John W Henry was holding court in his private box at Fenway Park. It was July 2012 and he wanted to make an analogy about the size of the challenge confronting Liverpool.
‘You can’t turn an ocean liner around like you can turn a speedboat around,’ Liverpool’s principal owner explained.
Henry and his cohorts, who made up Fenway Sports Group, had been in command at Anfield for 18 months but the message could not have been clearer.
Liverpool owner John Henry has praised Jurgen Klopp for the effect he has had on the club
Henry believed it would be a slow, painful task to restore Liverpool to the summit of football
Restoring Liverpool to the summit of football was going to be a long, slow and painful task. It makes sense to revisit that statement.
As the first legion of Liverpool supporters arrived in Kiev on Thursday, putting their travel and ticket troubles behind them to begin painting the town red, the ocean liner to which Henry referred is now sailing smoothly in the right direction.
You only had to look at those who disembarked the club’s aircraft to see the work FSG have carried out.
But this Saturday Klopp’s side can win the Champions League for the sixth time in their history
Nobody anticipated the Merseyside club reaching such a position under the ownership of FSG
There was Jurgen Klopp, the manager who they always wanted to implement their vision. FSG approached him in 2012 to succeed Kenny Dalglish, but he was still committed to Borussia Dortmund.
Behind him were young players, approaching their peak, all of whom have enhanced their values. FSG’s transfer policy used to be routinely attacked but their investments over the last three years have reaped rewards.
Top 5: Biggest purchases under FSG
Virgil van Dijk (2018) – £75m
Mohamed Salah (2017) – £39m
Sadio Mane (2016) – £37m
A. Oxlade-Chamberlain (2017) – £35m
Andy Carroll (2011) – £35m
Here they are in a Champions League final. Nobody anticipated Liverpool reaching such a position under FSG.
By the time of their fifth anniversary, they had sacked three managers and sold one of the club’s greatest modern players. But, finally, tranquillity has arrived under Klopp, who has a contract that runs to June 2022.
‘It took (sporting director) Michael Edwards winning more and more of the battles internally to get us to the point when we met with Jurgen,’ Henry explained.
‘He (Klopp) said: “I really want to coach this group — this will be fun.”
‘He has done a tremendous job getting us into this position.
Henry gives Klopp credit for Liverpool’s rise and said he has inspired everyone at the club
‘He has been just as effective in inspiring not just our players but everyone who loves this club.
‘He is an inspired, natural leader who is sensitive to what some might see as small things but are very important over the long term. Being in the final is a reflection of the incredible support this club gets at Anfield and the ability of Jurgen and the entire staff to put our players in the position to be successful.
‘You can do all of that but the players have to step up and they have.’
Nobody has stepped up more than Mohamed Salah, who is a beacon for FSG’s recruitment policy. They were not afraid to pay £36.9million to Roma, having studied his numbers relentlessly during his time in Italy.
The Liverpool owner also believes Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez should not have left
The numbers he has produced this season — 44 goals to date — have been off the scale.
‘His record-setting scoring became one of the biggest stories in England this year,’ Henry said. ‘Perhaps my favourite Anfield songs ever are a couple about Mo. We are proud of more than what he has meant to us on the field.
‘It is highly significant for a global club with a particular set of values to have a huge star who personifies what can be accomplished with unity rather than the divisions among people we see so often these days.’
Salah, inevitably, will find his future the subject of speculation but Henry was candid when talking about selling assets. Liverpool have not been in a position this strong for many years and there is no reason to think Salah will go the same way as Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez.
Coutinho and Suarez both left Liverpool to join Spanish giants Barcelona in big-money moves
Coutinho secured a move out of Anfield in January to fulfill his dream of playing for Barcelona
‘Maybe it’s because I’m an American, but I have a difficult time understanding why anyone would want to leave Liverpool,’ said Henry.
‘The club is so rich in history and tradition, supported by so many millions around the world, in virtually every country of the world.
‘You don’t want to be in the position where players want to go somewhere else, even if it is a great club like Barcelona.
‘It’s hard to understand why players would want to go to a league where the competition is so weak. They must play 30 or so meaningless matches per year waiting for Champions League matches.’
Despite his stunning debut season, there is no reason to think Salah will go the same way