Song Of The Day – Black Hanz by The Moonlandingz

From the album ‘Interplanetary Class Classics’ (2017)

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Will FSG get away with demolishing Jürgen Klopp?

Yeah, sure, the title is clickbait. A similar tactic is used by the utterly vapid, who utilise antagonistic headlines to encourage hits on a plethora of shitty opinion pieces lamenting faux crises at ‘big clubs’ (usually because they failed to win one match) or their nauseatingly obsequious daily focus on Manchester United’s next vanity signing. State or insinuate something inflammatory and opposition fans that indulge in schadenfreude, or thinned skinned supporters of the club in question, will be drawn to it. Misery loves the company of confirmation bias.

But anyway, back to Liverpool. Their fans are miserable, jaded by a quarter century of false dawns. The latest occurred this January, when their title challenge crumbled due to a lack of squad depth and quality, itself a legacy of inexplicable January transfer window inertia and an equally perplexing lack of investment during the previous summer.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It shouldn’t be like this. Getting rid of the previous owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who, in an act of catastrophic stupidity, were prepared to see the club disintegrate to protect their investment, and the agony that process entailed, was supposed to give the club another chance at prosperity, only for rank mediocrity to become entrenched under new ownership – Fenway Sports Group.

The near Gillett and Hicks disaster coupled with the faulty perception of how their success with the Boston Red Sox was achieved (let’s note that the Red Sox have had the second or third highest payroll in Major League Baseball for most of FSG’s tenure), allowed FSG to arrive with the kind of enticing narrative that appeals to sanctimonious tribalism – they would compete financially but do so by being smarter than Liverpool’s rivals.

“We are committed first and foremost to winning. We have a history of winning, and we want Liverpool supporters to know that this approach is what we intend to bring to this great club.” – John W Henry 2010

There’s been precious little of that. Yet, as with most ‘big clubs’, Liverpool supporters are expected to finance, either directly through merchandise and ticket prices, or indirectly, through television revenue and various club sponsorships, a league title contender. For FSG being ‘clever’ is a euphemism for avoiding unnecessary risks, that means not wasting company profits on the sporting costs Premier League contention nearly always requires, particularly without any guarantee of it consistently bringing further dividends. Loyalty has its limits, by treating the fans as consumers, and asking them to pay a premium, you inevitably incur demands that the product matches the price paid, which Liverpool’s doesn’t and, the 2013/14 season aside, hasn’t.

Let’s give FSG some credit here. A few spasms on ticket pricing aside, so far they’ve avoided eruptions of mass hostility thanks to creating a cyclical paradigm that manipulates the desperation of Liverpool supporters for meaningful contention, never mind success, by offering them a new avenue of hope that it will finally arrive. Most often it’s through a change of manager, but another method is to publicly orchestrate a re-structuring of the recruitment apparatus. This is followed by fluff rhetoric that these changes will provide the correct execution of FSG’s moronically pious and illogical recruitment policy. This is business strategy 101: when a business is underperforming and the consumers start becoming wary – rebrand, or in this case, reconfigure it.

“Spending is not merely about buying talent. Our ambitions do not lie in cementing a mid-table place with expensive, short-term quick fixes that will only contribute for a couple of years.” – John W Henry. September 2012

It’s simple but also despicably clever stuff. Parse Henry’s comment above with the decision to partner Kenny Dalglish with Damien Comolli, before giving a technical committee populated by scouts and spreadsheet analysts (one of whom, Michael Edwards, has ascended, astonishingly, to be the current Sporting Director) parity with manager Brendan Rodgers, thus developing an aborted collegiate approach to identifying transfer targets, with how quickly FSG pulled the plug on both Dalglish and Rodgers, and it’s impossible not have grave doubts about their stated objective.

Enter Jürgen Klopp. FSG recognised that with underwhelming results, thanks to the damaging monetisation of Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling, the decline of Steven Gerrard, and modest investment in new players relative to transfer income, particularly over the last three years, they had to rebrand their failing model with stardust. Plus, changing the manager, and hoping he can rehabilitate a squad of players perceived to be underperforming, is cheaper than buying new players and backing the incumbent (and often, at that point, beleaguered) manager.

The euphoria surrounding Klopp’s arrival afforded FSG another opportunity. He brought a sense of overwhelming relief that the club’s name was still relevant despite spending years mired in mediocrity post Benitez. This wave of optimism allowed FSG to complete a conversion faith. Klopp’s resolute self-belief and track record in unheralded and youth player development was, we were told, synonymous with their buy low, sell high monetisation formula in the transfer market. Finally, after three managers in five years, they had the man who had successfully implemented their strategy elsewhere, and now he could do it at Liverpool. They’d make money off the pitch through consistent Champions League qualification (after all, John W. Henry aspires for Liverpool to be like Arsenal), develop young players to be sold for profits, and Klopp would help them win on it. That the Premier League operates at a different financial echelon to the Bundesliga, and competition for Champions League places is fierce every season, was swept away by the mood. Liverpool had Klopp, nothing else mattered.

This brings us to the most ubiquitously tiresome defence of FSG, namely that it’s people who have failed their strategy, not the other way around. Such an argument may have had merit five years ago, but continuing to believe in it now, with six years of evidence, is utterly foolish. If it doesn’t work with someone as good as Klopp, what then? And if Klopp is the right man, the one they’ve been searching for during the last six years, then their lack of investment in him thus far, with a negative net spend of over £15m covering his first three transfer windows in charge, contradicts not only this but their often publicly stated intention to compete. If they aren’t prepared to spend under Klopp, when will they?

Contrast the following quotes from FSG’s Mike Gordon, in September of 2016, with those from John W. Henry in the first two years after FSG bought the club, and they become revealing:

“I worry more about getting the most out of the money that we spend rather than competing in the transfer market on a pound for pound basis.”

Contextualise this with Liverpool’s recent expenditure relative to income in the transfer market, and this now reads as, ‘We’re not prepared to compete with anyone, and we’re not going to try either’.

“Wins and losses are made here (points to the pitch), not in the transfer market. I’m really happy with the team that we have, the one that we’ve built over the last several years.”

A team that’s won one League Cup, five years ago, and that, on average, has finished sixth since FSG arrived. But why shouldn’t he be happy with the squad that they have and that they’ve been building? The underlying process has made and saved them money. The player largely responsible for that sole anomaly of a title challenge in 2013/14 was swiftly monetised. As FSG know, your top earners tend to be your most coveted and valuable assets, and what better way to minimise risk than to sell them at their peak value; money made from transfer fees, and money saved from wages. Let’s suffix this with its wider contextual goal – a large transfer income allows all other profit streams to be sequestered from ‘sporting demand’.

“We’ve spent a fair amount of money, and I think we’re going to see that on display this season and in the seasons to come.”

More importantly such weaselly spin leaves Jürgen Klopp in a virtually impossible situation, he’s fighting on three fronts; against rival clubs, many of whom sport greater resources or owners who are prepared to spend significant sums on the sporting operation, against the disingenuous approach of Liverpool’s owners, and skewed fan expectations that often fail to account for the applied realities of the previous impediments.

The expectation that a high volume of managerial turnover will inevitably occur is now firmly embedded within English football culture, and FSG has fed it red meat, having sacked three managers in six years. Doing so allows them to posit their managers, or a director of football, for failing its strategy and therefore the club. Demolishing good football men to distract from their machinations is unforgivable, that they can rely on fans to be wholly apathetic during, or worse yet accelerate, this process is wholly depressing.

We know Klopp will stand his ground and do things his way, as managers of his stature always do. But if progression is slow, and not linear, or if none is being perceived, doubters will develop in the far distance, looming with the sinister intent of a mushroom cloud. And it’s unlikely that the nuclear wind will blow away from Klopp.

I suspect Klopp now realises that the incessant pining for instant validation in English football, that’s driven by media intrusion, is just too vacuous, fickle and impatient to allow time for his developmental ideal. His reputation doesn’t help him either. Nobody expected him to work miracles at Mainz 05 or Borussia Dortmund, but because he did they now do at Liverpool, where expectations are cripplingly unrealistic given the owner’s unwillingness to spend thus far. As we’ve seen with Arsene Wenger, who’s now being thoroughly ridiculed by the most moronic and vociferous of Arsenal fans, attempting to succeed while moderating the capitalist faith, but failing to do so, is portrayed as arrogant, anachronistic, or even worse, seen as a mis-guided form of intellectual vanity.

