2008 the Catalan club spent close to 75 million Euros on players including Sevilla’s Daniel Alves and Arsenal’s Alexandre Hleb, the next year Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the big spend of the summer, coming to Barca in a deal worth 46 million and this summer the Spanish Champions secured the services of David Villa and Javier Mascherano for a combined fee of 66 million Euros.
Arsenal, on the other hand, have been reluctant to make major investments in the first team squad. Wenger is incredibly cautious with where he spends money and many of his critics have suggested that has hindered the club as of recent, with Arsenal not having won a trophy since their FA Cup victory in 2005.
It could be suggested then that in order to achieve success during his time at Anfield John W Henry and co will have to find a balance between investment in the present and investment in the future.
It has to be remembered that at current, despite the current downturn in fortune, Liverpool have a number of world-class players, most notably Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina. These players are ambitious and have a hunger to bring trophies to the club. Whilst they will be reassured by Fenway’s plans to invest in the future they will need to be sure that the owners are willing to invest the here and now before they consider their long-term future at the club.
For two decades Liverpool’s supporters have suffered because those at board level focused too much on the short-term without thinking about the future consequences of their actions. John W Henry and co need to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself, but equally they need to know that the supporters and the players want to see a successful Liverpool as soon as possible, not just in five years time.
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