NewsMichael Edwards' open letter to Liverpool supporters
Michael Edwards has written an open letter to Liverpool supporters following the news he will step down as sporting director at the end of this season.
Ten years, that’s a pretty long time in anyone’s working life. In football terms, it is an era in itself, particularly at a club like Liverpool where the expectations and standards are never anything other than as high as the supporters deserve. To be part of this club during this period has been a privilege due to the people I have been fortunate enough to work with and the success we have enjoyed.
But all good things must come to an end and, in my case, I recently completed my final summer window as Liverpool sporting director. Even writing those words seems a bit surreal, but at the end of this season I will pack up my laptop and leave my office at the AXA Training Centre for the last time. Before I do so, though, I wanted to take this opportunity to explain the reasons why I’m moving on because I’m a great believer that supporters deserve clarity at times like this. The last thing I want is unfounded speculation, particularly as I know the Liverpool Football Club that I am leaving behind couldn’t be in better hands.
As with most people my age, I would often watch Liverpool on the TV when I was growing up, with them being one of the most dominant sides in English football in my earlier years. I would spend hour upon hour in my back garden trying to replicate my idols from the television screen but it goes without saying that I never came close to any of them, though it wasn’t for the want of trying. Even as a kid, I knew the way Liverpool players represented this club set a standard for everyone to live up to. You literally had to be the best, or be capable of contributing to being the best as part of a collective, so not in a million years did I imagine back then that I would actually end up at Anfield and certainly not in the role I have operated in for the past five years.
I had always planned to cap my time at the club to a maximum of 10 years. I’ve loved working here, but I am a big believer in change. I think it’s good for the individual and, in a work setting, good for the employer, too. Over my time here we have changed so many things (hopefully for the better) but someone new brings a different perspective, new ideas and can hopefully build on (or change) the things that have been put in place beforehand. That’s how I believe businesses/football clubs stay ahead; you need to evolve and at the heart of this kind of process is always people. That evolution has always been central to Liverpool’s history and I hope that this is one thing that doesn’t change.
As my wife would testify, I’m not great at the here and now. I’ve always looked ahead and for the past couple of years I’ve known that the time for me to leave this role was approaching and I think it is entirely fitting that the person to take over from me is Julian Ward. As was the case with myself, I doubt you will hear much from him, but on this occasion I will speak on his behalf in the knowledge what I have to say will be greeted with widespread agreement by everyone who has come across him both inside and outside the club.
Julian has been building up the skill set for this role for many years and there are countless elements of his development that could be highlighted, none more so than the outstanding work he did in creating our loan department six years ago. It was during this period that he not only laid the groundwork for a long-term process that continues to provide significant benefit to players and club, he also accelerated his learning on many of the aspects you deal with as a sporting director. Last year, he took on the role of assistant sporting director and over the past 12 months he has been introduced to other facets of the role that are vital to its success. Again, Julian’s elevation is wholly in keeping with what I believe to be a key factor of the Liverpool Way, with promotion from within ensuring expertise, experience and institutional knowledge are cherished in the way that they should be. Over the remainder of this season, I will continue to support him as we complete the leadership transition, working closely with Mike Gordon – the man who never sleeps.
When I informed Mike of my decision to leave, I said I hoped the next partnership he has is as good as the one I have shared with him. Along with Jürgen and Brendan before him, we have had a lot of decisions to make over the years, some of which have worked better than others but all of which have been taken in the best interests of Liverpool FC. Mike shuns the limelight, most of you wouldn’t recognise him if he walked down the street (which I have always found funny) but he is a seriously smart man, hard-working, strategic and able to connect with such a wide range of people.
It was Mike who promoted me and believed in me. He gave me the opportunity and, having done so, he then gave me a lot of autonomy and responsibility, something that I will always appreciate. In keeping with his low profile, I know a lot of people don’t realise the extent of his involvement in the daily workings of the club, not just in my department but right across the board. He is so passionate about LFC and this is clear in his commitment to the cause and his willingness to do everything in his power to make the club as competitive as it possibly can be.
