Juventus and Liverpool heading in opposite directions
It didn’t take long. The new dawn that was supposed to come with Roy Hodgson’s arrival at Anfield has instead, in the eyes of many fans, become a false one.
Overnight the club that was once the mightiest in all of England was swiftly booted out of the League Cup by Northampton Town, 4-2 on penalties.
Northampton’s milieu is normally fighting for survival in League Two, the English fourth division.
Liverpool’s is fighting for European trophies. But already they’ve seemingly given up any chance of nabbing another automatic ticket for Europe via the Premier League, presently a disastrous 16th on the ladder, with five points from as many matches.
How the mighty Reds have fallen.
As have Juventus, the super club from the city of Turin in northern Italy whose very name evoked such Sistine Chapel-like awe that for a century rival clubs virtually resigned themselves to losing even before they’d kicked a ball.
That was until the Calciopoli scandal in 2006 blew its reputation to smithereens and sent the club into a period of ignominy and darkness it is only really emerging from now.
Yet this tale of two clubs and their collective misfortune is one of contrasts, even though both share a similar weight of expectation from their fans.
Bianconeri supporters won’t tolerate anything less than the Scudetto each and every season – and a reasonable demand, given until the bribery scandal that rocked the club, they amassed titles with the consummate ease of a world champion boxer fighting opponents two divisions below his weight.
Their sense of entitlement is on a par with the fans of Réal Madrid and Bayern Munich. Getting knocked down a few pegs is something they will never get used to, nor should.
The club used its period of purgatory in Serie B and road to redemption in Serie A to rebuild off the park, commissioning a £85 million new stadium with a capacity of 41,000 to replace the demolished Stadio delle Alpi and even managing to return considerable profits despite failing to win titles on the pitch.
It remains the highest earning football club in Italy with the most number of fans and the most profitable fans. It also has low debt as a percentage of its total value: just 3%, according to Forbes magazine.
Juventus currently sits six points behind rivals Inter Milan in Serie A but with a game in hand and could well give the Scudetto a real shake after watching the Milanese side fill the void it left behind in 2006. It finished seventh in 2009/10, second in 2008/09 and third in 2007/08, it first season back in the top flight after being demoted in 2006/07.
It’s a tribute to its management team and accountants that it could recover from such a grave fate as enforced relegation so quickly and still be a continental force.
Liverpool can call on a similar supporter base worldwide but that’s where the good news ends. Where Juventus has taken stock and consolidated, the Merseysiders are being buried under a mountain of debt. Its debt as a percentage of its total value is a staggering 47%, putting in the same bracket as Réal and Schalke.
The sale to the club in 2007 to big-borrowing Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett has proved a millstone and there are fears that even if Hicks gets his way and buys out Gillett’s stake with an eye to selling off the club at a later date, the loans needed to finance the deal will cripple the club even more because of interest rates that are already unserviceable.
Relative penny-pinching at Anfield – at least in comparison to Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United – meant former manager Rafa Benitez was not given the necessary operating budget to recruit big names in the transfer market.
He made a few mistakes with his signings, as all managers do, but because of the club’s parlous financial position, where a Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United could absorb a few dud buys by having the necessary extra funds to make a few shrewd ones, Benitez could not. He was, in effect, hog-tied. Compounding his woes was having to sell players, such as Xabi Alonso, he would have much preferred to keep.
That he could twice get the club to the final of the Champions League, winning one of them before the Hicks-Gillett combo came to Anfield, is a tribute to his managerial talents.
Anfield is falling apart, quite literally, and a replacement stadium is badly needed but there is no money to fund such a project when Hicks and Gillett stick to their guns on a sale price of upwards of a ridiculous £500 million to a staggering £800 million.
Swiftly, inexorably, Liverpool is being left behind by its rivals, at home and abroad.
This is not how it’s supposed to be for one of the best-supported clubs in the world and Juventus’s steady recovery only makes Liverpool’s sharp decline over the same period look even worse because they’ve shown it could easily have been avoided.
The Italians make the best food and coffee in the world. Maybe they can also teach us a few things about how to run football clubs.