LIVERPOOL, England — Fans of Liverpool Football Club want a new striker on the pitch. Red Sox fans want a new strikeout pitcher.
And they are both vying for the attention – and checkbooks — of team owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner.
These are trying times for the fans of two different Fenway Sports Group franchises that operate 3,126 miles and one big ocean apart. But as different as the fans of the Liverpool Reds and Boston Red Sox are, they are in many ways remarkably the same.
It’s been 22 years since the venerable Liverpool Football Club last celebrated a league title and even though Henry and Werner came to the financial rescue of the club when they purchased it two years ago, LFC continues to struggle on the field and stumble off it.
Although the Red Sox owners restructured Liverpool from top to bottom, the club finished in eighth place last season and currently resides in 11th place in the 20-team Premier League.
And whether you’re a Sox fan from Southie or a scouser rooting for the Reds, you’ll accept nothing less than a championship caliber club and an all-in effort from the people who run it.
Effort, for the rabid fan bases, means having ownership invest money in the team by spending on top talent. How much Henry will spend to improve the squad is a hotly debated issue for fans of both teams and ownership has a lot of work to do to win back fans this winter.
The 69-93, last-place Red Sox have started the rebuilding process, most notably by throwing millions around for a couple of free-agent replacement parts at the baseball winter meetings in Nashville.
Come January, Henry and Werner are going to have to pry open the wallets to make good on a colossal gaffe in Liverpool that took place on the transfer deadline day last August, the equivalent of baseball’s trading deadline. That’s when Liverpool decided to dump high-priced Andy Caroll, but failed to bring in a replacement striker, making Henry and Werner look foolish, frugal, and without a plan to LFC fans everywhere.
But like some Red Sox fans, Liverpool fans for the most part are willing to be patient, especially after the chaos under the stewardship of former American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillette.
“These American owners a lot better than the last ones,’’ one fan said outside of Anfield, LFC’s beloved home. “As long as they rebuild it, then I can’t see any problems. They made one mistake really with [Andy] Carroll going out.’’
But many remain skeptical until they see results.
“The initial excitement [of Henry’s purchase of the club] depreciated a bit because funds weren’t available in the transfer window … We’ve had owners from the States before,’’ said another fan who sells Liverpool memorabilia before the matches. “We’re all a bit concerned about that.’’
Like Red Sox fans who saw $262 million worth of star players shipped to Los Angeles in August, Liverpool fans understand you can’t only throw money at the club’s problems.
“I like these American owners,’’ one fan said inside the popular Anfield pub The Albert, “Spending money is easy, but spending the right money on the right players takes an awful lot more … we’ll give them time.’’
For the most part, Liverpool fans like the direction new manager Brendan Rodgers is taking the club, and are getting excited about the long-term outlook of the young team LFC has been fielding this season.
“It’s going to take us a little while to get back out there [with the top teams],’’ one Liverpool fan based in London said. “There’s a lot of ‘we want success immediately.’ But you have to live in the real world. We nearly went bust. If it weren’t for John Henry, we wouldn’t be Liverpool.’’
Like their cousins across the pond who might be questioning the dollars given to outfielder Shane Victorino, LFC fans know the cost of talent, and the cost of overpaying players who underperformed under the pressure of playing for a franchise that is constantly in the sports spotlight.
“The money that was spent last year especially just seems like a lot of money that could have been put to better use,’’ one Liverpool fan said at Anfield. “I think that’s what’s going to be the feeling all-around because we know the price of players, we can see what other teams are buying them in at, so I think the owners themselves would feel a little disappointed.’’
While LFC fans aren’t force-fed Red Sox baseball, like many believe NESN and Fenway Sports Group has done with the soccer club in the US, don’t think the baseball team’s demise over the last two seasons has escaped the attention of the Liverpool faithful.
“We were led to believe they made a massive difference in the Red Sox and they’re the best thing since sliced bread now,’’ one fan at The Park pub said. “I didn’t realize [the Red Sox] wasn’t doing very well, I thought it was doing really good.’’
There’s been speculation that the closure of Henry’s investment firm might mean the 63-year-old Red Sox owner would lack the financial resources to support both the local baseball team and Liverpool. Henry and Werner have denied that allegation, but there are some fans who think the owners need to choose one franchise or the other.
“I think they should put all their money into Liverpool,’’ one diehard LFC fan said outside Anfield. “I think they should sell the baseball team and whatever they’ve got, put it all into Liverpool Football Club.’’
Henry didn’t initially realize the impact the Liverpool purchase would have on Red Sox fans when he bought the club in Oct. 2010.
“Since we bought Liverpool, there has been this continual back and forth in Liverpool about the money we spend in Boston, and in Boston about the money we spend in Liverpool,’’ Henry told WEEI in September. “I don’t think we anticipated that. I think that’s been the biggest issue. There hasn’t been a financial issue, but there’s really been an issue between fan bases about where money is spent.
“Of course, right after we spend $476 million to buy Liverpool, which many people think is a bargain price, I guess, we spent how much on Adrian [Gonzalez] and Carl [Crawford]? That provoked such an outrage in Liverpool. We were shocked about that. The fact that we went out and signed these free agents caused that. Then we went out and spent $150 million or so on buying players in Liverpool, and it provoked that here. That’s really a mistake on our part, not to recognize that that was going to create issues with both franchises.’’
The issue of spending remains a hot topic in Merseyside.
“John Henry, all I want to say is can you get the checkbooks out in January?’’ one fan proclaimed regarding the upcoming transfer window. “If you don’t get the checkbooks out, I don’t want to know … and buy some players, some forwards.’’
Werner said the club is committed to spending more to improve the Liverpool squad next month.
“Our intention is to strengthen, but actions will speak louder than words,’’ Werner said in November. “We are playing better and better each week. Obviously, we have made some mistakes in the past, but our intention is to deliver, strengthen the squad and move forward.
“We know that January is a challenging time and I don’t want to say we’ve got x or y but, hopefully, the fans will be pleased with what we do accomplish.’’
Both Red Sox fans and players noticed the declining day-to-day involvement of ownership at the ballpark last season. But in Liverpool, the issue looms larger because Henry and Werner are based in the US and rarely make the trip overseas to see the matches.
Last season, Henry and Werner were ripped in the British press for missing the FA Cup semifinal match against crosstown rival Everton, having flown back to the United States to catch the Red Sox’ home opener instead.
“The owners don’t come as often as we like to see them,’’ a fan said before the start of an LFC match against Anzhi. “I don’t think they fully understand the club and Liverpool is a massive, massive club, they don’t fully understand, I don’t feel anyway, if they did, they’d put a bit more into it.’’
How much more time and money Henry and Werner have to put into the Sox and Liverpool is the big question. It’s difficult to be in two places at once.
“They need to make more of an effort and come to the smaller games,’’ one fan at The Albert said. “It’s all very well and good to come to the big games like Man City and Man United, but they need to be coming to the smaller games as well and they certainly need to be putting their hands in their pockets … I think they should sell the Red Sox and put all of their money into Liverpool.’’
Henry and Werner continue to deny all reports that indicate they might be putting the baseball team up for sale.
So whether fans like it or not, for now, the balancing act will continue.