Liverpool, Red Sox built to win under FSG ownership, but successes vary

LIVERPOOL -- It is seven years to the day since Fenway Sports Group, then New England Sports Ventures, completed their £300 million purchase of Liverpool.

Led by John W. Henry, it was the American investors' first plunge into football after their relative success owning the Boston Red Sox of Major League Baseball.

ESPN FC spoke to people around the Red Sox organisation to see whether there are any similarities or notable differences in the way they operate both historic teams.


"We're here to win," Henry declared inside the law offices of Slaughter and May in central London in October 2010 after the takeover was completed. Since then, though, Liverpool have lifted just one trophy: The League Cup in 2012. The Reds have qualified for the Champions League twice and been in one Premier League title race under FSG's ownership.

In 15 years of FSG as MLB owners, the Red Sox have lifted three World Series titles (2004, 2007 and 2013) and won the American League East division on four occasions.

Former Red Sox pitcher, 2004 World Series champion and local television analyst Lenny DiNardo:

"Prior to playing with the Red Sox, I was in a New York Mets minor league organisation. It was kind of a culture shock when I arrived at Boston. When you're in the low minor leagues, it's all about development, but when you get to the big leagues, there's no emphasis on instruction, it's all: 'Go out there and perform.'

"That's everywhere in the big leagues, especially with the Red Sox. Not necessarily because of the Red Sox management or organisation, but the fans -- Red Sox Nation -- expect you to win. If you don't, they're going to tear your heart out. They're going to find someone that will win.

"The organisation does things a certain way to help you to win. It's putting you in a position to succeed. In the Red Sox organisation, everyone has top-notch facilities, even in the minor leagues, to help get them where they need to be. It's different in other organisations.

"We would see John Henry, Tom Werner and all of those guys all the time. They wouldn't really hold clubhouse meetings or anything like that, but they were around the ball park all the time.

"It was noticeable what kind of management they were, because they would bring back some of the old-time, successful players. All these guys would be with us in the clubhouse prior to the games. I don't think every organisation does that. It's just them going out of their way and keeping a line of communication between the older crowd and the newer guys.

"There is so much history in Boston when it comes to the Red Sox. I really feel that winning is contagious and playing ball the right way is really invaluable when it comes to having success."

Approaches and recruitment

FSG have changed Liverpool's approach in the transfer market on numerous occasions during their ownership. When they first arrived, there was an emphasis on investing in young talent before moving toward the much-maligned transfer committee.

Now manager Jurgen Klopp has much more say on dealings, although new CEO Peter Moore said after arriving at the club: "I trust [sporting director] Michael Edwards implicitly to do a value proposition of a particular player and say, based on the data analytics we have on them and the comparables we have on other players, that this is what we go for."

ESPN baseball analyst Dan Szymborski:

"One of the things about John Henry's ownership with the Red Sox is that they act with urgency. They don't do five-, six-, seven-year plans. It's a good thing when you urgently want to win, but it sometimes comes off as impatience.

"You look at [former general manager] Theo Epstein, the team were very open to the analytics he brought to the table; they were still pretty new at the time in the major league level. After he left and the team stopped winning, the team has kind of shifted a bit. They're not quite on the analytics train as they used to be, simply because things weren't working as well.

"With Dave Dombrowski, now at the head of the front office, he's more of a traditionalist. In Detroit, he had a one-person analytical department and after he left they now have a seven-person analytical department. He doesn't put a lot of resources into analytics and you sometimes see they become more risk-averse as a result; you see more veterans signed.

"When it's not working in the short-term, you do tend to see them change direction. They just fired their manager [John Farrell] earlier this week and -- unless more comes out -- that he didn't succeed appears to be his cardinal offence.

"When Epstein was in Boston, analytics was still new and they liked to zag while everyone else was zigging. Essentially, Henry made his money working the markets and doing the same kind of thing. You see a little less of that in recent years.

"You could argue that them going back from analytics a little is also going the opposite way of the league. The league is very analytic-heavy right now. I think there is a tendency to do what the teams in the league are not doing.

