DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JUNE 07:   John Henry arrives for Bill Fance Jr.'s funeral at Mary McLeod Bethune Performing Arts Center June 7, 2007 in Daytona Beach, Florida. France died June 4 at the age of 74.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
John Henry

It's not a done deal, but there's a good chance that Liverpool fans will finally get the new ownership they've so desperately craved.  No more Tom Hicks, no more George Gillette; instead, the Reds might just end up in the hands of NESV, the group that owns the Boston Red Sox.  Consisting of Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino and other investors, the leading figure in the group, at least in terms of pure wealth and presumed stewardship, is John Henry.

Henry and NESV's time as Red Sox owners has turned that club from a cursed tragic edifice into two-time World Series champions.  Running the club as a business but with a strong sense of the importance of tradition and civic pride, Henry and Co. have given Red Sox fans their greatest ever era without bastardizing the image of the team.  The group even managed to conserve the history of Fenway Park while subtly adding seats and amenities; no small feat considering that a change of venue was deemed a forgone conclusion not that long ago.  The capacity restrictions of Fenway made it difficult to imagine the Red Sox could keep up with the richest teams in the league from a revenue standpoint.

Henry and his partners have been good for the Red Sox, that much is an unassailable fact.  After 86 years of failing to win a title, their place as "saviors" in New England sports lore is secure.  But make no mistake; this ownership group is pragmatic in their approach to winning.  They employ Bill James, renowned proponent of the sabermetrics system of statistical analysis as an aid to general manager Theo Epstein.  Though their fan base and reach have allowed them to spend more than every other team in the league outside of the Yankees, the Red Sox have leaned heavily on a system, originated by Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and called "Moneyball",  meant to maximize return on player investments.  Based on their record as baseball owners, these are not men prone to throwing money at a problem.

It's impossible to know at this juncture if NESV would take this mindset with them to Liverpool.  What works in baseball could conceivably work in soccer, and there has been some talk in recent years of applying Moneyball to English football; Liverpool's new ownership might be tempted to roll the concept of statistical analysis into the beautiful game as a means of competing with the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea without spending as they do.  Recent times, with debt-laden clubs treading water in an effort to keep up, gives Henry an excuse to try something new.  It's a tantalizing thought that perhaps NESV, as leader of a new school of thinking in regards to payroll and return, might revolutionize a broken system.

Or it might fail miserably, leave Liverpool struggling to return to their previous glory, and further the reputation of Americans as poor/destructive Premier League owners.  There are no guarantees, as Henry and NESV already know; despite the two titles, the Red Sox have also failed to make the playoffs on multiple occasions, leaving themselves and their management team open to criticism.  If there is one thing Red Sox and Liverpool fans have in common (other than a color), it's their demanding nature.  All of the joy created by the departure of Hicks and Gillette, should this ownership transfer take place, will erode in short order should Henry, Werner, and Lucchino fail to raise what appears to be a sinking ship.

Henry knows that winning is essential to running a sports club as a successful business.  Even at his number-crunching coldest, because Henry is certainly quintessential businessman, he will trade personal profit for on-filed success.  His goal with the Red Sox was to win, because winning brought revenue, which would help ensure long term competitiveness and financial viability.  Henry may not be at his essence a sportsman always desperate to win because winning is the ends, but the priority he puts on winning serves the same purpose.  He is not a fan, and that is a good thing.

Though the success of the club on the field is of paramount importance, Liverpool fans should be heartened by Henry's careful custodianship of the Red Sox as a New England institution.  Owning the beloved Sox is just about as close as one can get to the experience of controlling a club like Liverpool; there are cultural differences, to be sure, but despite not being a New England native, Henry has handled the Red Sox appropriately, deferring to history whenever necessary.  The red flag, as it typically is with Americans jumping into the world of soccer, is that Henry may not know, and certainly did not grow up with, the game; it's therefore imperative that he delegate responsibility for any and all soccer matters to those that do, and there's no real fear that he would operate otherwise.

Ultimately, Henry and NESV will be judged on their ability to make Liverpool a winner while maintaining a healthy financial footing.  To call that a difficult task in the modern age of English football would be to sell it significantly short.  Yet, with Henry's proven acumen, Liverpool fans have reason to be hopeful.


From a purely selfish American standpoint, one devoid of any loyalty or inclination towards Liverpool, Henry has a chance to rehabilitate the sullied image of American ownership in England.  Though Aston Villa's Randy Lerner has managed to keep his name out of the mud to this point, Hicks, Gillette, and the Glazers at Manchester United have conspired to give Yank involvement in the game there a bad name.  The profile of a club like Liverpool, combined with the possibility of reversing much of the negative momentum the club has had in recent years, makes Henry and his partners White Knights capable of saving the fair maiden and silencing at least some of the calls for "Yanks Out!" in the northwest of England.

It shouldn't matter where Henry comes from, to be fair.  Not all American investment should be viewed with a jaundiced eye based simply on the mistakes of a few.  But the separation of what should be and what is have created this situation, and as a matter of pride it would be good to see Henry succeed.  

He did it with the Red Sox, a club with history but little winning history.  Can he do it with Liverpool, a club in crisis but with an ample helpings of both?

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