Leaders in Sport

Liverpool’s Ian Ayre says club’s transfer policy has improved after “leap of faith”

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Liverpool’s managing director, Ian Ayre, claims that Fenway Sports Group (FSG) took a “leap of faith” in its first year of ownership but that since then the club’s transfer policy has improved for the better.

Ayre explained that when FSG took over in October 2010 they spent a year educating the owners of the Boston Red Sox on the English game. “[We] talked about the knowledge of soccer and that takes time so we probably spent a year with the owners taking a leap of faith to a certain degree of other people telling them what they should be doing,” Ayre said. “Within that year we then get to a situation where the dust has settled and people start to see what is and isn’t working.”

One acquisition that wasn’t working was bringing Andy Carroll into the club from Newcastle for $53.5m (£35m). The Geordie arrived alongside a much more saavy purchase, obtaining Luis Suarez from Ajax for $34.8m (£22.7m). While the cost of Carroll has proven to be a thorn in Liverpool’s side, the striker was obtained through the $76.4 (£50m) transfer fee handed over by Chelsea to acquire Fernando Torres.

Ayre hinted that this loose spending was the result of acting without performing the proper due diligence, which was surprising given FSG’s ‘Moneyball’ roots. “I think the fundamental shift particularly around player acquisitions and disposals was that we took the view that it needs to be more of a science. . . . Your biggest expenditure line can’t be the whim of any individual.”

The following summer FSG adjusted by not doling out such high fees on one particular player, but instead opted to spend $91.7m (£60m) on acquiring Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Jose Enrique and Sebastian Coates.

There are few who will celebrate these purchases. While Downing and Henderson continue to show promise, neither has delivered on his $30.6m (£20m) price tag. Each have given more than Adam, who flopped so quickly it earned him a transfer to Stoke City. Enrique was fantastic in his first season but has since sputtered out leading to rumors of his potential transfer this summer. And Coates, like Downing and Henderson, is another player the Reds are hoping will speed up in his development.

Ayre insists that Liverpool’s transfer decisions are made by a blend of traditional and modern methods. “It’s a combination of old-school scouting and watching players – and that’s Brendan, his assistants, our scouts – with statistical analysis of players across Europe and the rest of the world. . . . By bringing those two processes together you get a much more educated view of who you should and shouldn’t be buying and, perhaps as fundamentally, how much you should be paying and the structure to those contracts.”

The last two transfer windows have seen the Reds acting with greater prudence but achieving mixed results. Last summer Brendan Rodgers brought in Joe Allen for $23m (£15m), Fabio Borini for $16.8m (£11m) and Oussama Assaidi $3.5m (£2.3m), neither of whom have delighted the Kop. This past January, however, the Reds seem to have gotten it right purchasing Daniel Sturridge for $18.3 (£12m) and Philipe Coutinho $13 (£8.5m), easily two of the club’s better buys.

Despite the transfer market struggles, Ayre insists that Liverpool now have the methodology right and the club is “getting better all the time.” For Liverpool fans yearning for the Top 4 finishes of 2005-09, they hope Ayre speaks the truth.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.