Those who would conflate Klopp’s vision with FSG’s will argue that things will be different this summer. If that turns out not to be the case, either through ineptitude or intent, perhaps they’ll see sense or maybe they’ll argue that Klopp should speak out, as Rafael Benitez once did against Hicks and Gillett. If Klopp states that, as far as he’s aware, he’s being backed, it allows the blame to be placed on him for not spending.

This brings us to Liverpool’s new Sporting Director, Michael Edwards, and potential questions over his motivations and loyalties. He’s ‘impressed’ FSG enough to outlast the man who brought him to the club, Damien Comolli, and ascend from the position of Head of Analytics to Sporting Director in five years. Klopp may be used to ceding these responsibilities, and working alongside someone with this authority, but for his and the club’s benefit. Will Edwards? It’s his responsibility to get Klopp the players he wants, but to also placate FSG’s desire to spend as little as they can get away with. Edwards will likely aim to do both, but if that isn’t possible, just which side is he likely to favour? If we take Edwards’ remit as so, “Edwards will now lead the club’s overall football development, including player identification, acquisitions, sales and retention”, then one wonders whether have FSG placed someone whose loyalty they’ve earned through a series fast-track promotions into a position where he can obfuscate, manipulate and mitigate Klopp’s instructions and desire for investment?

I’ll concede that this is pure speculation. If Klopp is isolated in such a fashion fighting back becomes a Catch 22 situation for him, given his previous stance he could be labelled a hypocritical opportunist, and he knows that demoralising morale and attracting unwanted scrutiny by starting a mutiny would surely see his end. However, such a revelation from source is required to galvanise jaded minds into action. Liverpool fans know full well how costly it would’ve been had Benitez remained silent. But those were vastly different circumstances, it’s far more difficult to rouse support for boycotts or protests for just underachieving or for not spending enough, and unlike Hicks and Gillett, FSG, smartly, haven’t saddled the club with acquisition debt and threatened its existence, or potentially placed their control of the club in the hands of a third party.

This last point is important, as FSG are going nowhere any time soon. It’s a snide device wielded by those who defend the current ownership model, to contrast them with the dismal Gillett and Hicks experience whilst perniciously offering the hope that a takeover may be imminent. Believing that they’re just waiting for the right time to sell makes them and this purgatory bearable.

Still, just why would FSG sell Liverpool? FSG, then named NESV, bought the club for £300m in October 2010, ‘a steal’ according to them. At the time of writing, April 2017, it’s now valued in most quarters at over £1b. That’s an increase on the purchase price of roughly £100m per year. Given a slew of sixth, seventh and eighth placed finishes Liverpool’s performance on the pitch has done little to stunt this trend. The increase is largely thanks to the Premier League’s worldwide popularity, its grotesque domestic television contract, and Liverpool’s name still, in the modern context, being synonymous with success and relevance thanks to the Benitez years. Because the value of the club goes up irrespective of performance, all FSG have to do is just sit there, sack a manager every few years when the fans get restless about poor results and a lack of progress, sell a player for a significant profit every other year, and pocket the profits. Look at it dispassionately, and it’s simply smart business.

Not so smart are these joyless FSG astroturfers who have conflated Klopp’s ethos and FSG as one, there’s quite a lot at stake for them. Being right on the internet is really important. My impression is, without collating any data – suitably, there’s a direct correlation between statistical analysis and believing in FSG’s ‘model’. It’s understandable, FSG are their intellectual kin, and there’s pride in one of their own applying their methods at this level and at their club. Their arrival and their stated intentions of how they were going to win also popularised the debate around the use of statistics in football. Never mind that, unlike Baseball, football statistics consumed in a vacuum are a wholly inaccurate and arbitrary measure of performance and value, to which Liverpool’s scattergun transfer approach will attest. Surely these are just teething problems that all pioneers at the vanguard of progress suffer? Applying any form of spin or excuses to sustain their elevated sense of self-worth is justified, as FSG’s success would validate their expertise status on social media. It takes a special brand of delusion to defend FSG by denying the proven common sense that buying quality players and keeping your best ones tends to work quite well. Perhaps Klopp failing due to Liverpool continuing to not do this would be the epiphany? But as with Benitez before, by then it’ll be too late.

While fence sitting is a craven act, it’s understandable that many fans have opined that this summer offers the acid test of FSG’s ownership. Will Coutinho be monetised as Suarez and Sterling were? Will Champions League qualification change the scope of the transfer spending and the profile of their transfer targets, or will it be players that the club would’ve been able to sign regardless? There is a consensus that changes are required, and that leads us to consider the most important question of all – in a league filled with high profile, winning managers, leading teams who are expected to challenge and win, not all them can, and if Klopp isn’t provided the means to, just how long will he put up with it?

That’s something to ponder. The reality is Liverpool needs Jürgen Klopp, he doesn’t need them. He’s simply worked too hard to be dragged down into mediocrity for pure greed by empty suits that don’t care about him or the game. His talents and persona deserve support and patience, as, thanks to FSG cementing their also-ran status, Liverpool won’t get a better manager. FSG don’t, they’ve wasted enough time already, and have only shown themselves to be a cynical and manipulative body that has little interest in winning. So, something will likely have to give. Can Liverpool fans live up to their own billing as the most knowledgeable fans in the world? Most did so when it came to the crunch seven years ago. For the sake of their club and for Jürgen Klopp they need to prove so again and find ways of directing their future frustrations at the correct source of the club’s stagnation.

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Song On The Day – Jumpin’ Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones

From the compilation album ‘Hot Rocks 1964-1971’ (1971)

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Song Of The Day – I Gotta Feel Something by Alex

From the album ‘Handle With Care’ (1977)

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Gentrify This

I pledged, from the beginning, to never surrender, unlike the others.

Hearteningly, resistance at the start was ubiquitous. Soon I was to realise that, for many of them, it was just an instinctive aversion. Having occupied this place for so long, it can be hard to conceptualise moving when suddenly presented with the opportunity. Despite their first proposal appearing to be benign, it still failed to empathise with the emotive reality that we’d lived all of our lives here, it was where our children were born and where we watched them grow up, and it’s where relatives and friends died. We’ve lived through the good, the bad, and we stuck up for each other. Just as they were blinded by greed, I too was blinded by my own dogmatic attachment to this community, formed over generations, with it being the purest and most resilient kind. My faith obscured the desperate reality that society faces – any resistance to the pervasiveness of this crass, arrogant capitalist psyche, whose faith that the market ‘always provides the answer’ and finds something’s true value, is futile. We were a trifling inconvenience in the way of an investment opportunity that was deigned to occur because it would make money.

As the weeks passed their latent contempt for us became harder to conceal. Our defiance was as silly as our sentimentality in decaying bricks, mortar and foundations. Unfortunately for them, we were now adjacent to an area of affluence that had become so through being enveloped and then redeveloped to satiate an expanding bourgeoisie demand for modern urban living.

Mistakenly, their public disclosure offered the justification that the eradication of our history was an altruistic endeavour that would aid the nourishment and replenishment of a decaying area. It took a tactical recalibration on their part before they were able placate some of us. They apologised, and called this use of language a mis-judgement. Unsolicited evaluations soon followed, they were accompanied with graphs and charts showing us how we would be getting a great (above market) deal by selling. Eventually they started to appear on our doorsteps, unannounced too, clearly a cynical ploy to appear personable.

They handed us brochures of a development, another one of theirs currently under construction elsewhere, of course, which we could ‘agree to join’, at a ‘significant discount’. I must confess the brochure impressed; its weightiness and the glossy paper suggested a lavish expense and promised sophistication. Its content, suffice to say, didn’t hold the same appeal, but, nonetheless, I could see how its message would to others who’d lived, and had become undaunted by living, a more nomadic life than I. It featured some sanctimonious guff about the virtues of modern living ‘their aims’ and various vistas proposed an idyllic scene of how ‘sustainable, natural architecture inspires clean living’. Modernity, due to its needless synergy with remaining unblemished, meant its buildings lacked character and would never develop it. They were soulless, rudimentary, austere, clean units, easily and lazily prefabricated and erected, designs for people who’d lived easy lives and expected to continue to do so. They were everything which my house was not – impractical, old, odd, and dare I confess, dirty. The chair on which I’m sitting currently certainly was, after decades of coalescence I knew its shape and it knew mine. The fabric of its history, the feel of its scars, dents and indentations were a reminder of its significance in mine. It was a physical embodiment of my personality and how we lived. But such items and their histories didn’t belong in this new prospective environment. These realities of humanity, the clutter and baggage of sentimentality and the waste, excrement, eccentricity, individuality it produced, weren’t represented in brochures or considered as part of an architect’s egotistical vision of how their spaces should be maximised.

