Comolli Leaves Liverpool as $160 Million in Spending Goes Awry

Damien Comolli
Damien Comolli, brought to Liverpool to buy and spot talent, is leaving less than 18 months after being hired by the English Premier League club’s U.S. owners. Photographer: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Damien Comolli, brought to Liverpool to buy and spot talent, is leaving less than 18 months after being hired by the English Premier League club’s U.S. owners.

Comolli was named Liverpool’s first director of football by principal owner John W. Henry and chairman Tom Werner following their takeover of the Reds in October 2010. He leaves by “mutual consent” with the team in its worst run in the league in 53 years and a player overhaul that saw more than 100 million pounds ($160 million) spent.

Liverpool won’t meet the owners’ minimum target of a fourth-place finish and qualification for the elite Champions League after dropping to eighth with five games to go in the season. The move comes two days before the Reds meet city rival Everton in the F.A. Cup semifinals.

“The club needs to move forward and we now have a huge game on Saturday,” Werner said in a statement on the club’s website.

Billionaire Henry and television executive Werner, whose Fenway Sports Group also owns baseball’s Boston Red Sox, are in the U.K. to meet with club officials including Kenny Dalglish, the manager who won Liverpool’s last league title in 1990. Dalglish had been out of management for a decade before returning to the club last year.

“It is important that everyone joins us in supporting the manager and gets behind Kenny and the team and focuses on a strong finish to the season,” Werner said.

Critical Fans

Liverpool two days ago snapped a four-game winless streak when Andy Carroll, the team’s record 35 million-pound striker, scored just his fourth league goal of the season in the last minute for a 3-2 win at Blackburn.

As well as signing Carroll in January 2011, Comolli and Dalgish brought in forward Luis Suarez, and midfielders Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing. Fans and media have been critical of the acquisitions, saying their form has failed to match the fees paid for them.

Comolli, who speaks four languages, said he’s returning to his native France. He quit French club St. Etienne to join Liverpool and was director of football at Tottenham before that.

“I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to work at Liverpool and am happy to move on from the club and back to France for family reasons,” the 39-year-old said.

Shared Responsibility

Dalglish, who guided Liverpool to its first trophy in six years when the Reds beat second-tier Cardiff in February’s Carling Cup final, had never shared responsibility over player acquisitions in his previous managerial roles. He coached Liverpool to three league titles in his first spell, took Blackburn to the 1995 Premier League championship and had a less successful spell at Newcastle.

“For me we had a great relationship,” he said during a press conference after Comolli’s departure had been announced. “It’s disappointing, but I suppose there’s not very much in football that leaves you surprised.”

Liverpool was in crisis when FSG took ownership after a U.K. lawsuit wrestled control from former owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, the American who were in default to lenders Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and Wachovia Corp.

Henry told reporters after the 300-million-pound acquisition was completed he knew very little about soccer and needed time to learn about the sport. U.K. newspapers said Comolli was recommended to him by Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, who Henry tried to recruit to the Red Sox in 2002.

“We are grateful for all of Damien’s efforts on behalf of Liverpool and wish him all the best for the future,” Henry said.

Liverpool was the dominant English team in the 1970s and 1980s but has since been surpassed by Manchester United, which won its record 19th title last season. Liverpool will miss out on Europe’s elite Champions League for the third straight year.

The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, ending an 86-year title drought, and took the championship again in 2007.

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