The men in charge of running the Liverpool football club will always be closely scrutinized by the fans. We've had great owners, terrible owners, and owners in between. Fenway Sports Group has been in charge of Liverpool for a little over three years now (via New England Sporting Ventures, a group they control), and while many are still unsure of good an ownership group our American overlords are, on a whole there is cause for optimism.
While progress for the club both in financial and competitive fronts has been slow, there have been steady improvements in all areas. Thanks to an aggressive search for sponsors, the club is in far better financial shape than it was three years ago, though a deep hole starting out means that there's still a ways to go before the club is completely healthy again. Still, there's been steady year-over-year growth in revenues and the club's debt has been greatly reduced, With the (hopeful) arrival of Champions League funds next season, the club's coffers will be looking good, and soon.
The trip to that improvement hasn't always been easy. Speaking at the Sloan Sports Conference, John Henry talked about the challenges of moving from owning a baseball team to an international football club:
"I don’t think we were really prepared for buying a team in the English Premier League. We thought we knew a little bit about the sports business in 2010 when we bought Liverpool.
"We’ve learnt a lot of things that I never thought I would have to learn about."
-Source: Dave Phillips (Twitter)
We've certainly witnessed those growing pains. The club has already adjusted it's approaches on several occasions, and some have been clearly more successful than others. Even in the failures, though, the club has been able to maintain a certain amount of success to mitigate the losses and make it more easily possible to make needed adjustments on the fly.
Financial Numbers Steadily Improving
The best things in life are free, but they don't buy you star players or help pay for a new stadium. With Liverpool's continued improvements in both revenues and overall club debt, the financial books are looking good.
On the field, there's been an equally steady improvement in the talent in the squad. Luis Suarez was FSG's first big purchase, and while they lost Fernando Torres shortly afterwards, the Uruguyan has been massive for Liverpool since his arrival. Shrewd purchases of players like Jose Enrique, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho, and Mamadou Sakho for fees lower than their worth have helped to improve the quality on the pitch without killing Liverpool's balance sheet.
There have been some misses, though. Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, and Charlie Adam were all failures of varying extents. While Jordan Henderson has been a success in more recent times, his transfer fee was much higher than it was expected to be at the time and it took him a long time to find himself with the club. Fortunately, FSG seems to have learned the right lessons from those mistakes, as their transfer policy seems to have been much improved since those early days.
Given FSG's obvious attraction to advanced statistical approaches to player analysis, there's apparent interest in how they apply that approach to a sport where statistical analysis is still a relatively young field. Henry spoke on the club's methods on that front as well:
"Virtually every transaction now has a dollar sign in sports associated with it . You have to have analytics.
"They aren’t going to necessarily dictate everything that you do, but they inform everything that you do".
-Source: Dave Phillips
It's a sensible approach. If you don't have the bountiful financial resources of the Chelseas and Manchester Cities of the world, you need to make as informed a decision as possible when acquiring a player. While there were some misfires in this approach, as mentioned, more recent evidence suggests that they've found a better formula for identifying players to target.
Also of note is that FSG has maintained the Academy system improvements that Rafa Benitez put in to place during his time here, and have in fact built upon them as a point of focus. Using that as a base with a more sound approach to player acquisition should put Liverpool in to a position to be a consistent contender in the long run, especially with the club's finances steadily improving.
It's been a long time since we've seen significant success at Liverpool, but John Henry and FSG have the club on a course to get back to the good old days. It's been a bumpy road to get to this point, but with the club enjoying success on the pitch and a strong financial outlook, there's a lot of reason to be optimistic. The club appears to be in very good hands, and hands that are still looking at ways to improve the club's position even further.