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SBD Global/April 19, 2013/Franchises

Liverpool Owner Gets Advice From ManU, Arsenal; Reds' Ayre Talks To SI

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Liverpool Managing Dir Ian Ayre has revealed club Owner John W. Henry has approached Premier League rivals ManU and Arsenal "for tips on running the Anfield club," according to ESPN. Liverpool languishes in seventh position in the table. In a bid to move Liverpool further up the table, Ayre said that both Henry and Chair Tom Werner have spoken to ManU and Arsenal's respective CEOs David Gill and Ivan Gazidis "about ways to improve the club." Ayre said, "(Henry) and Tom are both very open in their approach. They'll contact David at United and Ivan at Arsenal -- 'What do you think?' That's healthy" (ESPN, 4/18). SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's Grant Wahl talked to Ayre about a number of topics, including Liverpool's U.S. owners (the Fenway Sports Group), the pursuit of "Moneyball" in football, star player Luis Suárez, the refurbishment of Anfield, the club's debt, the future of Financial Fair Play and the Premier League's new U.S. distribution deal with NBC Sports that starts in August.

Q:
You're based in Liverpool, but the club's owners are based in Boston, and they also happen to own the Boston Red Sox baseball team. How does your communication work with the Fenway Sports Group in Boston? How regular is it?
Ayre: The way we operate and manage the business is fantastic. There's a brilliant interface with Fenway Sports Group in general, not just with John [W. Henry] and Tom [Werner] and the ownership group, but also with all the senior executives. I'm on a call with John or Tom at least once a week.

Q: I've been interested in John W. Henry's own growing fascination with soccer, Liverpool and the Premier League. Are there any details you can provide of his interest level increasing?
Ayre: The thing with John is, if he's going to do something, he wants to be the best he can be at it. He's also not the sort of person who would try to kind of fake having the knowledge of something. So in terms of his football knowledge, he's watching and watching, and not just Liverpool, but everything he can get access to. ... But he also asks a lot of questions, asks your view on things. He sends things around to all of us. "What do you think of this?"

Q: How does FSG strike a balance between keeping on top of things for both Liverpool and the Red Sox?
Ayre: There have been quite a few comments this season because John hasn't been to a game this season. [Note: Henry has since visited Liverpool this week.] Tom's been to quite a few. That's part of them sharing that responsibility. As is always the case, the media then spun that into "John Henry hasn't been to a game and is losing interest." That's nonsense. It's about them finding that balance. In sharing that responsibility, it's not about being at the games.

Q: One thing they did with Fenway Park, instead of building a new stadium, they did a lot of smart things around the stadium while refurbishing the stadium itself to increase revenue streams. That seems to be the approach Liverpool decided to take with Anfield. Where are you right now with that plan?
Ayre: We've always said the preference was to stay at Anfield. It's the heart of the football club. I remember the first time John and Tom came to look at Liverpool before they bought it. I was the person showing them around. When we went into Anfield, John said to me, "This is like Fenway. It's the same feeling. Why would we want to build a new stadium?"

Q: As busy as Brendan Rodgers and his staff are with a punishing game schedule, are you OK with not having a director of football right now?
Ayre: Yeah. I think that director of football role in a lot of cases almost creates as many problems as it solves. Because people try to judge where the power base is with that role. Who's picking the team? Who's deciding which players? What we actually have is probably three or four people who all are involved in that role that all contribute if you like to the output that role would have.

Q: Luis Suárez is locked in for a while contract wise, but other clubs would be interested in having him. Is that something you would consider in the transfer market if you got a remarkable offer for him?
Ayre: To play at the highest level in the Premier League and European soccer, you need players like Luis and Steven Gerrard on your team. So the last thing in our mind is selling Luis Suárez. He's not for sale. It's not something we're interested in.

Q:
How convinced are you that UEFA will enforce Financial Fair Play?
Ayre: I think it's a real test for them and for [UEFA president Michel] Platini and others. Because they've really nailed their colors to the mast on this. They've been out front talking about the importance of it, about the need for it. If they don't deliver on it, then shame on them, because a lot of people have put a lot of time into it (SI, 4/16).
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