Monday 19 February 2018

All eyes now fixed on Liverpool's latest American fling

Henry Winter

Now that English football has leapt into bed with American sports owners, it is worth recalling the fit and proper person's test in the classic film Diner.

Elyse, the fiancee of Steve Guttenberg's character Eddie, must prove her marital credentials by submitting to a quiz about his beloved Baltimore Colts. Elyse needs 65 points otherwise the dress goes back, the cake gets thrown to the ducks and two young lives are wrecked.

Eddie is a brutal Paxman, hitting the well-prepared but nervous Elyse with devilishly tricky Colts questions as his friends listen in. "What was the longest run from scrimmage by a rookie in his first game?'' he asks.

As Elyse pauses for thought, one of his mates whispers: "Alan Ameche". Eddie is apoplectic, disqualifying the question.

Midway through the interrogation, Elyse's mother phones to find out how her daughter is faring and whether she needs to stand down the caterers.

"The guys think it could go either way," comes the half-reassuring half-time view. Unfortunately, the Ameche controversy comes back to haunt Elyse as she finishes just short of the required 65 pass. "The marriage," Eddie announces gravely, "is off." Eventually he relinquishes when Elyse pleads she knew about Ameche and his friends confess it was the only answer they got right. The wedding duly goes ahead with a colour scheme of blue and white, including Elyse's dress.

"Colts' colours," Eddie reflects approvingly. "We all know most marriages depend on a firm grasp of football trivia," observes one of Eddie's elderly relatives sagely.

English football now embarks on another transatlantic marriage, Liverpool moving on from their acrimonious divorce from Hicks and Gillett by getting hitched to John W Henry. Would he pass an Eddie-style test on Liverpool's illustrious history? Although Henry has been well briefed by his PR people, and Friday night's sound bites were imbued with a sense of respect for Liverpool, not even the most ardent Kopite would expect their new owner to know his Alan Kennedy from his Ray Kennedy. An hour on the website LFChistory.net might help, though. Familiarity with the club's rich past would be nice -- a la Eddie from Diner -- but for the marriage to work Henry must prove his complete commitment to Liverpool's future.

Events at Anfield reverberate throughout the Premier League. What all supporters want is an owner with a plan that is long-term, a willingness to listen that is genuine and pockets that are deep. Henry seems to offer the first two. He keeps talking about the "long-term" while stating his desire to communicate with fans. New England Sports Ventures has wiped out the majority of the debt but how much will it now put into the squad and infrastructure? Henry has yet to commit to a new stadium in Stanley Park.

Of all the comments made by NESV on Friday, two from its chairman, Tom Werner, jumped out. "The new owners will begin to look at areas for greatest opportunity to increase the appeal of the club nationally and internationally," Werner said. Amid the exploding flashbulbs, didn't Werner see all the news crews from around the world clamouring for updates on the five-time European Cup-winners, the club of St John and Dalglish, Gerrard and Torres?

Message to NESV: Liverpool's global appeal comfortably eclipses anything the Boston Red Sox could dream of. To coin a phrase from the Harvard Business School, Liverpool can "make the brand sweat" more lucratively in overseas territories, but that "appeal" requires one quality to increase it: trophies.

It's not complicated. Silverware rules. "NESV will also begin to examine opportunities to enhance the match-day experience in the short-term," Werner adds. Getting Torres into top gear, bolstering the squad with heavyweight recruits and shedding lightweights such as Maxi Rodriguez is what's required to 'enhance the match-day experience'. Anfield, still home to one of the great atmospheres, doesn't need any fancy tricks from baseball arenas. Take me down to the Stanley Ball-Park? A seventh-inning stretch? Save that for Carra's bar afterwards.

Liverpool fans already sing their national anthem before kick-off. NESV must avoid gimmicks. The lesson of Anfield must be learned by the Premier League. The organisation's highly respected chief executive, Richard Scudamore, argues that he cannot pick who runs any of his 20 clubs provided they pass the fit and proper person test. Scudamore dismisses the idea of what he calls the 'we don't like the cut of your jib' door policy outside the VIP area of sport that is the Premier League.

But new proprietors must prove to the Premier League they have the finances to fund a club for a long period, for five years or more, and Scudamore must forbid any future leveraged buyouts such as the one Hicks and Gillett hoisted on Liverpool, almost ruinously, and the Glazers on Manchester United.

Old Trafford is a moneymaking machine, but so much of the profits go on interest payments it's little short of a scandal. Debt should become a four-letter word to the Premier League, particularly as Michel Platini's Uefa sounds determined to ban financially imbalanced clubs from Europe.

The current ownership debate should not be about nationality but about quality. There are good Americans and bad ones. Ellis Short is much admired at Sunderland. At Aston Villa, the breakdown in relations between Randy Lerner and Martin O'Neill was sad but the owner has recruited well, installing Gerard Houllier as O'Neill's successor. Stan Kroenke is well spoken of at Arsenal.

Just as there are good Americans and bad Americans, so there are good English owners such as Dave Whelan, the straight-talking, sense-making ruler of Wigan Athletic, and unpopular ones such as Mike Ashley at Newcastle United. Owners come in all shapes, sizes and motivations.

Maybe Scudamore could take the Eddie role, conducting a brief quiz at the new Premier League meeting with his 20 Elyses. And publish the results.

Telegraph

Sunday Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport