Sportsmail goes to Boston to gauge the mood of Liverpool"s US owners

They don't do losers here: Sportsmail goes to Boston to gauge the mood of Liverpool's US owners as questions grow over the reign of King Kenny

By
Neil Ashton

PUBLISHED:

21:51 GMT, 30 March 2012

|

UPDATED:

22:18 GMT, 30 March 2012

Questions to answer: Kenny Dalglish

Questions to answer: Kenny Dalglish

In the streets surrounding Fenway Park, everybody is gearing up for the start of the new baseball season.

Under the shadows of the historic stands coated in fresh green paint, crates of Bud and bulging popcorn buckets are being loaded on to concourses.

This is home to the Boston Red Sox, the billion-dollar franchise belonging to Liverpool owner John W Henry.

Boston is gripped with anticipation as it counts down to the opening home game against Tampa Bay Rays on April 13.

Around
1,200 miles down the coast, in Fort Myers, Florida, new manager Bobby
Valentine is assessing the Red Sox squad as part of their spring
training schedule.

Valentine,
in charge of a roster of players who chew through the second biggest
budget in baseball (111million) each season, is already jousting with
the media.

'It's an
easy story to write,' was his dismissive response to claims in the
Boston Globe that he has fallen out with general manager Ben Cherington.

Valentine is a Henry
appointment brought in to revive the fortunes of a team who ended last
season without making the holy grail of the post-season play-offs.

They
don't tolerate losing in these parts.

Star turns, such as John Lackey
(signed from the LA Angels on a contract worth 51.5m in 2010) and Carl
Crawford (bought from Tampa Bay Rays in 2011 in a deal worth 88.7m)
have barely registered among fans at Fenway Park.

Henry's response to the downturn was to fire Terry Francona, who took them to two World Series triumphs between 2004 and 2011, and replace him with Valentine, 61, a man who had not managed an American team since he was fired by the New York Mets a decade ago and who some fear is too detached from modern baseball methods.

Sox appeal: Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox

Sox appeal: Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox

At every turn, John W Henry's trophies are on display. In Red Sox bars there are pictures of the owner celebrating with the Commissioner's Trophy, the prize for winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007.

This week, in Boston Magazine, he was named the 18th most influential person in the city, recognition for turning an ailing baseball brand into a billion-dollar business inside a decade.

Elsewhere there are pictures of his glamorous wife Linda Pizzuti, 29 years the moneyman's junior and 'hopelessly in love' (with her husband).

Henry, part of a group of friends including business partner Tom Werner and nightclub owner Ed Kane labelled the Cirque de Rire (Circus of Laughs), has celebrity status in town.

Hopelessly in love: Linda Pizzuti and John Henry

Hopelessly in love: Linda Pizzuti and John Henry

His 164ft yacht Iroquois is frequently berthed at the exclusive Rowes Wharf complex and his apartment at the Mandarin Oriental is one of the most desirable in the city.

Despite the success, there is one trophy Henry – along with Liverpool chairman Tom Werner and the other 17 partners at Fenway Sports Group – wants to compete for more than any other.

The Champions League is the moneyball that just keeps rolling, crushing the fistful of dollars the Red Sox make in the American League's Eastern Division.

Henry has developed an obsession with football played in the European theatre, drawn by its commercial appeal and the colours of the club he bought in October 2010 for 300m.

In downtown Boston, there is a flavour of Liverpool in their own supporters bar, the Phoenix Landing.

A framed Kenny Dalglish shirt from the Seventies is hanging on a wall and the pub quiz master is drowned out when he asks: 'Which is the biggest sporting team in the United Kingdom'

Henry, whose strength is in team matters and contracts, and Werner, strong in the commercial field, aim to make sure the answer will once again be Liverpool.

Indeed, there are fears over here that his commitment to the Red Sox is on the wane, seduced by the prospect of Champions League football.

Dan Shaughnessy, a columnist on the Boston Globe, said: 'Henry has been a very good owner and he's a brilliant businessman, but people fear he has become less passionate about the Red Sox. He attends most of the games at Fenway Park, but his eyes are drifting away from the Red Sox, the job is done. Now it's about Liverpool and making them a success.'

Henry maintains that Fenway Sports Group, which also owns the Roush Fenway NASCAR racing team, is simply spreading its wings, but he has done the maths.

Trigger point: Dalglish must must answer to owners Henry (left) and Werner, who also own the Red Sox

Trigger point: Dalglish must must answer to owners Henry (left) and Werner, who also own the Red Sox

Barcelona's broadcast revenue in their 2011 European Cup-winning season was a staggering 148.6m.

