John Henry flew out to the Dominican Republic to ensure that the Boston Red Sox got their man – will Liverpool be next?
It was the first time in nearly three years that reporters in Boston got to speak to one of the two most prominent people in Fenway Sports Group on Wednesday.
Liverpool chairman Tom Werner sat alongside Boston Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Red Sox president Sam Kennedy as they paraded star Rafael Devers to the assembled media after the Dominican had inked an 11-year $313.5m (£257.3m) deal to remain with the team after it had looked at one stage like he would be heading out of the exit at Fenway Park.
FSG had to nail the Devers deal in Boston. Having lost star man Xander Bogaerts last month to the San Diego Padres after being unable to make a competitive offer, and three years on from them trading All-Star and World Series winner Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers after being unable to come to an agreement to keep Betts in Boston for the long haul, getting Devers to commit saw them take some of the sting out of the criticism that had been coming their way for some time. Devers commitment to being a Sox player for the next decade gives fans the cornerstone franchise player that they craved, and it required FSG to commit some serious funds in order to get it done.
While Werner was there to field questions there was one notable absentee; John W. Henry.
Henry was booed last week when he took his seat at Fenway Park to watch the NHL Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and the FSG-owned Pittsburgh Penguins, fans in Boston making their feelings known towards the 72-year-old that they were unhappy with the lack of investment in the team at a time when, as is being mirrored in Liverpool, their rivals were willing to spend much more.
“I think if there was an important event, it was our commitment to get this done,” said Werner, via MassLive.com.
“John flew down to Santo Domingo to demonstrate our desire. We’ve been having meetings with Raffy (Devers) before that and then there were a lot of conversations after that. It was obviously critical for us that this player, who is a huge talent, stays with the Red Sox for a long time.”
FSG got what they needed and gave themselves some breathing room with the Red Sox, a team who Werner said that they had no intention of putting up for sale.
That level of commitment to getting a vital deal done is something that is to be admired and praised. It was the timely boost that the team and its fans needed off the back of an immensely challenging and disappointing 2022 MLB season and an equally troublesome off-season campaign heading into Christmas.
For FSG, they have been very clear on where they see Liverpool and the Red Sox when it comes to the pecking order, at least in the communications from partners and members of the organisation.
In October last year, speaking at the Financial Times’ US Business of Sport Summit in New York earlier this week, Samantha Barkowski, vice president of strategy and growth at FSG, Fenway Sports Management and the Boston Red Sox, said: “I think if you ask the fans, particularly in the Boston market and maybe the Liverpool market, that is sometimes a criticism or a question, whether our focus has been pulled away from our original properties, but absolutely not.
“We view it as very complimentary, it’s an eco-system with a lot of cross pollination and each property helps the other, one is never taking away from the other.”
If the above is correct then there should be the same level of determination from Henry and Werner to get the major piece of the puzzle that Liverpool need and the fans want to enable them to better compete in the coming seasons. There needs to be a demonstration of commitment to the cause, even if they are open to a sale of the club given that the commitment to investing in the team – and a promise it was “business as usual” – was made by Werner in the aftermath of the reveal that FSG were assessing their options in early November.
Whether that is Jude Bellingham or another major piece of the midfield puzzle that could help solve some major issues moving forward, commitment to the longer term has been shown in Boston these past few days and it is only right for Liverpool fans to expect the same level of commitment to making the Reds better.
The line from well-placed sources in the US when speaking to the ECHO continues to be that there is no “real interest” that has arrived with regards to a full takeover and it is a partial sale to a strategic partner that is the preferred course of action for FSG and, importantly, Henry himself. There are some minority partners who may be more open to a sale but there are plenty of significant partners who do not want to see the most valuable asset in FSG’s $10bn portfolio sold before it has appreciated its full potential, with valuations still growing and revenue streams and profitability improving.
Last summer the Reds hedged their bets when it came to Aurelien Tchouameni, who eventually chose Real Madrid. This time around, whether it is now or in the summer, the commitment to the cause and to ensuring that Liverpool are a force to be reckoned with, in line with their revenue position among European football’s elite, will have to be demonstrated.