By Nick Harris
18 October 2010
Two of the key figures in the company that now owns Liverpool, John W Henry and Tom Werner of NESV, will meet with Roy Hodgson today, Monday, to start planning for the future and reassure him that he will be given some time to turn around a poor start to the season that got worse with yesterday’s 2-0 defeat to Everton in the Merseyside derby.
As Werner, chairman of the Boston Red Sox, made clear on Radio 5 Live yesterday: “He needs to be given time. We have a lot of confidence in Roy. Obviously, no-one can be pleased about the start of the season but the club ought to gel and we have a lot of confidence in him, and had a nice chat with him yesterday and look forward to talking to him tomorrow.”
A transcript of the interview is below.
Though there is already dissatisfaction with Hodgson among a growing number of fans – not helped by his assertion that yesterday’s display was Liverpool’s best of the season – it seems NESV are committed for now.
Werner and Henry will also begin to meet fans’ groups today to establish contact between the ownership team and the supporters, although there will be no firm promises of a fan-owned chunk of the club at this stage.
In terms of investment, Werner has said he won’t be afraid to write cheques for the future, citing the $100m investment in fee and wages at the Red Sox in 2006 in pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka alone. (Backgrounder here).
And Werner insisted that that NESV will “increase the payroll” at Liverpool, saying: “We certainly realise that there is in some ways a very strong correlation between success in the Premier League and wages.”
He may well have read this Wall Street Journal piece (citing sportingintelligence’s Global Sports Salaries research that explores the relationship in major sports around the world between money and success, also mentioned here).
Certainly Werner seems to realise that winning costs money, and that success tends to be self-perpetuating at the highest levels in English and European football. But it’s also known that NESV have been attracted to Liverpool now specifically because of Uefa’s incoming Financial Fair Play rules, which will almost certainly help perpetuate the advantage of the biggest clubs, like Liverpool, while preventing overspending as part of the rules that govern the game.
Interview between Garry Richardon and Tom Werner on Sportsweek, 17 October, at this link, starting at 33 min 40sec on the clock.
Garry Richardson: “Mr Werner, good morning to you.”
Tom Werner: “Good moring Garry, how are you?”
GR: “I’m well, and I suspect you’re very well, and thrilled at the prospect that the deal was finally completed?”
TW: “It was a bit of an ordeal but we’re delighted to be here and looking forward to the future, and [we] start work on Monday, and let’s see what we can do to improve our [Liverpool’s] recent fortunes.”
GR: “And yesterday you met with the manager and the players at the training ground. Tell me what you said to them.”
TW: “It was just a polite introduction. I think that we talked a bit about our background in Boston and the fact that this wasn’t the first time that we’ve been involved in an important club. And I think our general message was one of giving them a sense of confidence that we had their back, that we had confidence in Roy, that we were encouraging them and just basically showing our face and telling them we were on the job.”
GR: “When you say your background, what sort of things did you tell them about yourselves to give them that confidence?”
TW: “Well one thing that happened to us in 2001 when we took over the Red Sox was that John [Henry] and I had experience in baseball but we came into a situation where there was a very, very special club, the Red Sox, that hadn’t won a World Series in 84 years, and I think that we used that really here, because we had good management, we have faith in sort of a long-term strategy, and we know that we’re in a very competitive league here.
“Liverpool is one of the great clubs in the world, and we need to improve the revenues, especially on a global basis, but really our message to the players yesterday was just one of ‘We know there’s been a bit of a choppy sea lately’, and we wanted to assure them who we were and that we want to stabilise the situation.
“But I have to say they’re very optimistic. They were in very good spirits yesterday, and we look forward to the rest of the season here.”
GR: “When did you first think of buying Liverpool? And tell me, how does it work? You know, I might wake up one morning and think I’m going to go out and buy a new pair of jeans today, or a jumper. How do wake up and think ‘I want to buy Liverpool football club?’”
TW: “Well we certainly have been aware of some of the challenges that the fans and the supporters of the team have gone through the past couple of years. We actually have senior executive in Boston who I think cares more about Liverpool than the Red Sox, and he’s been a great supporter of Liverpool for 20 years and so any time you go into his office you see all the memorabilia. [NB: This is Joe Januszewski, senior VP, corporate sales, at Fenway Park, interview here]
“But we just felt that there was a lot of similarities between our experience in Boston and what we could bring to this great club, and it’s not quite like buying a pair of jeans. People have said to me in the past about the Red Sox, ‘Is it fun?’ And I wouldn’t say when you invest in something like this that it’s fun. It’s a challenge. We take the responsibility seriously, and we hope that we can do for the fans here and for our supporters what we’ve done in Boston.”
GR: “You say it’s a challenge a responsibility but why do you want to own Liverpool? What is the key reason?”
TW: “First of all it’s a desire that all of us have to win. I think that winning is extremely satisfying. To be in a situation where you see that you’ve had a part in something, created so much enjoyment for fans – that’s a very special feeling. I have had a lot of great success in my life, both in media and in sports, but when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, so many people came and shook my hand and said ‘Thank you for helping to do this’ and hopefully we can do the same [at Liverpool].
“We’re making no promises. I think our style is to under-promise and over-deliver but the challenge of restoring the great lustre of Liverpool is a great challenge and we’d love to win.”
GR: “As a businessman, do you believe it’s possible to make a profit running Liverpool football club, because I assume that that’s what you’d like to do eventually?”