Liverpool, without the benefit of the Champions League, still received 81m.

Global television audiences for last season's final between Barcelona and Manchester United topped out at 400m.

Little wonder Henry's eyeballs popped out, comparing peak television audiences in America of 28m for the Red Sox's World Series win over St Louis Cardinals in 2004.

Henry is often up at 3am, flitting between reports on Japanese money markets, monitoring Liverpool's progress or sitting at the steering wheel of a computer game mimicking his NASCAR racing team.

At Anfield, Dalglish is still in the driving seat, worshipped by the supporters who chant his surname, just as they did when he scored goals.

There is a deep emotional attachment, an affiliation with the club that Henry recognises as a strength in Fenway's pursuit of excellence.

Not lived up to their billing: Andy Carroll (left) and Stewart Downing (right)

Not lived up to their billing: Andy Carroll (left) and Stewart Downing (right)

Not lived up to their billing: Andy Carroll (left) and Stewart Downing (right)

Henry and Co realise the commercial and historical significance attached to Liverpool's five European Cup wins and want Dalglish to secure number six.

In Fenway circles, there is little attempt to conceal their disappointment that the route back into the Champions League has been blocked by poor form.

Liverpool's capitulation against QPR caused more than a ripple in the offices of Fenway Sports Group and the manner of a home defeat to Wigan certainly made waves.

'John Henry doesn't need to be a football expert to know that some of the signings, such as Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing, have not worked out,' admitted one Fenway source.

'Champions League football is the priority and defeats to QPR and Wigan are not results a top-four team should be recording. John Henry is not shy to pull the trigger.'

Shock reverse: Gary Caldwell shoots past Liverpool's Pepe Reina as Wigan win 2-1 win at Anfield

Shock reverse: Gary Caldwell shoots past Liverpool's Pepe Reina as Wigan win 2-1 win at Anfield

Shaughnessy concurs: 'They can be bloodless and unemotional when they make decisions. Henry doesn't get caught up in sentiment.'

Despite winning the Carling Cup final on penalties and reaching the FA Cup semi-final against Everton, Dalglish's brief at the start of the season was clear: finish first, second, third or fourth in the Premier League.

With eight games left, starting with a visit to Newcastle on Sunday – it is beyond him, 13 points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham and a staggering 31 behind leaders Manchester United.

This is a difficult balancing act for Henry and Werner, judging the team's short-term success against the planning and the exploitation of their status as a worldwide brand.

Pot luck: Steven Gerrard lifted the Carling Cup but will it be enough to save Dalglish

Pot luck: Steven Gerrard lifted the Carling Cup but will it be enough to save Dalglish

Chief executive Ian Ayre has been in China this week and the club are expected to take in some pre-season games in the Far East, as well as the US, in July.

Critically they recognise the importance of public perception, something Dalglish appears reluctant to address in his increasingly bizarre media briefings.

His stance over Luis Suarez damaged his standing, defending a player described in the 115-page judgement passed by an independent FA regulatory commission as 'unreliable' and 'inconsistent'.

Werner, a TV executive who pioneered the Eighties hit TV series The Cosby Show, was upset.

In the transfer market they backed Dalglish and spent big on Suarez, Carroll, Henderson, Charlie Adam, Jose Enrique and Downing.

Re-modelling: Damien Comolli

Re-modelling: Damien Comolli

So much for Moneyball and the sabremetric approach – the specialist analysis of baseball through objective evidence – adopted by the Red Sox after the famed Oakland Athletics coach Billy Beane turned Henry down in 2002.

Beane recommended his friend Damien Comolli as Liverpool's director of football when Fenway completed its takeover of the club in October 2010, paving the way for more changes at Melwood.

They are re-modelling Liverpool on the success story at the Red Sox, adopting a two-tier management system.

They are in regular touch with Dalglish, Comolli and Ayre and schedule meetings whenever they are on Merseyside.

The Red Sox template has been licensed by Liverpool, brought over from Boston and carefully placed over the existing footprint. Fenway's rampant commercialisation of the Anfield club will see them compete in a shiny new strip manufactured by American firm Warrior Sports next season.

Liverpool will wear it during pre-season when they visit Boston to play Roma on July 25 as part of Fenway Park's 100th anniversary celebrations.

By then, Henry will know for sure whether Liverpool's 61-year-old manager is up to speed.