This year has been quite kind to Liverpool Football Club so far. They may have been knocked out of the two trophies that they began 2011 with a chance of winning, but it’s likely that only the Europa League can be considered a genuine disappointment. The odds that they faced at Old Trafford were insurmountable, and the visible improvement in the cohesion of the team in even this match was the first sign of life stirring after a 2010 that most people connected with the club would sooner forget. Reservations concerning the appointment of Kenny Dalglish have proved thus far to be overblown (to say the least), and the club’s climb to sixth place in the Premier League puts them more or less where we might have expected to be at the start of the season.
The issue of the future of the club, however, remains tantalisingly out of reach. Luis Suarez has turned out the be an outstanding signing, but the jury must remain out on Andy Carroll until he gets a sustained run in the first team. Liverpool, to this extent, remain a work in progress. Dalglish turned sixty earlier this month and, while he will be staying on beyond the end of this season, whether he will still be the manager in a couple of years’ time is not certain. Wins against Chelsea and Manchester United have to be counter-balanced against their tame exit from Europe and an insipid defeat at West Ham United. Progress has undoubtedly been made, then, albeit from a low ebb.
One story, however, does put a cloud – albeit only a vague one – on the horizon. They weren’t made by anybody on the football staff of Liverpool Football Club, rather by one Gavin Laws. If this name doesn’t ring any bells, well, that’s no great surprise. Laws isn’t anything directly to do with Liverpool Football Club. Gavin Laws is the Sponsorship Chief of Liverpool’s shirt sponsors, Standard Chartered, and he has been offering his opinions on what commercial activity the club should be undertaking. Amongst these is the idea it might be an idea for Liverpool to, “nurture foreign players from Asia”. Laws was at this week’s SoccerEx convention, which has been held this week in Manchester. He stated that:
The markets in Asia and the Middle East are so nationalistic, they are very proud about their countries. One appearance from a player, say from Dubai in the Premier League, and you’d have the whole of Dubai watching it.
The question, when an issue like this is raised, is one of where, in a situation in which this became anything like a club policy, any line in the sand would be drawn. The notion that football clubs would sign a player for reasons other than what they can do on the pitch is hardly a new one. George Best fanned the embers of his career for several seasons on this very principle. Furthermore, there is almost certainly untapped potential in Asia football. Never mind Dubai, there are 2.5bn people in China and India combined and neither country has yet produced anything like a global football star. Liverpool, for all their enfeebledness over the last couple of years, still have resources beyond the means of most clubs in the world, and such resources would be required for a potentially enormous task.
This, however, wasn’t quite what Laws seemed to have in mind. His statement gives the implication that a player’s marketability should be a deciding factor of whether he should be picked in the team. He may, of course, have been being misquoted, but his example of Dubai (population: 2.3m) doesn’t seem like the wisest one. It certainly allows a seed of doubt to be planted in the back of the mind that Laws’ idea wouldn’t preclude the notion of playing a weaker player if he brought in greater sponsorship money. It goes without saying that the very notion of this has infuriated a reasonable number of Liverpool supporters. He didn’t exactly help himself, either, by going on describe Liverpool as, “…a mid-table team with an outside chance of getting into the Europa League again”, a comment which hardly fits with the self-image of the Liverpool supporter or of the club itself.
It may, of course, be a mere coincidence that Standard Chartered makes a considerable amount of money from trading in Asia. This, however, has caused some to arrive at their own conclusions. To add two plus two and make five, though, is in the nature of the football supporter and sponsors perhaps need to understand that, no matter how buoyed they may be by the commercial possibilities that SoccerEx offers them a glimpse of, passing a comment like the one that Laws passed today leaves them open to criticism. Liverpool Football Club is doubtlessly very grateful for the money that it receives from its sponsors, who no doubt reap bountiful rewards from their association with a football club that remains one of the world’s few genuine global football brands. But the £20m per year that they pay Liverpool Football Club should earn them an opinion on matters such as these, and no more.
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