TW: “Well I think that we certainly would like to increase the revenues but again our track record in Boston is we increased the revenues in order to strengthen the payroll of the team. I think everything revolves around winning. I think that if we can win then the brand in Asia is strengthening, is strengthened, but you know Garry it’s just really about trophies because I think that everything falls into place if you’ve got a very competitive squad.”
GR: “What are your immediate priorities then for the club? If I was to say [rank them] one, two and three, what would you write down as one, two and three as your priorities, Tom?”
TW: “I think the first priority, Garry, would be to listen. We’re not coming in like a bull in a china shop. I think it would be to create stability, and finally I think it would be to increase revenues.”
GR: “You’ll be aware of fees that have to be played to sign players. What do you think about paying between, say £10m and £15m for one player. Because obviously at the Red Sox, you’re not having to pay such large transfer fees, you trade players. So if the manager comes in and says ‘I want to spend £15m for a defender’, how do you react to that Tom?”
TW: “I think that the size of the payroll should increase. I don’t want to make any promises about when and how. We certainly realise that there is in some ways a very strong correlation between success in the Premier League and wages. And I don’t want to say when we’ll increase the payroll or how we’re gonna do it, but I certainly have signed cheques in the past for the long term.
“We made an arrangement three or four years ago with a Japanese player in baseball, and between the transfer fee – and there really was a transfer fee – and his wages it was about $100m.”
GR: “Goodness me. Roy would like that.”
GR: “But the key thing is you do envisage giving him a reasonable amount – that’s what you’re saying?”
TW: “Yes. Absolutely.”
GR: “Roy Hodgson, as you know, is one of the most respected managers. Often when new owners take over they consider making changes. Would you agree, Tom, in Roy Hodgson’s case, that it would be unwise to make changes, that he needs to be give time at your football club?”
TW: “You’ve said exactly, Garry, what I would say. He needs to be given time. We have a lot of confidence in Roy. Obviously, no-one can be pleased about the start of the season but the club ought to gel and we have a lot of confidence in him, and had a nice chat with him yesterday and look forward to talking to him tomorrow.”
GR: “Because as chairman of Boston Red Sox, your coach is Tony [sic, it’s actually Terry] Francona, and he’s been in charge since 2003 I think [actually 2004]. Stability is obviously really important to any team, isn’t it?”
TW: “I think so. I think that the one prescription for disaster is to lurch to the left and lurch to the right and we see no reason why Roy can’t be our coach this year and in the future. But we’re certainly going to give him time.”
GR: “When you and John Henry took over at the Red Sox, you mentioned it took the best part of three years to win the World Series. Would you put a time scale on trying to win the Premier League at around three years, or because it’s so different, do you think it could actually be longer in Liverpool’s case? Do you have any idea?”
TW: “I don’t want to make too many promises except that we expect the fortunes of the club to improve.”
GR: “Your own long-term future: how long would you plan to be at Liverpool? I’m sure you have a business plan and you will have thought about that already. What would you say to that question, Tom?”
TW: “I really don’t have a . . . we’re certainly not short-term thinkers or short-term investors. We have now owned the Red Sox for almost a decade and as long as we think that we’re up to the job and doing a good job, that’s enough.”
GR: “Last week on our programme, Christian Purslow, Liverpool’s managing director, came up with some sensible suggestions. One of them was saying how it’s important now to let supporters have a voice, and I’m sure you’ll be really keen to build and repair bridges that have been broken.”
TW: “I think tomorrow we meet with a bunch of supporters. Obviously they’re the bedrock of any club’s success. We don’t have any agenda tomorrow but we want to listen and certainly as you said we want to repair that bridge that might be a little bit broken.”
GR: “One of the questions that the supporters will say is ‘We’re pleased that you’re hear but how can you guarantee you won’t become another Tom Hicks and George Gillett?’ If they ask that question, what would your reply be?”
TW: “Well I think the first thing that we’ve done is I think that we’ve removed all the acquisition debt. I know that debt was a big issue, appropriately. George and Tom were about leverage. John and myself are really about winning, and prudent recommendations.
“I think we’ve been voted for the last two years the best owners in baseball. We’re thoughtful and again Garry, I think that our track record speaks for itself.”
GR: “Couple of final of questions and thank you for what you’re telling us.
TW [interjecting]: I’m sorry I’m not able to display my humour for you Garry! It’s a very serious interview…”
GR: “You’re doing very well and . . .”
TW: “Oh, I’m doing well…?” [laughs]
GR: “And I like the line about the jeans, as well. Um, how high on your list is building a new ground?”
TW: “We certainly need to study these options. I want to say one thing by the way. We don’t expect a long honeymoon here, we would ask for our fans and supporters to allow us to study the various options around a new stadium and we’ll come up with a plan somewhat soon. But I don’t want to predict when. But it’s obviously on everybody’s mind, and it’s on everybody’s mind because we want to improve the revenues on match day. But we’re also focussed on how we can improve the commercial revenues globally.”
GR: “But the ground thing would probably be top of your list and you’d like to do that sooner rather than later, you can tell us that?”
TW: “Well certainly we want to start the process soon.”
GR: “I was interested in that phrase you used just there, ‘We don’t expect a long honeymoon’. You’re very philosophical. You have to be, I guess?”
TW: Well I . . . sports is, as you know, it’s a contact sport, and it can be rough sometimes, and if I was a fan today, I’d just like them to understand that these are people who are seasoned, who have shown some success, and again, I don’t, we’re not asking for a long honeymoon. We know there’s work to be done, and we’re going to roll up our sleeves, starting tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll have some good news today though [in the Merseyside derby].
[Then more talk about speculation that Hicks was about to drop his lawsuit, which Werner could not confirm, and about the match].