Adieu, Damien Comolli
What the front office reshuffle at Anfield could mean for the Reds
It's always about Liverpool, isn't it?
As if the endless grist of tweets and headlines about the team's dire league run in 2012 -- nine points in 14 games -- wasn't enough, there's the impending gloom hanging over the Anfield front office to sustain supporters a while longer. As a Reds fan, I wish the focus on LFC was more positive, but bad press is still press, right?
The timing of it all couldn't be worse, with an Merseyside Derby/FA Cup semifinal Saturday, but if this season has taught us anything about the Reds, it's that they wouldn't have it any other way. Such suffocating discord and tumult is when Liverpool seems to perform at its highest level.
The big news dominating game preparations is the departure of Damien Comolli. The shrewd director of football, whose largest résumé point to date was that he signed Gareth Bale for Tottenham Hotspur, is no longer employed by Liverpool Football Club. Hired in November 2010 by John Henry and Fenway Sports Group on the back of an impressive -- arguably inflated -- résumé, Comolli's mission was simple: Identify the kind of talent that would help the Reds climb out of their lowest league ebb in a generation. (Finishing seventh in 2009-10 and sixth in 2010-11 was bad enough; that Liverpool hadn't finished below fifth since 1998-99 made it even worse.)
With the trust and expectation that he would oversee affairs on FSG's behalf, Comolli is now shuttling back to the south of France to spend more time with his family.
What does it all mean for Liverpool?
1. Can we have a "Moneyball" moratorium?
Look, it's obvious now. Liverpool was as much as a practitioner of the vaunted Billy Beane methodology as Michael Bay is a budget-conscious movie maker. While I'm sure Comolli read the seminal Michael Lewis text that has inspired a groundswell of love for statistics, his work was anything but.
Anyone with eyes open could see that Comolli's purchasing was speculative (Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll are young; they'll justify their price tags sooner or later), forceful (paying $20 million for Stewart Downing will make the league see we're serious) and full of the braggadocio that has carried the Frenchman throughout his career.
Having overseen $200 million of spending (but the net spend is only $111.5 million) in less than a year and a half, let's hope that in bidding Comolli farewell, Liverpool also sees an end to the endless misapplication of that wretched M-word.
2. Comolli was probably the wrong hire
Though Comolli found work at highly regarded EPL clubs -- European scout at Arsenal from 1996-2003, director of football at Tottenham from 2005-08 -- his commitment to the job created rifts between him and his front office team. Just ask Martin Jol what he thought of Comolli, citing a disjointed relationship as the reason for Jol's demise. (Jol wanted an experienced left winger; he was presented with Darren Bent, Younes Kaboul and Kevin-Prince Boateng. "I felt the squad would be unbalanced ... and it proved to be the case," said Jol.)
In 2008, Arsene Wenger once noted that "as long as the responsibilities are clear and accepted by everybody" then Comolli could thrive. Given the conflicting stories about who finalized transfers at Anfield, it's reasonable to assume there was no such clarity.
In parting ways with its director of football, Liverpool chairman Tom Werner hit upon the same basic complaints that have followed Comolli throughout his executive career.
"We've had a strategy that we have agreed on," Werner said. "There was some disconnect on the implementation of that."
Disconnected. Unbalanced. Needs clear responsibilities. One wonders why the inexperienced soccer owners from Boston picked a guy who seems to need a tight leash in order to shine. Though it's obvious that such front-office figures tend to be scapegoats, first out the door before an owner or manager falls on the sword, it's clear something wasn't working. It just might be some time before we understand exactly what was wrong.
3. Accountability exists at Anfield
That said, Comolli is out. Though it seems like a no-brainer to dump the misfiring elements of your front office, it still takes guts for Henry and FSG to begin yet another rebuilding project so soon into their tenure.
Remember that they were hailed as saviors -- understandably so -- when they swooped in and replaced the reviled duo of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. The negativity and turmoil from the pair often referred to as Statler and Waldorf was a lot to overturn. The pressure was even greater to act decisively with a manager and revamped squad, and Henry & Co. did the best they could in bringing Kenny Dalglish back into the fold and acquiring players with (at the time) untold potential.
Yet Fenway Sports Group demonstrated that it's unafraid to make the decisions that come with owning a storied, but troubled, English soccer institution.
"When it's time to act, we need to act," reinforced Werner on Thursday.
Does that hold true for the manager too?
4. Accountability could be bad for King Kenny
It's unclear how much power Comolli really had at Anfield, and any attempts at finding the truth are hindered by Dalglish's assertion that he had final say over the litany of overpriced, underperforming players that turned up at Anfield since the January 2011 transfer window.
Having just seen the director of football fired, it's amazing that Dalglish would be so bold to say that "I have brought every player here. End of story."
Whether he's safe in his job is anyone's guess. Though Dalglish maintains that he doesn't "need any reassurance from the owners," he's nonetheless received the dreaded vote of confidence from Werner and Henry. Soccer fans know that the VOC is a timely, PR-driven preamble to getting fired, a handy warning to dust off the résumé, but Dalglish isn't buying it, at least not for now.
If anything, Comolli's exit gives Dalglish what he always wanted but likely always feared: complete responsibility. The upshot is that what he says goes. The obvious downside? There's no one else left to fire if the woes at Anfield continue.
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5. The fans will be happy in the end
Liverpool's plight can improve. Eventually. Firing Comolli and rearranging things behind the scenes has to be seen as a precursor to something good, though it's clear more needs to be done before Liverpool can consider itself to be heading in a positive direction. We've seen such false dawns before and poured our hearts and hopes into them, only to end up as teary-eyed as John Terry on a Moscow penalty spot.
It took Henry and his ownership group a couple of years to get the formula right in Boston, and they were able to break a curse far larger, though just as psychologically gripping, as the 23-year league drought at Anfield in the process.
Running a sports franchise is a tricky alchemy. As bad as 2012 has been for the beleaguered Reds, it can't get much worse.
James Tyler is an editor for ESPN Soccer. He can be found on Twitter @JamesTylerESPN.
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