"They do have the willingness to spend a lot of money, but they have been burned a couple of times. However, it's always tricky because it's intertwined with baseball's harsher rules and the luxury tax, which means they can't spend more money without having to pay gigantic penalty."

Contracts and negotiations

During FSG's ownership, Liverpool trail their rivals in terms of wage bill, while still boasting one of the biggest in Europe -- seemingly unable to compete with the salaries Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City are willing to pay. It means that Liverpool, at times, have looked to use different methods when it comes to contracts.

In March 2015, then-Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre said the club were at the the forefront of introducing performance-related pay for players and former captain Steven Gerrard wrote in his autobiography that he was "disappointed to be offered a performance-incentive contract" before he left for LA Galaxy the same year.

Martin Skrtel rejected an "unacceptable" contract offer from Liverpool in June 2015 and described it as "the kind offered to players who are much older or who have health problems".

MLB agent Joshua Kusnick on his experiences of dealing with the Red Sox during negotiations:

"The Red Sox are no better or worse than anyone else, in my opinion. I mean there's an etiquette to a degree while negotiating with MLB clubs because of the CBA [collective bargaining agreement]. Teams know what they can and cannot implement, so comparing an ownership group for two entirely different leagues may be a tough task.

"That said, Boston were harshly punished two years ago by the MLB for international free-agent violations.

"Incentive-based deals are commonplace in MLB for declining and aging players."

Presence and fan perception

FSG are viewed indifferently among the Liverpool fan base, who demand success every season in line with the club's tradition and history.

One criticism of the Massachusetts-based consortium by supporters has been their lack of perceived presence on Merseyside. They rarely appear in the local media, with their last availability for reporters on the ground taking place well over 12 months ago when chairman Werner spoke after Liverpool officially opened the redeveloped Main Stand.

Speculation about selling the lucrative Premier League club is frequent, and although Werner denied the club is for sale in August 2016, he did state FSG were open to selling a minority stake.

Red Sox beat writer for the Boston Herald, Jason Mastrodonato:

"John Henry has certainly scaled back his presence with us over the years I've covered the team. He's become far more careful about what he says. He speaks once a year, every spring training.

"There was this incident a few years back where he made this comment about the Red Sox overrelying on analytics, and that was one reason for their failures in identifying free agents. Naturally, a lot was written about it and he seemed to take great offence to it.

"It's like he's grown annoyed by the fact that his words, specifically because he so infrequently shares them, mean so much and are taken so seriously. I think that's why he doesn't talk as much anymore. Werner is slightly more available and shows up to some charity events. Henry is seen at Red Sox games fairly often.

"I think the fans in New England will believe in this ownership for a very long time. That's what happens when you erase an 86-year championship drought. They've made questionable decisions, like any ownership group does, but they've also saved the beloved Fenway Park and enhanced it while making the Red Sox a competitive team that every year is among the most financially committed clubs in the game.

"It's Boston, so you're always going to be questioned and scrutinised, but generally I think people believe that the ownership group is committed to winning and has the team's best interest in mind. The team has taken some serious hits to its public image over the last 12 months, but that's in large part due to the way they handle things from a public-relations perspective.

"They tend not to be very good at cleaning up messes, but I don't think this is the ownership's fault. They seem to delegate well. If it's on anyone, it's [president of baseball operations Dave] Dombrowski, who will be next to get scrutinised heavily if things don't perk up in 2018.

"Every year there's a tiny bit of chatter, or at least a question, of whether or not they will sell the team. And every year we seem to think they won't be selling anytime soon.

"I think when they went out and hired Dombrowski there was this feeling that it could be a five-year window before they look to sell, because Dombrowski is the kind of general manager who is known for selling all his prospects in favor of major league talent and going all-in to win championships immediately.

"In his first two years in Boston, Dombrowski has traded the majority of their young prospects for players that can help them win now. There's the thought that he will continue to sell out to make sure all the Red Sox's resources are on the field over the next two to three years, and if it doesn't work out, maybe then FSG looks to sell. But it's still a healthy business."