Fenway Sports Group’s other professional sports franchise, Liverpool, came to town this past weekend. With an illustrious history and already a rabid fanbase in Boston, the decision to buy the club was easy for John Henry and company. While the two teams were in similar conditions when the group bought them, FSG’s Liverpool and the Red Sox are heading in two different directions.
Similar History Between the Cities and Teams
Liverpool, one of England’s most decorated clubs, was up for sale in 2010 and was in ruin both on and off the pitch. They were sunk by fellow American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Like Red Sox ownership in the 1990s, Hicks and Gillett flirted with the idea of moving the team from the hallowed Anfield Stadium. They did not deliver, however, on the promise of a state-of-the-art waterfront home for the club. Instead, John Henry, Tom Werner and FSG built and built until Anfield became state-of-the-art itself, while also keeping the illustrious history in tact. Sound familiar?
Like the task they had with the Red Sox in 2001, FSG needed to restore a winning tradition to Liverpool. The Reds were the class of European football in the 70s and 80s, with a dynastic run envied only by the Patriots of modern times. They won every trophy imaginable. By the time FSG bought the club in 2010, Liverpool had the most league titles with 18 (since broken) and five European Cups, the most by any British club. Sticking to club tradition, ownership quickly hired one of Liverpool’s most legendary figures, Sir (or King) Kenny Dalglish to manage the team.
It is no surprise that Liverpool was already arguably the most popular Premier League club in Boston before the purchase. LFC is one of the most popular clubs in Ireland and both Liverpool and Boston have a high concentration of Irish ex-pats. Liverpool is also a famous port city and was the hub of trade for England when ships were the primary transportation. Both are proud northern cities with unmistakable accents, although Scouse might need its own dictionary. Liverpool, like Boston’s beloved Red Sox, make up half of the most intense rivalry in the Premier League going against Manchester United, the team from another northern city and owner of the most league titles in history. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.
Finally, the Phoenix Landing is packed with fans on matchdays. Some big games will sell out the small Irish pub hours before kick-off. The dedicated, card-carrying members of LFC Boston make the pub the second best place to be on matchday. If you can’t be at the stadium, it’s as close as you’ll get. They also give back to the community through a litany of charity work. They provide an amazing atmosphere and put community first, adding to an already pristine fan culture in Boston.
The Massive Business Discrepancy
The surprising contrast between these two teams under this same ownership, however, has been the way they’ve done their business. In the only two major sports in the world without salary caps, neither team has to worry about money too often. The Red Sox seemingly never run out of money but LFC was in financial trouble when FSG took over. In the first transfer window under new ownership, the club showed extreme business savvy.
They sold a disgruntled Fernando Torres for a British record for 50 million pounds. To replace him, they bought two strikers, one of which was Andy Carroll, a massive disappointment and a brutal signing. The other, however, was Luis Suarez. Now one of the best strikers in the world, the club sold him for nearly three times his own transfer fee in 2014. Just three months after those buys, FSG’s Red Sox extended Adrian Gonzalez for seven years and $154 million. Oh yeah, and they signed Carl Crawford that same year to a seven year, $142 million deal. Both were run out of town in 2012 and monumental wastes of money.
Where Liverpool have made sound business decisions recently, the Red Sox once again have not. In late 2017, one of Liverpool’s best players, Philippe Coutinho, was begging for a move. While Liverpool still needed him, his value had peaked. They sold him to Barcelona for the measly price of up to 142 million pounds, 133.5 million more than they bought him for. Using that cash, Liverpool began to fill their needs. They needed defensive help, so they set the world record fee for a defender by buying Virgil van Dijk for 75 million pounds. Van Dijk solidified the defense and led Liverpool to the 2018 Champions League Final, their first in 11 years. This past season, he won the PFA Player of the Year. No defender had won the award since 2005.
Liverpool lost that final, however, due to two massive goalkeeping mistakes. So, they used the rest of that Coutinho money to set the world record fee for a goalkeeper. They bought Alisson Becker from Roma for nearly 67 million pounds. He made the save that kept them from being eliminated in the group stages of the Champions League and then had a Man of the Match performance in the final, which Liverpool won 2-0. While Coutinho bolted to Barcelona to win the Champions League, all Liverpool did was make it to the final twice and win it for the sixth time. What’s Coutinho doing now? Well the Catalans have not taken keenly to his performances. Just over 18 months with the Blaugrana and both sides are looking for a move. The most rumored target destination for him? Liverpool.
Recent Red Sox Deals Have Been Failures
In contrast, the Red Sox came off a World Series title and spent a bit themselves. Extending Xander Bogaerts was wise considering the MVP-type performance he’s turned in recently. The other moves were not as promising. Chris Sale signed a $145 million extension with Boston and has won one home game in the last 53 weeks. He has also had multiple IL stints in his two previous seasons with the Red Sox. Sale has proven he can’t hold up for a full season. With his 4-9 record this year, fans might be hoping he can’t hold up much longer.
Speaking of not holding up, was extending Nathan Eovaldi a good idea? He pitched a gutsy seven innings in a World Series game, sure. Never has a loss gained a pitcher so much money, though. A four-year, $68 million contract was agreed upon and he’s been injured since April. Eovaldi has made a home on the IL throughout his career, hence why he hasn’t been able to hold a starting job anywhere else he’s been. Yet, FSG and the Red Sox through starter money at him. Steve Pearce caught lightning in a bottle last season to win World Series MVP. The Red Sox didn’t exactly overspend on him, but that’s whom they re-signed to be their starting first baseman. Through just 29 games this year, he is hitting .180. Need I say more?
FSG Is Still Building At Liverpool
For some reason, FSG seems to work better when their financial situation is tight. They took Liverpool from financial hell back to the promised land. The Reds won the biggest trophy in club football this year. They won 97 points to finish second in the Premier League looking for their first league title in 29 years. To put that into perspective, those 97 points weren’t just the club record but also would’ve been good enough to win the league 117 times out of the last 119. The only years it wouldn’t were this season and last with Manchester City tallying up 198 in that timespan.
Liverpool is by far the most popular and the most relatable Premier League club in Boston. While ownerships has its flaws, those have seemed to glare more stateside rather than Merseyside. While the Red Sox continue to dwindle out of the playoff picture, FSG will look to work their magic again and end another historic drought. Next season, Liverpool will go for their first league title in 30 years, and they have built the team that can make us dream again.