Liverpool salutes the 'genius' of Alex Ferguson
JOHN W Henry, the Liverpool owner, has paid a deferential tribute to the ‘genius’ of Sir Alex Ferguson ahead of Manchester United’s Anfield visit.
In a stark admission before the meeting with the champions, Henry says it could take years before the club is back to the same level as their biggest rivals.
He also says last summer’s appointment of Kenny Dalglish forced owners Fenway Sports Group to rip up their original plan to recruit a younger manager.
FSG celebrate a year in charge of the Merseyside club this weekend, but Henry is under no illusions about the scale of the challenges still ahead.
Liverpool's plan to extend their Anfield stadium has stalled and the Premier League title seems no closer after a 20-year wait, despite a recent revival under Dalglish.
“We are still a long way behind them,” said Henry on the challenge of facing United this weekend.
“They were well set up going into this year and then were able to insert great, young players. Mr. Ferguson is a genius.
“By the time we made the purchase we were aware of a lot of bad contracts and the fact that it could take years to get the club back where it needed to be.
“Overall there has been progress. But there is still a lot of work to be done.”
The issue which has perpetually plagued Anfield, not only during the FSG reign but to the detriment of previous regimes, is how to solve Liverpool’s stadium problem.
A year ago Henry was intent on renovating the existing arena, but this has encountered serious obstacles due to the numerous planning issues resulting from the residential location of Anfield.
Henry has now delivered his most downbeat assessment yet on redevelopment.
The delay explains why the club has been exploring alternative ways to generate revenue, and why chief executive Ian Ayre this week floated the idea of a rethink on the distribution of the Premier League's overseas TV payment.
“More and more it appears that expanding Anfield is problematical,” said Henry.
“New stadiums are very expensive — particularly one large enough to cause you to tear down a 45,000 stadium. Our hope was to refurbish and expand Anfield. But that may not be possible.
“A new stadium is not the full solution. Barcelona and Real Madrid are dominant clubs because they are able to maximize all aspects of the revenue generation.
"We have to try to do that as well. It’s certainly an important component.” The one decision which has yielded dividends for FSG is their appointment of Dalglish last summer.
Henry admits he was initially unsure whether Dalglish was the right man to replace Roy Hodgson because he thought a younger manager was the solution.
He maintains the appointment was based on thorough analysis rather than yielding to the sentimental demands of The Kop.
“We didn’t feel pressured,” he said.
“Initially he blueprint was for a younger manager. You want to have long-term stability in as much as the staff as possible.
“I had been talking with Kenny about philosophy and initially he was brought aboard just for the remainder of last season. But it became obvious that he was the right man to lead the club.”
Liverpool’s director of football, Damien Comolli, considered current Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas, then at Porto, and Marseille’s Didier Deschamps before Dalglish’s impressive return.
Both were perceived as a more likely fit for the new regime, but Dalglish’s credentials proved too convincing to ignore.
“Kenny is certainly charismatic and beloved by the fans,” said Henry.
“I wasn’t convinced when we arrived that Kenny should be back managing and I wanted things to work with the manager we inherited.
"But the fans knew much more than I did. It took me a while to get up to speed.
"Then Ian Ayre was a catalyst. Damien was a gamble. Kenny was a gamble. But they were both calculated gambles.
"They both have the advantage of being passionate about their work and are both very clever. We didn’t feel we had a lot of time to wait, and we hope things turned around.”