Are Borussia Dortmund A Warning To FSG?

In the pieces I’ve written over the years, I’ve demonstrated that I’m generally a supporter of Fenway Sports Group and the manner in which they’ve chosen to run Liverpool Football Club. There’s no question that they’ve made errors and only recently do they seem to have put themselves into a position where they’ve demonstrated that they’re learning from their mistakes. Yet at the same time, they could have done precisely nothing differently as owners and seen the club win three Premier League trophies, two Champions Leagues, two League Cups and an FA Cup during their tenure, to say nothing of the World Club Cup and the likes. They have got the club run in a sustainable manner, with one only needing to look as far as Barcelona to see what happens when that is not the case. Criticism of certain aspects of their ownership is entirely fair and reasonable, but it’s also important to be balanced when discussing their ownership.

As the summer wears on and other clubs begin making moves in the transfer market, the question around FSG’s financial support of the manager will once again rear its ugly head. Personally, I think it’s a complex topic to discuss. On the one hand, sell-to-buy does seem to be the overriding policy, but on the other we can point to the new Main Stand, the move from Melwood and the proposed development of the Anfield Road End as examples of areas that financial investment has been made. I also always find the net spend conversation to be one I can’t be bothered with, given that if the club didn’t sell some of its deadwood then our net spend would be higher but we’d still have the likes of Brad Smith, Jordon Ibe and Christian Benteke hanging around the place. As things currently stand, Jürgen Klopp may well be allowing Fenway Sports Group to cover up a myriad of sins, with the owners being offered a sign of what might be to come from Borussia Dortmund.

No Title Since Klopp’s Departure

Prior to Jürgen Klopp’s arrival at the Westfalenstadion, it had been four years since Borussia Dortmund had won the Bundesliga. During his time as manager of the team, Die Borussen won the German title twice, as well as the DFB-Pokal and two German Supercups. In addition to that, he also took the team to the Champions League final. Since his departure, they have won three domestic cups, made no real impression on the European stage and failed to win the Bundesliga title. That includes time managed by current Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel, who everyone was falling over themselves to praise to the high heavens after he took over from Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge. The reality is that there are few top-class managers in world football, so if you’ve got one then you’d be sensible to make hay whilst the sun shines. Jürgen Klopp is just such a manager, with the manner in which Dortmund have struggled since he left proof of that.

We might all desperately hope that Steven Gerrard will become a world-beating manager and what he’s achieved during his short time at Rangers isn’t to be sniffed at, but there’s no guarantee that he’s got what it takes to repeat the trick of the German. Perhaps the man himself fancies a boot room-style legacy, with Pep Ljinders in line to replace him when he finally leaves. Again, though, there’s nothing to suggest that he might not just crash and burn, which is something that the owners need to be aware of. Given that we’ve signed the likes of Alisson Becker, Virgil van Dijk and Thiago Alcantara during FSG’s ownership, there’s no way that anyone can say that they haven’t supported the manager. Yet it’s also true that the next man in the Anfield hotseat is likely to need much more support, given that they’ll almost certainly lack Klopp’s ability to paper over the cracks by getting players to play beyond their natural capabilities.

They’ve Spent Money

Borussia Dortmund’s owners would be quick to point out that they’ve spent money since Jürgen Klopp departed. Indeed, a quick look at shows that they have spent in the region of £500 million on purchases and loan fees since the 2015-2016 season. That includes bringing in players that many Liverpool supporters have called for with each passing summer, such as Erling Haaland, Julian Brandt and Axel Witsel. If they’ve spent around half a billion pounds, then, what’s the warning to FSG? That comes in the form of the £600 million plus that they’ve recouped in player sales during the same period. In other words, they’ve finished the six or so year period since Jürgen Klopp’s departure about £100 million in profit, with just three domestic trophies to show for it. The simple fact is that a non-world class manager combined with a lack of sufficient investment into the squad will mean you’re not going to challenge for titles.

They might get lucky, of course. Steven Gerrard could indeed turn out to be the next Jürgen Klopp. It’s not massively likely, though, and even if he did he’d still need to bring in players that he wanted to work with, which would cost money. As things currently stand, Fenway Sports Group have one of the best managers in the world at their disposal, in addition to fantastic facilities and a playing squad full of talent. The lessons they could learn from Borussia Dortmund would tell them that’s not always going to be the case, so if they want to earn themselves a truly lasting legacy then now is the time to spend money to achieve it. They need to be aware of what lies around the corner if they continue to adopt a policy of selling in order to buy. As someone who appreciates the manner in which they’ve made the club financially solid I very much understand that it’s not easy, but perhaps they can look to be just a little bit less cautious in the coming weeks.

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