The Warren’s were the first to depart, foolishly settling for less than the others who held on to the last. They moved to a new development on the edge of town, surrounded by immigrants, but immigrants with professions and expertise, no taming of radicalised rabble or social mobility required here. Little doubt they were part an initiative to better integrate society, as such there was no sense of community there, no sense of belonging. Word soon spread that the Warren’s quite liked it, or claimed they did, and folk got curious. They had twice as many rooms which all contained more room, plus they had their own garden and a driveway. The house itself was pleasant enough, but all I could hear was the headache inducing din of the motorway half a mile away routing the sound of leaves on newly planted trees being caressed by the breeze.

Once they saw this scope the rest started to capitulate, which only made the developers and the council more aggressive and so the offers they made me started to reduce, and, I suspect my continued resistance antagonised them into further reductions out of spite. By now they’d realised it was entirely about the principle for me. They’d turned a community, this street, our street, my street, into a ghost town, an extinction event had occurred and I was the last Dodo to be hunted, killed and embalmed, then placed in a museum as a relic of a forgotten age for people to ambivalently gawk. Scenes of dereliction, such as our street, are always manufactured, because, from sanitised confines, their inertia conveys wasted ‘potential’. And a wasted profit cannot be tolerated.

Despite the desolation I cleave to this place now more than ever, the exodus only serving to strengthen the memories of what’s been lost. Sam and Karen have families of their own now, and my Tony is dead and gone. Both have implored me to sell. I can forgive them their motivations, they’re both ridden, as most middle income professionals are these days, with materialistic debts and a mortgage for a house they paid too much for. If I capitulated they stood to inherit a good chunk of that money, who else would I leave it to? They’d collect even more if I went into sheltered housing. They’ve yet to suggest that, they’d know how I’d react. But I know that’s their ideal.

After the letter instructing me that the compulsory purchase order had been granted by courts arrived, they upped their final offer as a sign of good will. I told them I’d consider it if our local councillor and the company’s chief would meet me here. They agreed.

In the early hours of the morning before they were due to arrive I started to barricade all sources of airflow in and out of the kitchen. I started with the windows, and then covered most of the sockets with masking tape. Normally this activity would arouse a mixture of concern and suspicion with my neighbours, but I no longer had any. Hours later, and after making the first ever meal I had here – beans on toast – I unplugged the fridge, cooker and all other electrical devices and taped up the rest of the sockets. Now the only orifice that remained unsealed was the door to the kitchen that leads into the living room. Despite the extensiveness of my incubatory work the sultry haze of late spring morning light still managed to penetrate through the miles of tape and chipboard I’d applied. Before sealing the kitchen door I went into the kitchen and removed the gas feed into the boiler, there was a moment of genuine levity, despite what I was about to do, when I realised that sabotage would be far more difficult to achieve with a modern boiler in a new build.

They arrived at ten. As they entered I started to feel queasy for the first time, what the cruelty of the act would mean for Karen and Sam. They’d lose not just me, but the money and only gain the indignity of being associated with it. But it was too late to back out now. I invited them to sit, cordially, which surprised them, and they were overly conciliatory which didn’t surprise me at all. Most importantly they didn’t smell the gas, I could faintly, and I worried that the few hours in its company had dulled my sensitivity to it, and that its odour was more apparent to them. It wasn’t until I went to light a ciggie, I noticed, surreptitiously, and without any tact whatsoever, that they’d produced the documents, unprompted, and pen for me to sign them. Before making a show of stopping myself, I offered that I’d been very rude and asked them if they wanted a cup of tea. I intended to have one, and I explained that I’ve always had one with my morning cuppa. As I walked to the kitchen door, one of them questioned why it was boarded and taped up. She would get no answer, after I applied the necessary pressure the door opened in the way, and the smell walloped me. Then I lit my ciggie, and my anger hit them.

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