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.

VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Matchday 9

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There was some eye-popping moments in the Premier League this weekend, yet still very little debate who shone brightest.

Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored a pair of Goal of the Month competitors in the same day in the Potters’ 2-0 win at Hull City on Monday.

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The first was a curling wonder from distance, while the second came from a bit closer as the big-calfed Swiss attacker bamboozled the Hull wall and goalkeeper.

The Potters are up to 16th in the Premier League table with nine points.

Finnish fans celebrate surprise title for IFK Mariehamn

IFK Mariehamm
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HELSINKI (AP) Fans of IFK Mariehamn have gathered in the main square of the remote Finnish town to celebrate their team’s surprise league title.

“I feel very proud,” the club’s managing director, Peter Mattsson, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Monday, adding that “thousands” were expected to turn up for the party.

Watched by more than 4,000, Mariehamn clinched the Finnish title on Sunday with a 2-1 home victory over Ilves, from the industrial city of Tampere.

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Mariehamn held off 11 other teams, including the traditionally strong Helsinki club, HJK, and defending champion SJK from western Finland. It ended three points clear of second-placed HJK for its first league title.

Local media dubbed the team “Leicester” after the surprise English Premier League champions last season.

Mariehamn, which has a population of 11,500, is the capital of the Aland islands off the southwestern Finnish coast

Kroenke: “Very high” on Wenger who is “very hard” to replace

Jeff Fisher
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LONDON — Arsenal remains “very high” on Arsene Wenger and it will be “very hard” replacing the manager who is in the final year of his contract, owner Stan Kroenke told The Associated Press on Monday.

Wenger this month celebrated 20 years in charge of Arsenal and has offered no indication whether he wants to sign a new deal into next season.

The 67-year-old Frenchman became the Premier League’s longest serving manager when Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United in 2013. United is now on its third manager in three years and has not competed for the Premier League title since Ferguson’s departure.

In a rare interview about Arsenal, Kroenke noted the tricky post-Ferguson succession at United while discussing the challenge of eventually replacing Wenger.

“You see it (at United), you bring up a comment like that,” Kroenke told the AP after Arsenal’s annual general meeting. “It’s very hard. He’s a great manager.”

Wenger signed his last three-year contract extension in 2014.

“We will sit down and discuss the future at the appropriate time,” Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick told shareholders at a meeting where Wenger didn’t address his contract situation in his speech.

Although Wenger has won the Premier League three times, the last success came in 2004 – a drought which frustrates fans.

“He’s been a wonderful influence on the club,” Kroenke said. “We are all very high on Arsene. We are (joint) top of the table right now.”

Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool are only separated on goal difference at the summit. Despite Wenger only winning the FA Cup twice since 2004, the team is in the lucrative Champions League for the 19th successive year thanks to its runner-up finish last season. Wenger is yet to win European football’s top prize.

“I know a number of (sports team) owners that are very successful that say the same thing – the hardest thing to do is be consistently competitive at the top of the league,” said Kroenke, who also owns the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. “Arsene has always done that and Arsenal has always been in that position. We have always been competitive.

“We may not always win the things we want to win. We are very focused on winning for sure the league. Arsene’s been consistently at the top and I will tell you – it’s very, very hard to do if you look around sports.”


2016 MLS Cup playoffs bracket in full

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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With Major League Soccer’s Decision Day 2016 in the books, we now know who will battle it out for MLS Cup.

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Up first on Wednesday and Thursday are the four knockout round games, then the Conference semifinal first legs kick off this weekend.

We get into it thick and fast.

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The PST crew already selected their picks for the postseason and filled out their bracket. You can see that by clicking on the link above. FWIW, I have Toronto FC beating the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup…

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Below is the MLS playoff bracket in full so you can make your picks and let us know who you went for in the comments section below.


MLS Playoff bracket, 2016

MLS Playoff bracket, 2016
Source: MLSSoccer.com