John W. Henry reaches out to Liverpool fans, engages the extremists

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Three weeks into the season, and Liverpool owner John W. Henry is already having to explain himself to supporters, a small portion of which are undoubtedly soaking American flags in lighter fluid in preparation for Liverpool’s next home game. Those fans are unlikely to take the time to read Henry’s letter on Liverpool’s web site. Most of those that do already understand that three games does not make a season, let alone an owners’ tenure.

So what’s the point of today’s post, an open letter to the clubs’ fans? Other than lending credence to dinosaur-doubters bemoaning the day these Yankee Doodles came off the docks, there isn’t much to be accomplished. But let’s wait and judge.

Here are some passages, though the letter is much longer. As you’ll see from what I picked out, it’s pretty standard stuff:

I am as disappointed as anyone connected with Liverpool Football Club that we were unable to add further to our strike force in this summer transfer window, but that was not through any lack of desire or effort on the part of all of those involved.

There’s something to be said about acknowledging a deficiency. It’s not like Manchester United’s making concessions about their midfield.

But a summer window which brought in three young, but significantly talented starters in Joe Allen, Nuri Sahin and Fabio Borini as well as two exciting young potential stars of the future – Samed Yesil and Oussama Assaidi – could hardly be deemed a failure as we build for the future.  

It’s strange to even think about one Liverpool window in terms of success or failure. Last summer’s? Sure. That was surreal! Bringing in Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing while trying to create the least-athletic midfield conceivable? That was clearly going to fail. But right now, Rodgers, Ian Ayre, Henry and Tom Werner are having to walk back from the Kenny Dalglish-Damien Comolli years year. As the difficulty in moving Andy Carroll shows, this is going to take some time. Going pass-fail on one window’s work doesn’t make sense.

No one should doubt our commitment to the club … This is a work in progress. It will take time for Brendan to instill his philosophy into the squad and build exactly what he needs for the long term.

That Henry is engaging in a conversation where this needs to be said speaks to the inanity of the discussion.

The transfer policy was not about cutting costs. It was – and will be in the future – about getting maximum value for what is spent so that we can build quality and depth. We are avowed proponents of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play agenda that was this week reiterated by Mr Platini – something we heartily applaud. We must comply with Financial Fair Play guidelines that ensure spending is tied to income.

Head. Table. Head. Wall. Head. Counter. Head. Keyboard … Head. Icepack.

We are still in the process of reversing the errors of previous regimes. It will not happen overnight. It has been compounded by our own mistakes in a difficult first two years of ownership. It has been a harsh education, but make no mistake, the club is healthier today than when we took over.   

Initial reaction to this statement has rightly lauded Henry’s forthrightness. That doesn’t mean his words won’t come back to haunt him. It’s a show of weakness, an admission that there were times in the past when ownership didn’t know what they were doing. Do you put it past soccer fans to take this statement and use it to justify any resentment, hyperbolic conclusion, or (in the case of American owners) xenophobia their predilections demand? Granted, people prone to those things are a small fraction of the fanbase, but they’re exactly the audience to whom Henry’s speaking.

And that’s the problem with this whole letter. John Henry isn’t some new owner who needs to introduce himself to the supporters. He isn’t somebody lacking in renown or accomplishments. We know more about his approach to sports management than we do most of the Premier League’s owners. He’s neither guaranteed success nor destined to fail, but the idea that he needs to post some explanation on Liverpool’s web site only feeds into the “what are these cowboys” vibe defining the fanbase’s extremities.

Henry’s history of sports ownership also makes last Friday’s comments on Sky Sports News so laughable. As Liverpool failed in their bid to land Clint Dempsey on Deadline Day, it was suggested Henry had become cheap – that he couldn’t afford Brendan Rodgers the relatively few dollars (compared to Henry’s overall investment) it would have taken to lure Dempsey to Anfield.

Occam’s razor time, people. What’s more likely: That an owner who has already invested about half a billion dollars would draw the line on a few million more to get a high-profile, American player during this time that Liverpool’s in need of attackers and making so many attempts to market themselves in the United States? Or that somebody else within the chain of command at Liverpool didn’t pull the trigger on a deal for a 29-year-old in the last year of his contract, making the mistake of thinking the selling club had no leverage in the negotiation?

The people Henry’s trying to convince think the first is scenario is more likely. While it’s great customer service to reach out to them – to try and engage a disgruntled sect – it’s likely a waste of time.

The only thing Henry can do to convince them is win, which he’s already trying to do. Those fans’ predilections are really inconsequential.