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Liverpool ‘brain’ is set to become the kingmaker who can set club’s path for a generation

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A closer look at Fenway Sports Group president Mike Gordon, the man tasked with naming Jurgen Klopp’s successor as Liverpool manager.

As the man who was first told of Jurgen Klopp’s decision to step down as Liverpool manager at the end of the season, Mike Gordon has had more time than anyone to process the shock news.

But while the majority of those impacted by it all merely have to absorb it and eventually come to terms with it in the coming weeks and months, it is Gordon whose task it is to plan for life at Liverpool beyond it.

As the most hands-on of the Boston-based owners, the Fenway Sports Group president will have the biggest say on what will be a seismic decision that will have ramifications for years to come at Anfield. No pressure, then.

‘Respectful’ was how the conversation was said to have gone when Klopp informed his boss of the bombshell news back in November and given the relationship that has been forged since the pair first made contact nearly nine years ago, that is hardly surprising. It was also no real shock that the news was able to be kept under wraps for two months; discretion has become key to the operation in recent years, certainly at executive level.

But if a world without their current manager is one that might fill the Reds’ fanbase with plenty of apprehension and concern for the future, Gordon’s track record is at least hugely impressive.

“In keeping with Jurgen’s expressed wishes, we will save the comprehensive tributes for a more appropriate time but nevertheless, we would be remiss if we did not take this opportunity to reaffirm that his appointment remains one of the greatest blessings of our time as owners,” Gordon said after the news was made public less than a fortnight ago.

“To appropriate an adage synonymous with another Liverpool managerial great, Jurgen Klopp ‘made the people happy’ and we have total confidence he will continue to do so until his eventual departure.”

The Milwaukee-native’s knowledge of the European game outstrips others within the Fenway circle and it was he who alerted the other members to Klopp, who was a free agent back in the Autumn of 2015 after a decorated seven-year stint with Borussia Dortmund had come to an end a few months earlier.

“[Mike] is by far FSG America’s most knowledgeable person with regard to soccer and is involved on the football side daily in constant communication with the members of our football committee and our manager,” John W Henry has previously revealed.

In an interview with the ECHO two years ago, Liverpool chairman Tom Werner said: “Whenever I speak to him, whether it is 3am or 10pm or whatever, Mike is on the phone and communicating with Julian (Ward) and Jurgen or whoever, so he has also been critical to what we have achieved and what we hope to achieve going forward. Mike has been quarter-backing this (progress) from the start.”

When it became clear Brendan Rodgers’s reign had run its course, the American reached out to his would-be successor to arrange a meeting in the New York offices of law firm Shearman and Sterling after persuading him to end a planned year-long sabbatical.

“Analytically, [Dortmund] stacked up very well relative to expected performance,” Gordon said in 2020. “I called Jurgen. We had an extraordinary conversation, and it was pretty clear to me by the time I hung up that he was the right person.”

Liverpool’s reliance on the exhaustive analysis of data is an open secret these days. The current Premier League leaders were one of the pioneers of the rise of data in football with director of research Ian Graham becoming something of a secret weapon at Anfield alongside the rest of his team of Tim Waskett, Dafydd Steele, Mark Stevenson, Mark Howlett and Will Spearman, who has since taken over as head of the department.

It’s this way of operating that will inform Liverpool of their next decision with regards to an heir-apparent as much as anything else. While the clamour for Xabi Alonso will grow within a Liverpool fanbase, who still revere their former midfielder, every time Bayer Leverkusen edge nearer towards usurping Bayern Munich as Bundesliga champions, the overall call will be made beyond recent form and fan-held biases. As a result, Sporting’s Ruben Amorim and Brighton boss Roberto de Zerbi are two others said to be under early consideration.

In what has become the modern Liverpool way over the last decade or so, Gordon operates behind the scenes in secret, away from the glare that is soaked up by Klopp and his huge personality. From the inside, the German is viewed as the ideal figurehead for the media’s glare to focus on while those performing in the sporting director role, and other key positions across the operation, are kept out of reach and out of sight. The same goes for the FSG president, who is only heard from on official channels when he needs to give a quote to accompany some major news.

Gordon’s close bond with Klopp also extends to the rest of the departing coaching staff. Back in 2015 when Pep Lijnders’s father was diagnosed with cancer, the American offered to send him to a Boston-based hospital for treatment from a world-leading specialist. In true Gordon style, it was an offer that was kept away from the public domain for a number of years.

“Day to day, Mike Gordon, being the operating owner if you will, lets people get on with it,” one source told the ECHO back in 2020. “If some big decisions arise, what we might call ‘an ownership decision’ then Mike is involved.

“Whether that is (CEO) Billy Hogan, (COO) Andy Hughes, Michael Edwards (former sporting director), Jurgen, at times, but day to day, they are allowed to run the football club. If there are big decisions for the football club, such as financial or strategic ones to be made, then they would either be run by the ownership, which is mostly Mike, but also Tom Werner as well.”

If Henry, the principal owner of the club, is viewed as the FSG patriarch; presiding over wider, more long-term strategies, then club chairman Tom Werner is the public face of the ownership. His background in television over a number of decades makes him a personable character to sit as Liverpool’s representative for Premier League meetings. “A tremendous relationships guy,” was one description but it is Gordon whose work really drives the club forward. “Mike is my guy,” Klopp has previously said.

Those who have dealt with Gordon say he is open and frank about the financial obstacles in Liverpool’s way at the top of the English game, particularly since Newcastle United and Chelsea have been bought out by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and the Todd Boehly-fronted Clearlake Capital, respectively. It might induce a scoff from supporters given the struggles of the latter, particularly, but both clubs, alongside established giants like Manchester United, Man City and Arsenal make it even more competitive for a team like Liverpool, who never veer from their self-sustainable business model imposed by the ownership.

The unassuming Gordon, who started out selling popcorn at Milwaukee Brewers baseball matches, did step away from his more typical duties for a number of months in 2022 to focus on what might have been on the table as the owners stepped up their efforts to bring in external partners and additional revenue, while also gently kicking the tyres on an outright sale of the club. But the Tufts University graduate is firmly back in the saddle, overseeing the replacement of Liverpool’s greatest manager in a generation.

A call to Edwards, who served the club with distinction as its maiden sporting director between 2016 and 2022, was reportedly rebuffed after the news of Klopp’s exit was made public last week and the job of bringing in a new man to replace the departing Jorg Schmadtke is a similarly sizable task.

It’s unclear how much say a new sporting director will have on the appointment of a manager later in the year but the call to Edwards, which was widely reported last week, does at least suggest it is that job Liverpool are looking to recruit for first before serious overtures are made towards the eventual successor in the dugout. It’s a fair suggestion that the job in a post-Klopp operation at the AXA Training Centre will be more overarching with a wider remit. That will surely appeal.

It’s difficult to remember a time when Liverpool had so many major off-the-field decisions to get right at one particular time, certainly in their recent history. But as the search goes on for both a manager and a sporting director to lead the club into a bold, exciting and somewhat scary new era, the man making the decisions at the top – the Anfield kingmaker, who was once described by Klopp as “the brain behind all the things at Liverpool”- should at least inspire confidence.

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