Speaking in a Q&A session at the Sloan Sports Conference (an amazing annual sports analytics conference at MIT), John Henry answered several questions and opened up some interesting insights in to what's gone on at Liverpool since he and Fenway Sports Group took ownership of the club. Of particular note were his comments on the dramatic saga with Luis Suarez over the summer.
For those who may not recall (hah!), there was a summer-long, will-he-won't-he back and forth with the Liverpool future of Suarez at the heart of it. He wanted out, Liverpool didn't want to let him go, he wanted out some more, and they really didn't want to let him go. Then came Arsenal and their "unsubtle" £40 million-plus-one bid for the mercurial striker, and things kicked up another notch.
Arsenal believed they had triggered a release clause in the Uruguayan's contract. Liverpool turned down the offer and insisted there was no such clause, that they were only required to notify Suarez of an offer at that point. Arsenal got angry, Liverpool got pissy, and the whole thing was pretty ugly until finally people stopped talking about it.
Now John Henry has dragged it up again, and, well... read for yourself:
"[Suarez] had a buyout clause of £40 million. Arsenal, one of our prime rivals - this year we’re tied for second - offered £40 million plus £1. What we’ve found is that contracts don’t seem to mean a lot in England, actually in world football. It doesn’t matter how long a player’s contract is, he can decide he’s leaving.
"We sold a player, Fernando Torres, for £50m, that we did not want to sell, we were forced to. Since apparently these contracts don’t seem to hold, we took the position that we’re just not selling (Suarez)."
-Source: Liverpool Echo
That's, uhm... that's not good.
For those of you following along at home, John Henry just admitted to violating the release clause in the contract of Luis Suarez. Assuming that Arsenal made an actual, on-paper offer for the value of that buyout clause that Henry says was in the striker's old contract (remember he signed an extension a couple months ago), then Liverpool couldn't simply decide to not sell Suarez; at that point, the situation should have been in his hands.
Obviously, there could be more to the story here. Brendan Rodgers and the FSG staff may have been able to convince Suarez to refute Arsenal's offer, which would be acceptable. But again, at the time it sounded as though the offer had been refused by Liverpool, not Suarez. If that is what happened, and Henry's quote makes it sound like that's pretty much exactly what happened, that's very much not a good thing.
Of course, things have worked out on a whole for Liverpool. As Henry went on to point out, Suarez stayed, Suarez has been incredible, Suarez signed a huge new contract, and Suarez has helped lead the club in to the thick of the English Premier League title chase. Everything is shiny and happy and rosy.
It also makes Henry's complaints about the actions of Dnipro's owner in the Yevhen Konoplyanka mess ring a little hollow. While the exact circumstances are somewhat different, in essence he and FSG did the same thing by refusing to honor a release clause. As the saying goes, you reap what you sow.
Let's just hope nobody notices that Henry just admitted to doing a very bad thing in the world of sports business.
Programming note: Henry also made some interesting comments about FSG;s ownership of the club that so far the Echo and other papers have not covered. We'll be back with a look at those as well.