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Super League fallout: 5 ways FSG can rebuild the relationship with Liverpool fans

Liverpool, FSG protest owners
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Amid the fallout from the failed Super League attempt, fans of Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool have, in varying forms, demonstrated against their owners.

For Liverpool, that has been relatively small and Jurgen Klopp himself has called upon fans not to turn against the owners, Fenway Sports Group, and to avoid creating a negative atmosphere at the club.

“I really hope the bond between us and our supporters might even get stronger,” Klopp told reporters last week. “And that we don’t discuss the bad decisions of the past, I just don’t understand life like this.

“They’re good people, I know the owners, I know they’re not perfect, like I’m not perfect, but they are not bad people.”

Klopp has been accused of being “tone deaf” with his kind comments towards the American owners, which seem at odds with his usually socialist approach to life, but you can see why he - publicly at least - does not want to create a negative environment. 

“Now we must make sure we don’t get any harm from it, like a different atmosphere in the club,” the German added. “They tried something, it was not allowed. So let’s go back to the beautiful game it always was. I’m not naive, I know things will be discussed.”

Similarly, Jordan Henderson used his programme notes to discuss the situation and his relationship with the owners. The club captain writes the notes himself and was keen to ensure he got the right words when compiling last Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the withdrawal announcement.

“They have done good things for our club and I believe they will continue to do so,” he wrote. “It’s important for me to state this at the beginning, even if it isn’t popular. It would be dishonest of me to say anything else.”

Klopp’s words that FSG are not “bad people” is probably fair – but they do appear to be greedy, naive and used to getting their own way. Such is the life of a billionaire. 

Undoubtedly, though, the trust between FSG and supporters has been broken beyond repair. Liverpool fans were already sceptics after the last failed American ownership debacle, but after 10 years John W. Henry and co had built a lot of trust for their mostly good work at Anfield – good work that has now been soured.

Liverpool’s supporters union, Spirit of Shankly, wrote in a statement on Monday: “we cannot trust what the owners and board say when we meet with them. The relationship we thought we had was false.”

So where next and how do FSG begin to rebuild their relationship at Liverpool?

1. Appoint a fan representative to the board

As the dust settles and talk of government intervention recedes, the first step would be to open dialogue with supporters groups and eventually appoint a fan representative to the board.

Spirit of Shankly have called for “reconstitution of the board that includes effective, elected and accountable fan representation, and not for members of the current LFC board to be that elected representative. This cannot be token representation, but one that has the ‘golden share’ on the decision-making process. We believe this is both practical and achievable. If FSG do not embrace this position, we will then consider how to respond.”

How likely this will be remains to be seen, but it would undoubtedly be the biggest positive step FSG could take.

2. Fulfil Anfield Road expansion

When FSG purchased the club in 2010, they did so with the ‘agreement’ to provide a 60,000-seater stadium - whether that be by redeveloping Anfield or building new. They decided upon the former and that was a decision that supporters backed.

Thus far, they have solved the three-decade-long riddle of the Main Stand and expanded Anfield’s capacity to 54,000. 

Phase two of the overall redevelopment was due to have begun last year but was delayed due to the pandemic. It is now due to begin later this year and would take capacity to around 62,000.

It can be, perhaps, questioned why the club didn’t actually press on with the Anfield Road End expansion during the pandemic, at a time when there are no supporters in the stadium and allowing for quicker construction. That may be being overly critical, though.

A decision on new planning permission from the city council is due any time and FSG must then press on and deliver, no more delays.

3. Build bridges by actually listening

The incredible part of the Super League fiasco is that had Henry, chairman Tom Werner, executive Mike Gordon and co spoken to literally anybody with football understanding they could have avoided the whole debacle and PR nightmare they created.

Gordon speaks with Klopp almost daily. They could have spoken with their own supporters' liaison officer, Tony Barrett, but they didn’t. If they are surprised by the ‘strong’ reaction to their plans they only have themselves to blame.

FSG set up a supporters’ committee in 2011 and replaced that with fan forums after the appointment of Barrett in 2017. Those forums have been ongoing during the pandemic and engagement with fans on a local level is extremely good. Indeed, the Football Supporters Association (FSA) have recently signposted Liverpool's fan engagement as the best in the country. 

The problem is, that on major decisions the hierarchy has not sought the views of others. There were major surprises at high levels within the club when the Super League was announced. 

4. Renew key contracts

This summer, Liverpool have a major problem entering focus. While Gini Wijnaldum’s contract is up, 13 players enter the final two years of their time at Anfield.

In modern football, you generally don’t want your star players to get to less than two years remaining on a contract as it affects their bargaining power and re-sale value.

Liverpool, though, have almost the whole of their first-team spine with deals expiring in 2023 - Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The latter two, who have barely featured this season despite the injury crisis at Anfield, could well be moved on if the right fees were forthcoming (not easy in a post-pandemic market), but the other six are absolutely vital players and need tieing to new deals.

5. Back Klopp in the transfer market

The whole ‘sign Mbappe and we’ll forgive you’ notion is complete nonsense, but that sadly is how some supporters will see this situation. Not all supporters even see the issue with the Super League. 

It won’t rebuild trust with match-going supporters who care more about the club than just the players on the pitch, but making the correct moves in the transfer market this summer would curry favour with some sections of the fanbase. 

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