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Ian Ayre: Signing Mario Balotelli was not about selling Liverpool shirts


Mario Balotelli

Mario Balotelli

Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Mario Balotelli

Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre has said the signing of striker Mario Balotelli was never about selling shirts.

"I read a stat the other day that we sold £50,000 worth of Balotelli shirts on the day he signed," added Ayre, speaking at Soccerex in Manchester.

"You have to be geared up for that. In the past Liverpool had the situation where they had success or an opportunity and did not capitalise on that, but those days are long gone.

"The signing of Mario was never about commercial opportunity, it was about football and it always will be. But it shows you the power of the Liverpool name and the power of a player like Mario.

"That is what Liverpool is about, having huge reach and success around the world.

"When you have big opportunities you have to be able to capitalise on them."

He also admitted that the "dark days" of the Tom Hicks and George Gillett era at Anfield taught him and the new owners the importance of long-term sustainability and respecting the club.

The Reds' previous owners drove the Merseysiders to the brink of administration after a disastrous leveraged buy-out, and it has taken successors Fenway Sports Group the best part of four years to put things back on track.

Liverpool are a different prospect both on and off the pitch now, and Ayre said hard but valuable lessons had been learned.

"It is great for our supporters because they went through a difficult time and it is always devastating to see such a great tradition and establishment as Liverpool being in such great difficulty," he said.

"It taught us the importance of sustainability and running the club properly. No-one wants to go back to those dark days again.

"There was a lot to focus on: we had to improve the squad overall and that took investment at a time when we had little cash and a lot of debt. And it is testament to our new owners that they invested heavily and we started to improve the on-pitch side.

"It was also important to put in the pieces to take the business of the club forward, because in a world of Financial Fair Play and sustainability they are the things which generate the revenue to buy the players.

"It was a five-year plan and I am pleased to say it has been successful on all fronts, and the club has not been in such great health.

"It is pleasing to know we are on a great footing, have fantastic owners who believe in sustainability, believe in putting the club where it should be and treating it with the respect it should have.

"As long as we continue with those values we will be in good shape."

The implications of FFP have increased the significance of commercial success, and Ayre believes in that area the club have matched the progress made by manager Brendan Rodgers on the field.

He cited the example of the recent signing of Italy striker Mario Balotelli as an instance where they have upped their game since the infamous incident of the club shop being closed the day after Liverpool won the Champions League in 2005.

Ayre believes Liverpool are now entering a different phase where they can look to consistently challenge their rivals on and off the pitch after running big-spending Manchester City close in the title race last season.

"We have to be realistic and ambitious and optimistic at the same time," he said.

"Brendan said very recently finishing in the top four and qualifying from our Champions League group would be our two core objectives.

"You could say progress would be winning one more game and winning the league (they finished two points behind City), but as long as we acquit ourselves as we did last season I think we will be in great shape.

"You set out to win, but we were very pleased with where we got to and surpassed all our expectations.

"While we were ahead of where we expected to be, we certainly made the progress we expected to make, to break into the top four and improve the squad, and again this summer I feel we have been able to do that.

"The ambition and desire and commitment is there and it will be down to how other people acquit themselves and how the numbers add up."

PA Media