Monday, December 14, 2009

Five Steps For Liverpool To Win The Premier League

Liverpool are as far from winning the Premier League as at any time during their last 20 barren years. But as ever, there is an optimism in the air. After all, Manchester United went 26 years without a trophy, and we all know how the last two decades have gone.

So anything is possible where a big club is involved...

As a contender, Liverpool have been taken over by Chelsea and Manchester United, and even Arsenal to some extent. Last year's second place finish is in danger of becoming a fluke as this year's dreadful run threatens to derail the entire club.

If Tom Hicks and George Gillett do actually harbour any ambitions for the club—other than selling them to the first buyers who offer a profit—they will have to radically change the way they manage the club, and look to the future.

Step One: Share a Stadium with Everton

This is the first and the easiest step for Liverpool. Their current stadium plans are in tatters. Having spent around £30m on plans and consultants, they are no nearer to moving into a new stadium than they were when Hicks and Gillett roared into town with their empty promises of building one.

Both of the city's main clubs are in need of a new stadium, and why there is so much resistance to pooling their resources is hard to fathom. To progress, Liverpool need a 60,000 to 70,000 stadium at the very least.

Currently Anfield has a capacity of around 45,000. It can bring in a certain amount of revenue, but it will never match Manchester United's 75,000 at Old Trafford. Even Spurs can claim more match-day revenue than the Reds, with a ground that holds 36,000, and they have planning permission to build a new 60,000 stadium.

So Liverpool are in real danger of being over taken by clubs they have always dwarfed. How long will City stay at the 47,000 Eastlands? The answer is "not very."

Liverpool need a new stadium now; Everton need a new stadium now.

Neither club has the finances to go it alone. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that this option could definitely work if the two clubs put their minds together with the City Council, who could even be coerced into contributing to the build.

As far as Liverpool City Council are concerned, it would be the preferable option, and if the stadium was done right, it could even attract athletics events and maybe a European final or two.

Step Two: Appoint a Director of Football

A controversial call, maybe—but when you look at this decision from above, it begins to make some sense.

Liverpool are simply too big a club to trust the present and future to just one man. Since 1991, Liverpool have gone through six management changes. This shows a trust that the board have their man.

From Graham Souness' traditional 442, to Roy Evans' 352, to Gerard Houillier's 4411, to Rafael Benitez's 4231 formation, each change in manager represents a new change and direction for the club.

Conventional wisdom in Britain has a new manager coming into a club and taking a season or so to assess his team before embarking on his own transfer strategy and bringing in his own players for his own system.

And then—when that inevitably fails—in comes a new manager, and the whole process starts again, with it a huge amount of money spent.

At all of Europe's major clubs—Great Britain excluded—the role of Director of Football is heavily utilised. Ajax, Barca, Bayern, Madrid, Milan, Inter, Juve, Valencia, PSV, Manchester United: The list of clubs where the Director is used is long.

The main reason for using a Director of Football is to allow continuity at a club. It is he who decides on what style of play the club uses, what formation the club uses, and then that strategy is developed throughout the entire club.

Every team in the club, from underage to senior level, use the same formation and playing style; in that way, players fit in seamlessly as they move up the ranks.

And then, finally, the Director of Football—after deciding on these two key issues—goes out and brings in a manager who has to comply with these main areas.

What this brings to a club is continuity. Managers can come and go, but the formation and players are seamless, and can be moved on to the next manager who will utilise them, hopefully in a better way than the last.

The sporting director should be the one consistent piece in the jigsaw, so that information, knowledge, and structures remain in place for the long term and help ensure sustained success.

At many clubs on the continent, the head coach is made aware from the outset that his job is simply to coach, prepare, and select the team. The head coach will hold regular discussions with the sporting director about players he wishes to sign and positions he needs to fill, but recruitment itself is the job of the sporting director.

That is the direction Liverpool should follow.

A sporting director would allow Liverpool to plan for the future, use the same formation every season, create players to fit in, and then bring in a coach who can pinpoint key areas that need strengthening.

Ultimately, a good director of football should be like a good referee—making crucial decisions, not interfering unnecessarily, and going about his business quietly so that everything around him runs smoothly.

Step Three: Decide If Rafa Is the Right Man To Lead the Club

Simply put, the board must meet and decide if Rafa has a future with the club. To do that, they need only ask two questions.

1) Will Rafael Benitez ever deliver the Premier League title?

Because that is the real ambition of the club, settling for second best and finishing within the Champions League positions is just not good enough for a club the size of Liverpool.

If yes, then Rafa must stay.The die is cast, and faith must be shown in the manager.

If not then the writing is on the wall for Rafa. There is no point in carrying on with a manager who will not deliver upon the club's performance targets. They will have to assess his successors carefully and then move to replace the Spaniard.

Many believe that the club have not progressed as far as the Premiership is concerned and as it stands, Benitez's record is exactly the same as Houillier's. The most damning indictment is that Rafa has been given plenty of money to re-build the Frenchman's team, and has only added two players of any significance in five years.

Step Four: The Board Must Quit Their Infighting and Move Forward as One

The situation in the Liverpool board has gotten to such a level that if Tom Hicks decides upon one course of action, then George Gillett will oppose it immediately, and vice versa.

Their petulant squabbling has taken their focus off the real course at hand: restoring Liverpool to its former glory.

Rafael Benitez has expertly exploited the differences between the duo and their sons, and is now as powerful an entity at the club as the owners. But this effort has also had a detrimental effect on the Spaniard, as his full attention has been drawn away from the team.

To get the club back on kilter, peace must be brokered at the club amongst all members of the board and the manager. When this is achieved, goals will become easier to attain. The new ground, the debt, the club, the squad, and most importantly, the ambitions can all be re-examined.

If peace cannot be attained, then it would be best for the club if the current owners moved on—but finding a buyer for a club that are not performing to their potential will be no easy task, especially at the Americans' asking price of something like £600m.

Step Five: Certain Players' Futures Must Be Secured

If the club decide to stick with Rafa, he will have to completely reassess the current squad.

The first team is of good quality, with three players who stand out above the rest: Pepe Reina, Steven Gerrard, and Fernando Torres.

The Spanish duo, despite their affinity with the club, will not stick around forever in a club that does not win trophies, not when they could move to the likes of Real Madrid or Barcelona at the drop of a hat.

Even Gerrard will be tempted by the impending Chelsea and Manchester City bids that will inevitably come this summer.

These three players are vital if Liverpool are to challenge for the league. The manager must then decide who he will keep.

Looking at the rest of the current Liverpool squad, there are not many, if any, players that would make it into either of Chelsea's or Manchester United's teams.

The closest would probably be Javier Mascherano, but the Argentinian is suffering from personal problems and is longing for a move to Spain, so tacking his contract down will take some work and promises.

This is where Rafa will come under most scrutiny. His transfer dealings have been poor so far; there have been far too many players signed who are not fit to wear the famous red jersey.

But yet, here we are after five-and-a-half years, looking to rebuild the squad that was never really built in the first place.

There have been honourable miscalculations, like the £17m for Johnson, the £20m for Aquilani, and the £11.5m for Ryan Babel, but these must be improved upon if the club is to ever challenge.

Like it or not, Liverpool FC are at a crossroads. The next step, whatever it may be, must be carefully planned. Manchester City's arrival as a force has radically changed the landscape for the Reds, and if they start to miss out on the top four on a more regular basis, they will have to cut their cloth accordingly.

The future is now, and Liverpool must act quickly to secure it.