Analysis of John W Henry's controversial ownership takeover at Liverpool

As the Guardian headline Enter Americans Exit Americans suggests, it is difficult to tell what has changed at Liverpool and what remains the same. After a long and complex legal battle, John W Henry finally took ownership of the club from the outgoing Tom Hicks and George Gillett this month. The takeover seemed to dominate the news for days on end. 

"Football, you may claim, is the religion of the 21st century," said David Walsh in the Sunday Times, "but you could have sold St Paul's Cathedral with less fuss than that caused by Liverpool's transfer of ownership." The fact that the saga ran alongside the story about the stranded Chilean miners made for a few jokes, but the supposed rescue on Merseyside brought only restrained jubilation. "Fans are happier but still troubled. And we will not be fooled again," said a stern Tony Evans, the Times' football editor.

While no one is sure if Henry will prove the solution for Liverpool, they were quite sure that Hicks and Gillett were the problem. Everyone, that is, apart from Harry Redknapp. The Spurs manager, who had quite clearly had not read the memo, was quick to defend their loss-making activities: "I have utmost sympathy for the Reds' owners. All they seem to have done is plough a fortune into the place and they stand to lose a fortune when they sell it. But, for all that, all they get is grief week-in, week-out." David Mitchell, a man more famous for starring in Peep Show than writing about sport, put him right: "Football's market-friendly approach has allowed the club to be bought and loaded with debt by two American businessmen for whom its purchase was no more than a punt – and one which, like a lot of their punts, looks unlikely to pay off. They're shit foreign tycoons: their aims are reprehensible and they're not even up to achieving them."

Henry, to his credit, has made all the right noises about having a long-term strategy for the club. But, after attending the Merseyside derby, he might have some concerns for the immediate future. After a 2-0 defeat at Goodison, the home fans advised Henry that he had bought the wrong club. The Sun's Steven Howard wondered if the new owner would be asking for his money back: "Tom Hicks called the enforced £300 million sale of Liverpool 'an extraordinary swindle'. After watching Liverpool lose their first league Merseyside derby in four years, new owner John Henry might be starting to agree. That he had been suckered into paying TOO MUCH for the struggling Anfield club." Des Kelly offered beleaguered manager Roy Hodgson a novel way of turning games in his favour: "Liverpool should send the board of directors out... if recent results are anything to go by they are guaranteed to put up more of a fight."

With Liverpool languishing in the relegation zone, the manager's future became a talking point. Dispensing with Hodgson would be "ludicrous", said Chris Waddle. But stranger things have happened. Oliver Kay, the Times' football correspondent, offered a considered view of the manager's short reign at Anfield: "Hodgson has resembled a Formula One driver who, after impressing with his calm handling of a Renault, is asked to race for Ferrari – and not a good Ferrari, but one where the technical crew are demoralised and the car is in no state to live up to its prestigious name." Whether or not Hodgson can steer Liverpool out of the deep hole they find themselves in, he can take some hope from Chile.

From WSC 286 December 2010

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