Last season could probably be called a rude awakening for Liverpool owners FSG. They had not exactly been sleeping at the wheel, with Jürgen Klopp’s squad already having been strengthened through moves for the likes of Darwin Núñez and Luis Díaz, but a failure to secure a Champions League finish was fairly conclusive evidence that a degree of stagnation had been allowed to seep in.
In fairness to the owners, there was a major response this summer. There was disappointment when Liverpool did not pursue Jude Bellingham, and further unrest when Moisés Caicedo slipped away, but FSG did fund some serious activity in the transfer market. Nine games into the season, there is broad consensus that the rebuild has gone well.
The scale of this rebuild was perhaps not anticipated, with departures for Jordan Henderson and Fabinho not in the plan, but FSG always intended to address the midfield this summer. It was presumably banking on Klopp’s existing charges being able to produce one last high-level season in 2022/23, off the back of going so close to a quadruple.
On paper, that was not an entirely unreasonable assumption. Admittedly, some early warning signs were there, but a Liverpool side that had just cleared 90 points and reached the Champions League final did not look as though it would be incapable of even qualifying for that competition next time out.
That tells a story about the steepness of Liverpool's decline last season, but it also paints a picture of the changing Premier League landscape. It was notable that Newcastle was the side to steal in and take the hallowed place in the top four, signaling the start of an era in which FSG will have to try and keep up with another state-backed team.
It’s not just state money either. The Premier League is more awash with cash than ever — the majority of teams in the division can now spend the kind of sums that have typically been the FSG sweet spot over the years.
Liverpool has raised its expenditure in turn, with FSG recently breaking the transfer record for Núñez and sanctioning a relatively similar spend on Dominik Szobsoszlai. But even then, Klopp’s task is harder than ever — with the rest of the ‘big six’, the state money of Newcastle and the huge wealth at Aston Villa (playing some absolutely incredible football at the moment), there are at least seven sides who can compete on broadly an even keel or better.
Brighton and West Ham complete the current top 10. Much has been written about the Seagulls and their excellent recruitment; it’s certainly not hard to see them mounting a push for the Champions League places. David Moyes’ side would be more of an outsider, but it’s still a squad packed with quality.
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That’s just this season, too. Bournemouth is currently struggling at the wrong end of the table, but it has also got benefactors with deep pockets now. Even Everton might get its act together at some point. The Premier League is more deeply competitive than ever — not only can anybody beat anybody, but it’s not impossible to theoretically envisage most of the sides stringing together the kind of campaign that could challenge for European spots.
Against that backdrop, despite the fact that Liverpool had almost taken it for granted, finishing in the top four year after year is not an easy feat. Given that Champions League money is vital to FSG’s self-sustaining model, that has to be seen as a big worry.
In many ways, it’s almost surprising that FSG has committed to a long-term stay at Liverpool in the current landscape. Having moved away from a full sale and recently welcomed Dynasty Equity as a small minority partner, it’s clear the owners won’t be going anywhere — that’s a vote of confidence in the team’s ongoing competitiveness at the top level.
An upcoming Champions League change has potentially played its part in the decision. If nothing else, it will certainly be welcomed by FSG. Next season, there will be more teams in the Champions League. That could see an extra qualifying slot for the Premier League — it depends on how English sides fare in Europe during the current campaign, but it seems more likely than not that the ‘top four’ will now become the ‘top five’ in the majority of seasons.
Naturally, neither FSG nor Klopp would be willing to sign on for an era of scraping into fifth every year. The club is united in pursuit of silverware. But with so many more legitimate competitive rivals, an extra Champions League slot would at least be a much-needed safety blanket, somewhat offsetting the rise of the likes of Newcastle and Aston Villa.
Even then, it’s clear that Klopp’s challenge at Liverpool is bigger than ever. But after a summer in which the rebuild exploded into life, it’s apparent that both he and FSG are well up for the fight.