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Jude Bellingham and The Reality of Liverpool

On Wednesday, it was revealed that Liverpool pulled out of the race for long-term target, Jude Bellingham. In a season that has been deeply soured by bitter disappointment, with Liverpool underperforming against the astounding standards set in prior seasons, fans had hopes that Fenway Sports Group might endeavour to rebuild this summer. Jude Bellingham was seen by many as the perfect figurehead to rejuvenate an aged Liverpool midfield and has long since been publicly courted by the club. The decision to end their pursuit of the Englishman has heralded a multitude of resentment from the fanbase and further underlines the issues with the ownership’s transfer model.

The Ownership

Fenway Sports Group, FSG, are the proprietor of Liverpool football club. The American sports conglomerate, best known for its ties to the Boston Red Sox, purchased Liverpool in 2010 for £300 million and saved the club from entering administration. Upon the purchase of the club, FSG absorbed nearly £350 million of debt that accrued under the previous regime of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. They appeared as knights in shining armour, vanquishing the threat of financial death and as a result, the value of the club now sits at £3.6 billion.

During their 13-year stewardship of the club, the ownership has invested heavily into improving the structural integrity of the club by revolutionising training facilities, renovating the Anfield stadium to increase capacity, and also moving the first-team and academy players to a new training facility, Kirkby. Alongside these changes, FSG restored Liverpool amongst the European Elite. Deciding to appoint Jurgen Klopp was arguably the most significant order drafted by the Americans. Under his reign, he ended a 30-year hiatus from the summit of the Premier League and also returned the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and Club World Cup trophies along with winning every domestic trophy available.

The Liverpool faithful are inarguably indebted to FSG for saving the club from the brink of administration, modernising club infrastructure, and also making the club competitive, however, the Jude Bellingham case study is a perfect portrayal of the dark side of the club’s transfer model.

The Transfer Model

The transfer model is one that was up until recently regarded as world-class and at the forefront of the industry. The genesis of Liverpool’s model is indebted to Ian Graham, Research Director for Liverpool amongst a multitude of other figures such as the previous sporting director, Michael Edwards. It is a system that prioritises an analytical approach to player performance metrics to determine the suitability of a certain player to the chosen footballing philosophy. This model has resulted in Liverpool circumventing paying ludicrous transfer fees in favour of purchasing lesser-known talents with a high ceiling potential. Such examples include purchasing Andrew Robertson from Hull City for a fee of just over £8 million. When the model functions, it discovers hidden gems overlooked by other teams.

Unfortunately, the recipe for success has been compromised slightly by several key members of staff exiting the club. The main proprietor of the system, Ian Graham has since vacated his role. So too has Michael Edwards and his replacement, Julian Ward is also vacating his role at the end of this season.

Another pitfall of the system and the ownership strategy is the reliance on a sell-to-buy policy. This strategy is largely cited to be the main reason for the recent exiting of both sporting directors as it is extremely restrictive in pursuing transfer targets.

In 2017, Liverpool sold their star player Phillipe Coutinho to Barcelona for a fee encroaching £120 million. The subsequent funds were invested into signing Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker, a transaction in hindsight that can only be viewed favourably. However, it epitomises that for there to be fresh faces incoming, current stars have to be sold for a satisfactory fee. This model cannibalises the squad and weakens the overall strength of the team.

Jude Bellingham and Owner Investment

Thus we are left with the problem of Jude Bellingham. The worst-kept secret in football is that any club courting Jude would have to pay a fee north of £100 million, and an even worse-kept secret is that Liverpool desperately desired his signature. That was until Wednesday when the club decided to pull out as the fees discussed frightened the pockets of the owners.

A team that requires vast surgery to compete, would have significantly benefited from the signature of a player who is generational. Alas, the transfer model dictates that funds need to be generated through player sales before any transfer can be sanctioned. Little owner investment has plagued the transfer side of Liverpool and has resulted in a regression in the club’s ability to compete both on and off the pitch.

With the emerging presence of middle eastern investors in the premier league, and the capricious spending of other clubs such as Chelsea, there is a real danger Liverpool will get left in the dust. Whilst it is not the end of the world to miss out on Jude, the funds can be spent elsewhere, it is an ominous sign. Liverpool can no longer compete with the European powerhouses of both old and new without stripping their star assets for quick cash. FSG indubitably saved the club in the past and brought Liverpool back into the European limelight, but their current approach to transfer spending needs to change if they want their English giant to flourish once again.


Edited by: Kavya Vengkateshwaran

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