Sunday 4 December 2016

Henry demands total loyalty or players will be sold

Duncan White

Published 06/11/2010 | 05:00

Steven Gerrard dug Roy Hodgson out of a hole on Thursday night but Liverpool's new owner John W Henry admits he has been unpleasantly surprised by the transfer policy at the club. Photo: PA
Steven Gerrard dug Roy Hodgson out of a hole on Thursday night but Liverpool's new owner John W Henry admits he has been unpleasantly surprised by the transfer policy at the club. Photo: PA

Liverpool's new owners, New England Sports Ventures, have issued a warning to any players not fully committed to the club that they will be sold. John W Henry, the club's principal owner, has been angered by reports that Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina would be leaving and has met the club's top players to reassure them of NESV's ambitions.

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"It is a completely different system here to what we are used to," Henry said. "If a player has a contract in the United States they fulfil the contract. Over here, it seems players have much more say-so about where they are. Frankly, where we are, we don't want a player at the club who doesn't want to be at the club. It's really up to us to provide the kind of leadership, on and off the field, that any player at the club or who is coming to the club wants to be here."

Henry and Tom Werner, Liverpool's new chairman, are open to recruiting the right talent in January, following the appointment of Damien Comolli as director of football strategy. They are, however, determined to hang on to their best players, despite reports that Torres and Reina have contractual clauses that would facilitate their departure.

"I was upset about the assertion that they were leaving," Henry said. "There was one day when I read reports that we were not going to be involved in the transfer window because we do not have the funds. The next day I read that Torres and Reina were leaving.

"I have spoken with a number of our top players and was really heartened by the response. I was heartened by the intelligence of these players, who understand more about Liverpool than we do. They were good discussions."

Henry, who has been at Liverpool all week, was not so heartened by some of the discoveries he has made since taking over the club.

Surprises

"There were a number of unpleasant surprises when we did our due diligence because the wage bill is high and it's going to be higher next year -- and we're not a young team," he said. "That was disappointing."

Henry arrived with some firm ideas about the transfer market of his own, including his belief that it is folly to pay out high fees and wages on players in their late 20s and 30s, who offer no resale value.

Comolli has arrived to help make the vision a reality. The 38-year-old Frenchman and Henry share a deep appreciation of the part statistical data can play in spending wisely on the best young players -- the science of sabermetrics. Comolli has developed a personal friendship with the Oakland baseball coach Billy Beane, who transformed his own sport with the method and who Henry once tried to hire for his Boston Red Sox.

Hence some of the telling body language in the directors' box on Thursday night. Henry shook his head when Raul Meireles swivelled into a right-foot effort against Napoli and put a golden opportunity wide and though Graham Taylor, from his commentator's position, observed drily that proprietors always think they might do better on the field of play, the owner had his reasons.

Meireles' struggles to adapt to the Premier League may have contributed to the new owner wondering precisely why Roy Hodgson spent £11.5m on him.

Liverpool's medical staff discovered that Meireles needed building up physically when he arrived at Liverpool and the club have also struggled to establish where he operates best. But he still has a lot to prove, almost as much as Christian Poulsen (£4.5m) and Paul Konchesky (£5m), the latter brought from Fulham by Hodgson. Poulsen's most significant contribution to Thursday's match was the misdirected header which set up the lead Napoli held for nearly an hour.

The brutal truth to date is that Poulsen and Konchesky are the kind of comfort-blanket players a new manager will sometimes turn to, in the knowledge that they have done a job elsewhere before. The impression given by Joe Cole and by Fabio Aurelio, re-signed this summer when Liverpool had shipped out nearly all of their serviceable left-backs, is little better. The average age of the new lot is 29.

Henry clearly did not consult with Hodgson before deciding to bring in Comolli.

"I really didn't talk that much with Roy over the week or so before we made the decision," he said. "I think he may have been surprised when I brought it up a couple of days before we brought in Damien. But he was fully supportive."

Hodgson seems to feel that Henry will grant him the second striker he needs, though his future appears heavily dependent on Steven Gerrard reaching the heights of Thursday.

Henry already knows Gerrard quite well. He sat with the captain at an informal lunch with the players on their first day at Anfield, last month. But though the 61-year-old stood and punched the Liverpool night air as the captain's 89th-minute penalty drove Liverpool into the lead against Napoli, Hodgson knows no amount of statistical work can buy you a younger version of that passion.

"More and more we bring players into our teams who are gifted individuals, but they don't always have that fight in them as well," Hodgson observed.

"Football has changed, and in (Jamie) Carragher and Gerrard we do have two of a dying breed. They are Liverpool through and through, and not only that but they have the quality, guts and desire to play for Liverpool. Most managers would say they are the type of player we really want, but they are much harder to find these days.

"United have their share with (Paul) Scholes and (Ryan) Giggs, but if you go through the Premier League these days, it's not so easy to name many of them. We recruit talent from abroad, but they might not have that burning heart which refuses to accept defeat, as Steven did against Napoli."

There is of course nothing to say that Meireles won't prosper and be taken to Anfield hearts. Maxi Rodriguez has recently shown that 29-year-olds, whatever their re-sale value, can deliver after a rocky start.

Rodriguez speaks of the need for Liverpool to play with "calmness" against Chelsea. It is part of the demand for instant results that both he and his manager have been granted so little of it in their respective Liverpool careers.

Should Liverpool win tomorrow, incidentally, they will be only three points worse off than they were after 11 games last season. Yet Hodgson badly needs others to follow where Rodriguez has led in the past fortnight.

Value

Glen Johnson, who made his Chelsea debut against Liverpool at Anfield in 2003, has still to prove that the £80,000-a-week wages he arrived on are remotely good value. Liverpool's £120m wage bill is something else which will have had Henry shaking his head. Cole, the £90,000-a-week man who is 29 on Monday, will miss tomorrow's game with a hamstring injury.

Hodgson has grounds to believe that Fernando Torres will rise to this occasion more than others this season, having scored five goals in seven games against Chelsea in all competitions. You suspect it will be Gerrard who will be the talisman once again, though. Only this time it will not be a suspect Napoli goalkeeper he is encountering but a side against whom he has managed only one goal for Liverpool in 30 appearances and even that one in a 4-1 Anfield defeat.

Henry's wife Linda Pizzuti revealed on her Twitter feed yesterday that the strains of "you're not singing any more", delivered to the Napoli fans, were a personal highlight of Thursday evening.

With the size of the task her husband is facing, she may not be hearing that kind of triumphalism too often. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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