By their own admission, FSG may have got a few things wrong but it is sometimes easy to overlook the ton of things that they have got right and as someone who has worked closely with them for a long time I know just how passionate they are about winning and about the club. The transformation of Liverpool from the club I joined a decade ago is such that there aren’t too many similarities beyond the name and for this Mike, in particular, should get a lot of the credit.
If I ever meet anyone, they inevitably ask me about signings or players we have sold and I know transfers are one of the exciting parts of the role that I have performed. It can be a lot of fun buying and selling and it’s something I have enjoyed, particularly when players we have brought in have made a positive difference. Like everything, though, there is a team of people that have worked alongside me whose hard work and combined expertise should never be overlooked or understated.
Dave Fallows and Barry Hunter joined Liverpool the year after me and they have been integral in building a world-class scouting department. For those who don’t know Barry – and there can’t be many – he was a hard-hitting Northern Irish centre-back who has a contacts book that reads like a who’s who of football. He is always on the go and could put away more food than the average male elephant. Dave is simply Google, I’ve never known anyone with a memory like his or an ability to think outside of the box when innovative solutions are required.
For years I have been labelled ‘stats man’, which those who know me best find pretty funny. Of course, we do have a stats man. His name is Ian Graham and like Dave and Barry he joined not long after me from a company called Decision Technology. Knowing he was a Liverpool fan was enough for John Henry and myself to persuade him to actually join a club rather than act as consultant to one. Ian and his team (Daf, Tim and Will) are geniuses in my eyes and without doubt the best in their field in world football. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t sign players off “stats” but the information provided from their research does play a crucial role in our decision-making. Whether it is video, written reports, data, background checks or good old-fashioned scouting from the stand, it all goes into the big decision-making melting pot. And when you make a decision, all this information allows you to do is mitigate the risk you are taking.
Outside of these guys, Woody [David Woodfine] has been there to glue things together. A former officer from the Royal Navy who I have known for many years, he is the most organised man you could ever meet (you should see him pack a suitcase) as well as being a problem solver who gets things done. Together we have been a team and alongside the hard work and dedication of Jonathan Bamber, Preston Jones and Danny Stanway we have been the group of people who have helped the club “buy and sell” many of the players over recent years.
Outside of this is the most important part of all – the manager and the players. Without these guys nothing happens. Harry Redknapp once told me, “It’s all about the players, Ed” and he’s right. The dedication these guys put in and the pressure they are under to perform at a club like Liverpool is immense. I have huge respect for each and every one of them and the success that they have enjoyed in recent years is richly deserved in every single case. They are fortunate to play for a club like Liverpool and Liverpool are fortunate to have them.
One of the other questions I always get asked is ‘Who was/is your favourite player?’ That’s a really difficult question to answer so I won’t even try. All I will say is my dog is called Bobby. When we sign a player, Jürgen will always say 50 per cent is on him and 50 per cent is on the player himself to succeed. I don’t think anyone needs me to talk about Jürgen and what he has done for the club, but I think the timing of his arrival and the implementation of his philosophy and his character as a leader will be remembered at Liverpool forever.
Being manager of Liverpool is probably harder than playing (the shirt hangs heavy, so they say), but he has delivered so much joy to the fans and reasserted so many of the club’s historical values that he will go down in history as one of the club’s managerial greats. He is a demanding man – he wants to win, whether it’s padel tennis or a Champions League final – and he has led the team incredibly well over my time at LFC. Julian and Jürgen have a very good relationship and moving forward I am confident that they will bring the club more success.
There are so many more special people that I have worked with at LFC that I could mention and that’s what makes the club such a great place to work. But with the new training ground complete, many of the core players committed to the club through long-term contracts and some of the hard work translated into trophies, as I said at the start: it’s time for me to move on.
While I’ll be around throughout the remainder of the season, I wanted to use this opportunity to place on record my sincere thanks and appreciation to everyone I have worked with and express my gratitude to FSG for giving me the opportunity.