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Liverpool have just made perfect first move to strike as Man City face anxious wait over 115 charges

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Liverpool are braced for huge changes, but the appointment of Michael Edwards could give them an edge over their rivals.

It was only 16 months ago when Liverpool were seemingly facing a rather uncertain future, both on and off the pitch.

Fenway Sports Group had opened the door to a potential sale of the club in November 2022, having created a sales deck to present to potential investors, while Jurgen Klopp’s ageing squad were in decline and in a state of transition – just five months after nearly landing an unprecedented quadruple.

FSG had seemingly come to such a conclusion having grown disillusioned with their abilities to compete financially with Man City and their Abu Dhabi billions. But with 115 charges for breach of the Premier League’s financial fair play rules hanging over the Etihad, they have seemingly grown reinvigorated and are now plotting how to go bigger and better.

At the time of that initial possible sale news spreading, the Reds were eighth in the table with a seven-point gap between themselves and the top four, and a 15-point deficit to make up on the league-leaders. They were only 13 games into the season.

Come the end of the campaign they would at least recover enough to qualify for Europe and finish fifth, four points off the top four and Champions League qualification. Yet they were 22 points off champions Man City, their regular title foes who finished the campaign by winning the treble.

Evidently, something had to change. But even after an £150m midfield overhaul and launch of Klopp’s self-christened ‘Liverpool 2.0’ few could have foreseen the Reds remarkable transformation back into one of England’s leading sides.

Having already won the League Cup, they are chasing a quadruple once again. Second in the Premier League table on goal-difference alone, they travel to Manchester United for the FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday, and already have one foot in the Europa League quarter-finals after thrashing Sparta Prague 5-1 in Czechia last week.

After initially imagining a future beyond Anfield, FSG ultimately decided against selling up and instead sought minority investment instead. New York-based sports investment firm Dynasty Equity would end up buying a small minority position in the club last September, with the move designed to clear the club’s bank debt in a deal understood to be worth between $100m and $200m.

Stability had been restored to Liverpool with supporters confident again of a bright future, in total contrast to the unfamiliar chaos their club had navigated the year before. Yet the Reds’ rebirth exceeded all expectations, leading to a bombshell announcement from Klopp in January.

After nine years at the club, the German announced he would step down as manager at the end of the season, feeling it was the right time to hand over the keys to his rapidly-impressive side. Cue further uncertainty, though Liverpool’s ongoing quadruple quest as Klopp looks to depart on a high has at least proven to be the most welcome distraction.

Of course, the Reds boss isn’t the only man departing Anfield in the summer. Assistant managers Pep Lijnders and Peter Krawietz, as well as elite development coach Vitor Matos, will also vacate their positions. Meanwhile, sporting director Jorg Schmadtke’s short-term tenure came to an end at the end of January.

Evidently, while order had been restored on the pitch, FSG still had plenty to sort off it. But now they have made a decisive first step.

Michael Edwards has returned to FSG as CEO of Football, with such a role seeing him assume responsibility for the day-to-day running of Liverpool Football Club – essentially succeeding president Mike Gordon in the process.

Gordon is returning to a more traditional ownership role within the group, and had been looking to step back from football last year as the Reds’ uncertainty grew and grew, before, as we now know only temporarily, resuming responsibility.

But that baton is now passed onto Edwards, a man 14 years Gordon’s junior who the FSG president himself promoted to sporting director at Anfield. The 44-year-old famously flourished in the role to help transform Liverpool into one of Europe’s leading sides, with his transfer exploits well-documented, before departing the club at the end of his contract in the summer of 2022.

At the time, Edwards spoke of his need for a new challenge. In an emotional open letter to supporters, explaining his decision in 2021, he wrote: “I had always planned to cap my time at the club to a maximum of 10 years. I’ve loved working here, but I am a big believer in change.

“I think it’s good for the individual and, in a work setting, good for the employer too. Over my time here we have changed so many things (hopefully for the better) but someone new brings a different perspective, new ideas and can hopefully build on (or change) the things that have been put in place beforehand.

“That’s how I believe businesses/football clubs stay ahead; you need to evolve and at the heart of this kind of process is always people. That evolution has always been central to Liverpool’s history and I hope that this is one thing that doesn’t change.”

‘Never go back,’ the old adage warns. But while FSG might be turning back to the familiar in Edwards, seeking the comfortable familiarity and continuity that Klopp’s exit threatened to tear away, they do so in the name of change with eyes fully focused on building an exciting future.

Having rejected approaches from the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United after leaving the Reds, along with an initial offer from FSG, Edwards was not interested in returning to a sporting director role. What Liverpool have offered him now instead is something bigger.

He assumes Gordon’s responsibilities in a more senior role at Anfield, with his first task being to appoint a new sporting director. Richard Hughes, a man Edwards knows well and has worked with before, has reportedly agreed to take up that role with the Reds, having announced his decision to stand down as first team technical director at AFC Bournemouth last week.

