With the return of Europa League action coming on Thursday with a trip to St. Petersburg to face Zenit, Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre has voiced his concerns going into the match. Those concerns, however, have very little to do with what could happen on the pitch when Liverpool face a side boasting names like Hulk, Danny, and Bruno Alves.
Instead his concerns are for what could happen off the pitch after a string of recent incidents involving the club's supporters and racist incidents. Moments like the offering of a banana to Anzhi's Roberto Carlos ahead of a match in 2011 and an open letter penned by the supporter's club last winter asking Zenit to avoid purchasing black players for the sake "tradition" have hardly painted the club in the best light.
"It's been a major concern for us," said Ayre, "so I wrote to UEFA very recently expressing our concerns to them—and also to Zenit themselves. We await some responses in that regard. The most we can do is make our feelings clear ahead of the game, and hope that we get an adequate response and adequate support on the night.
"That's about the most we can do at this stage. I'm certainly hopeful that the right people will take the right action to ensure it's a game where we don't have that type of incident."
Unsurprisingly, Liverpool have yet to hear back from UEFA regarding their concerns, though one can be sure that if a player on Thursday night were to upon scoring reveal a shirt bearing the logo of a non-sponsoring brewery retribution would be swift and merciless. Because UEFA, like FIFA above them, can always be counted on to have their priorities in order.
Just so long as you define priorities as the interest of their corporate sponsors and television rights holders and not the fans or good of the game. Ayre, though, insists that no matter what happens, Liverpool and the club's players will react in the right way if something unfortunate does occur.
"We do plan to speak to the players about it," he added. "The most important thing for our players is that they remain professional throughout this. So the important thing is that we let them know how we expect them to act if there is an incident. I'd much rather we take the incident off the pitch and we deal with it. Obviously the referee has a role to play within that. But we'll be briefing our players of what's acceptable and what's not."