The appointment of a sporting director shows the Reds are back to doing things the ‘Liverpool way’
In the recent past it seemed that every major decision at Liverpool caused an earthquake.
The absence of stability meant change was often rapid, sometimes sudden and occasionally unnecessary. Today when they announced that Michael Edwards had ascended to the position of sporting director, a new role at the club and one of great significance, there was no shock value. This is a change that seems totally natural and it caused not even a tremor.
There has been much to commend Liverpool for since Jurgen Klopp was appointed manager a year ago. Most notably, the quality of the football they have played and the results they have earned have improved steadily to the point that they are now widely considered to be title contenders.
But what has gone largely overlooked is just how stable they have become as a club. The elevation of Edwards, one which has the blessing of Klopp, is wholly in keeping with the consistency of approach and sense of collective endeavour which underpins their revival.
Promotion from within, once someone had proved themselves able, was always the Liverpool way. When the club was at its most effective in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, individuals would rise through the ranks to take senior positions if they were good enough rather than looking to outsiders to come in and make changes. Edwards has a great deal to do if he is to live up to the standards of those who emerged that way in the past but his appointment is, at the very least, wholly in keeping with that tradition.
Brought to Liverpool by Damien Comolli, the then director of football, five years ago this month, Edwards's influence at the club has grown significantly having arrived initially as head of performance and analysis. In June 2013, he was promoted to the position of director of technical performance, a role he performed for two years before being made technical director in August 2015.
It has to be said that his influence has not always been as appreciated outside of Anfield as it has been inside.
Criticism of his methods has been widespread, at times justifiably but at others it has been personal and unfair, but his employers, particularly Mike Gordon, the president of Fenway Sports Group (FSG), continued to hold him in high regard despite the doubts that surrounded him.
A key factor in Edwards's latest promotion is that Gordon credits him with having played a leading role in the progress that Liverpool have made under Klopp having laid some of the groundwork before his arrival.
Having done everything in their power to distance themselves from the transfer committee tag which caused them no end of problems, Liverpool are not about to start assigning past signings to different individuals but it is an open secret that moves for the likes of Roberto Firmino, Divock Origi, Emre Can and Sadio Mane were all driven, to a lesser or greater extent, by Edwards.
As recently as twelve months ago, the quality of the first three in that quartet was open to question but now, under Klopp's management, the complexion is very different.
"John [W Henry], Tom [Werner] and I are delighted Michael has accepted this new role. He is an extremely talented football executive who has demonstrated his exceptional value to the club. Both Jürgen and I know LFC will be stronger as a result of his appointment," Gordon said today.
“When Jürgen was named manager, he was clear that the high quality of our playing squad was an important factor in his decision process; Michael has been integral to assembling the squad and we are confident he is ready to make this next step in his career.”
The strength of the rapport that Edwards has built up with Klopp is illustrated by how keen the former Borussia Dortmund manager was to have him occupy the sporting director role that he had been used to working under in Germany. No other candidates were interviewed and none were considered.
In Klopp's vision of Melwood being Liverpool's football headquarters he wanted someone whom he could trust and rely upon to work alongside and the Sheffield University graduate was his first and only choice. The pair now have offices within a few footsteps of one another at the club's training ground.
"This decision is hugely positive for us and it will make us better and stronger in managing the process of building and retaining playing talent at all age groups. Development is so important and it makes sense to have a position, within the football structure specifically, that focuses on where we can improve," Klopp said.
“It’s no secret I like the concept of a sporting director and having worked under this model previously I have found it to be nothing but positive and forward thinking.
“Michael is absolutely the right person for this. He has the knowledge, expertise and personality to flourish in the role and I was delighted when he told me he would be accepting the position.
“Importantly, he also has a fantastic team of people around him, who have all played a significant role in putting together the talent we currently have in the first team, development squad and at even younger age levels.”
With Ian Ayre, the chief executive, set to depart at the end of this season, Edwards will become the most senior football figure at Liverpool aside from Klopp. In preparation for his responsibilities being expanded, Edwards has worked alongside Ayre on transfer and contract negotiations for the last 18 months, playing a leading role in concluding deals to sign Mane, Joel Matip and Loris Karius and overseeing the sales of Christian Benteke, Jordon Ibe and Joe Allen.
Now Edwards is tasked with being the main man and with overseeing the rest of a restructuring programme that was signalled by his own promotion, and although Klopp will continue to have the final say on all transfers he believes a model which sees power shared within a group rather than focused entirely on the manager is in the best long term interests of the club.
“I’ve been proud to be part of the football operations structure here at Liverpool and it’s a great honour to be asked to lead it going forward, in this new role of sporting director," Edwards said.
"We have a brilliant team of people who all make a huge contribution to the process of player transfers and retention, together with recruitment for the senior team, development squad and our academy.
“Jürgen’s belief and confidence in what we have done is also welcomed and was a big factor in me making the decision to accept this position. It’s critical that we are always focused on development and improvement across all areas of the football operation. It’s an exciting challenge to be tasked with the responsibility of reviewing our practices and then implementing positive changes as and when they are needed. I know I’ll be supported by a brilliant group of people while doing this.”
Liverpool believe Edwards is ready for the tasks he faces and the incessant demands of the football industry mean he will be tested immediately.
The January transfer window opens in less than two months and having been thwarted in his pursuit of Christian Pulisic at the end of the last one, the strong likelihood is that Klopp would still like to add another wide attacker to his ranks. Then there is the matter of Philippe Coutinho's future with Barcelona and Paris St Germain both known to be monitoring a player who has arguably been the Premier League's best performer this season.
Issues like these are now Edwards' responsibility but he will deal with them in the knowledge that he has the full support of Klopp and the Liverpool hierarchy.
The other thing in Edwards' favour is timing. There is no better moment to be promoted and for your work to be highlighted than when the team is flying and Edwards' appointment coincides with Liverpool looking as strong as they have done for some time.
Making changes from a position of strength was another old Liverpool motif, one that served them well time and time again, and should it work as effectively this time the faith shown in Edwards by Gordon and Klopp will be rewarded.