Soccer

Liverpool Fans Owe the Boston Red Sox Credit for a Joyous Day

Odd as it may seem, Liverpool’s long-awaited return to the top of the English Premier League was made possible by Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox.

Soccer and baseball have little in common beyond being sports that fans are passionate about when it comes to rooting for the hometown team, but it turns out that overhauls in both can be handled in nearly identical fashion.

John Henry restores the Boston Red Sox to the top of MLB

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John Henry’s journey toward winning four World Series titles as the man in charge of the Boston Red Sox began in 1989 when he bought the Tucson Toros of the Pacific Coast League. Although he tried several times to step up in stature by purchasing MLB, NBA, and NHL teams in the early 1990s, Henry lost out each time.  In 1999, he surrendered a stake in the New York Yankees for ownership of the Florida Marlins.

Henry sold the Marlins to Jeffrey Loria and led a group including Tom Werner in the purchase of the Red Sox for $380 million in late 2001. But he did so with a plan incorporating all facets of the franchise.

Henry recognized that revenue, chiefly because Fenway Park, was holding back the Red Sox. The previous owners wanted to build a new stadium with significantly more seating, but the potential debt posed a risk. Instead, he added seats to the Green Monster before the 2003 offseason and then to the right-field roof the following offseason. With more tweaks later, Fenway’s capacity has been boosted by 10% while maintaining the charm of the park.

The new ownership also made significant personnel moves. Dan Duquette, a respected general manager in place since 1994, was replaced by Theo Epstein.

In a controversial move, manager Grady Little was let go after just two seasons. But replacement Terry Francona ended the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, his first season, and guided the Red Sox to a second MLB championship three years later. Interestingly, John Farrell (2013) and Alex Cora (2018) would also win the World Series as first-year Red Sox managers.

Repeating the process in soccer with Liverpool

The frustration of Liverpool soccer fans that ended this week was no match for what the Boston Red Sox faithful had to endure while waiting for their first World Series championship since 1918. But the mess needing to be addressed was much more complex.

“I think it’s the similarities that are important. Building the right team first and foremost with the discipline to stick to bold plans,” John Henry said. “You never stop learning in football — and we had a lot to learn. We made a lot of mistakes, and I’m sure we will make more, but there is a team operating at many levels with a focus.”

When Henry and partner Tom Werner made the bold move to buy the Liverpool Football Club in October 2010, the soccer team had already gone 20 years without winning the championship of England’s top division. Previous owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. had promised Liverpool fans a new stadium and continued prominence on the field. But they had run up a sizeable debt in just four years and Liverpool fell out of the top five in the Premier League for the first time since 1999.

The first manager change was to bring back Kenny Dalglish, who promptly led Liverpool to the League Cup title – a sign of progress but not as prestigious as other trophies. But just as the Red Sox found it necessary to replace Grady Little, Liverpool moved on from Dalglish at the risk of alienating longtime supporters.

Two moves later, Jurgen Klopp was brought in to direct the team, and he led Liverpool to the UEFA Champions League title in 2019. The idea of building a new stadium has been all but forgotten.

Liverpool returns to the top of the Premier League

Liverpool fans celebrate Chelsea's victory against Manchester City, which ensured Liverpool of capturing its first Premier League title since 1990. | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Liverpool fans celebrate Chelsea’s victory against Manchester City, which gave Liverpool its first Premier League title since 1990. | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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Liverpool was running away with the English Premier League championship three-quarters of the way through the current season when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Liverpool fans feared that the season would be called off and that perhaps no championship would be awarded. It would have been another blow for a club with five second-place and five third-place finishes since the last title.

Liverpool played to a scoreless draw vs. Everton June 21 in its first game back from the shutdown and moved tantalizingly close to clinching three days later by blowing out Crystal Palace, 4-0. When Chelsea beat second-place Manchester City, 2-1, on June 25, Liverpool finally clinched its first league crown since 1990.

“The world has watched the fierce determination of this club on the field for every single match, the preparation, the resolve and the talent of those who put together perhaps the greatest league performance ever in any country’s history,” Boston Red Sox and Liverpool owner John Henry said.