It will then be Hughes’ responsibility to identify and recruit a new manager to succeed Klopp, with Liverpool legend Xabi Alonso remaining a leading candidate following his remarkable transformation of Bayer Leverkusen.

Sharing the same representatives as Bournemouth boss Andoni Iraola, Hughes already possesses the working relationship to aid any potential move for the former Reds midfielder.

Meanwhile, with head of recruitment Dave Fallows and chief scout Barry Hunter leading the club’s summer transfer plans in the absence of a sporting director, it is full steam ahead as FSG start to finalise key behind-the-scenes appointments at Liverpool.

Of course, Edwards’ responsibilities extend beyond the Reds. He will also help identify a second club for FSG to invest in as they look to expand their portfolio, before also taking on responsibility of its own day-to-day runnings. Showcasing their continued commitment to their footballing project in the process, having perhaps been inspired by the City Football Group’s successful multi-club ownership around flagship Man City, it was this plan that helped intrigue their former sporting director enough to return in the first place as he signed up for something more.

It has been clear for some time that Gordon was looking to step back from his Liverpool responsibilities, with it also obvious that Klopp’s reign was closer to its end than beginning. While his exit might have caught all off-guard, given he was still under contract until 2026, the current Reds story is no longer nearing its end, merely moving onto a new chapter. And it’s one that Gordon and Hughes will help write as they look to build on what has already been achieved.

While same faces depart, others who have been vital to Liverpool’s recent success remain – such as Fallows and Hunter.

“Dave Fallows and Barry Hunter joined Liverpool the year after me and they have been integral in building a world-class scouting department,” Edwards wrote in his aforementioned farewell letter. “For those who don’t know Barry – and there can’t be many – he was a hard-hitting Northern Irish centre-back who has a contacts book that reads like a who’s who of football.

“He is always on the go and could put away more food than the average male elephant. Dave is simply Google, I’ve never known anyone with a memory like his or an ability to think outside of the box when innovative solutions are required.”

He also reunites with Will Spearman, who replaced his current business partner, Dr. Ian Graham, as Liverpool’s director of research in February 2023. When explaining the Reds’ data team behind the scenes upon his announced exit, Edwards would label his colleague as one of the club’s ‘geniuses’.

“Ian and his team (Daf, Tim and Will) are geniuses in my eyes and without doubt the best in their field in world football,” he wrote. “Contrary to popular belief, we don’t sign players off ‘stats’ but the information provided from their research does play a crucial role in our decision-making.

“Whether it is video, written reports, data, background checks or good old-fashioned scouting from the stand, it all goes into the big decision-making melting pot. And when you make a decision, all this information allows you to do is mitigate the risk you are taking.”

These are the biggest changes Liverpool has seen for nearly a decade. And change is always accompanied by risk. But by reappointing Edwards, FSG are mitigating the own risks they are taking regarding the Reds’ future in a post-Klopp world.

Considering Edwards as one of the ‘most formidable’ and ‘sought-after’ executives, FSG were determined to re-hire him after learning of Klopp’s exit plans. With their commitment to a data-based running of the club, they view sport the same way and were in doubts that he would be the best candidate to take over ownership of the club’s footballing operations with an already-built, well-established trust.

Klopp’s exit leaves a massive abyss in the club’s leadership, but by restoring Edwards in a senior position, they are providing much-needed consistency and familiarity to help take the club forward.

Of course, there will be further transition in the months and years ahead. Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Andy Robertson, and Alisson Becker have won everything there is to win under Klopp, but are now all on the wrong side of 30 and out of contract in 2025, 2026, and 2027 respectively. Sooner or later, long-term replacements will emerge.

But with Edwards’ legacy contributing to the attacking and midfield revamps at the club over the past two years, he now is helping to oversee this next succession plan.

“I’m running out of energy,” Klopp conceded when announcing his decision to leave the club. While he can oversee the launch of ‘Liverpool 2.0’, he always intended to pass on the baton. But after the best part of a decade, he was never going to be alone in feeling such sentiments.

Edwards’ return, like former Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein’s own reappointment last month, is part of ‘FSG 2.0’. By turning to those who helped make their sporting portfolio successful the first time around, the Reds’ American owners are looking to do so all over again as they hand over the baton to individuals they know and trust fully. Already boasting the data, they have mitigated the risks of change.

And with Man City facing those 115 charges, it comes at a time when Liverpool’s position on the playing field could become stronger than ever before. Klopp’s looming exit admittedly left a cloud of uncertainty at Anfield, creating a power vacuum in the process with it unclear who would fill the void and lead the club in his absence, and if they would still be in a position to take advantage.

But after 16 months of varying precariousness, Edwards’ return, embracing the new challenge he always desired, provides the needed clarity and stability on the first step into an bold new future for both Liverpool and FSG. Turning the page at the end of one enthralling chapter, supporters have just been given a glimpse at what is to come next.

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