Liverpool’s Ayre Says Team Must Look Beyond Past Glories
U.S.-based owner Fenway Sports Group two days ago ended Kenny Dalglish’s second spell as manager of the Premier League club after 16 months. The team is seeking a coach capable of leading a challenge against soccer’s best, Ayre said in a telephone interview yesterday. Wigan said Liverpool has been given permission to speak with its manager Roberto Martinez.
Liverpool, considered one of the sport’s biggest names with five European Cups and 18 English championships, failed to qualify for the elite Champions League for a third straight year. It was 37 points behind champion Manchester City in eighth place, its worst English league finish since 1994. Last year, Manchester United overtook it with a 19th league title.
Principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner funded 100 million pounds ($158 million) in spending on new players in an attempt to push the club to a minimum target of fourth place. Dalglish failed and was relieved of his post even though the Reds in February won the League Cup, the team’s first trophy in six years. It also lost this month’s F.A. Cup final.
“It doesn’t matter how many cups you win,” Ayre said. “Ultimately you’ll fail, because if you don’t have that sustainable revenue stream that comes from playing at the highest level it will be more and more difficult to compete.”
‘Dark and Murky’
Ayre said the club has been consulting “senior people in the industry” about candidates to become Liverpool’s fourth manager in the past two years. He declined to reveal names on the shortlist, saying the advice was being solicited because soccer “can be a dark and murky game.”
Wigan chairman Dave Whelan said yesterday that he gave Liverpool permission to speak with Martinez after being contacted by the Anfield club. Ayre said he’s received unsolicited calls from agents putting forward clients and some of those would be added to those already under consideration.
Liverpool today made an approach to speak to Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers, who turned down the opportunity, Swansea said in a statement on its website.
Liverpool already has a structure planned under which the new coach will operate, Ayre said. It won’t include a director of football with the same level of control to negotiate transfers and player salaries that Frenchman Damien Comolli had before being fired in April.
The new manager will be provided with funds to strengthen the team, Ayre said.
“There’s no point in having a plan, a process to try and find the right manager, if you’re not prepared to invest to support him,” he said.
Dalglish’s departure came after senior executives including Comolli, head of medicine Dr. Peter Bruckner and head of communications Ian Cotton lost their jobs. Ayre, who was promoted to managing director following FSG’s takeover in October 2010, said he’s ignored speculation that he’ll be next to go. He said he recently signed a new contract and is recruiting replacements. A new head of communications will be named next week, he added.
Henry and Werner, whose group also owns Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox, said they knew very little about soccer when they took control of Liverpool. The club’s banks forced a sale following the failure of former owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks to refinance a 300-million pound loan used to buy and operate the team.
The changes come because FSG has become “far better qualified to have a view on the structure and the process going forward,” Ayre said.
Whoever replaces Dalglish will face a challenge winning over the fans. Roy Hodgson, who on May 1 was named England manager, lasted six months before being fired because of the team’s poor performance and rising supporter opposition. They chanted for Dalglish, who’d become a favorite after winning six league titles as a player and the club’s last three championships during his first spell as manager.
Following Dalglish “is always going to be difficult,” Ayre said. “But that shouldn’t stop anyone coming and that shouldn’t stop us choosing anyone.”
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