Numbers man Michael Edwards was officially named Liverpool’s new sporting director at the beginning of November, with the 37-year-old handed his fourth promotion since arriving at the club in 2011. Adopting a new position in the Reds’ hierarchy, Edwards has been tasked as the man to make big decisions on Merseyside—with manager Jurgen Klopp outlining Edwards’ responsibilities alongside him at the club as primarily “behind the scenes.”
“All over the world football clubs work like this—short ways, quick decisions, knowledge, everything you need to make the right decision in the right moment,” he explained. “From now on, that’s with sporting director Michael Edwards involved.” Klopp, as he continued to detail, will now be able to focus solely on footballing matters, with Edwards’ duties including identifying targets, conducting talks with prospective signings and their agents, and securing the personnel additions that the German requires. It is a system that Klopp is accustomed to working within, after seven years in tandem with Michael Zorc at Borussia Dortmund, and should give him further freedom to inspire.
It is a bold move by Liverpool owner Fenway Sports Group, with John W. Henry and Tom Werner finally building the setup they envisioned on taking over the club back in 2010—a hungry, innovative manager, working under a sporting director completely in line with their ideals. Brendan Rodgers dismissed this notion on his appointment back in 2012, with FSG lining up Louis van Gaal and the late Johann Cruyff as targets for the role—the Ulsterman demanded full control of all footballing matters and, to an extent, this was an admirable standpoint, underlining Rodgers’ confidence in his own abilities.
However, what came instead was a collegiate approach that arguably jarred with Rodgers’ approach even further, setting up a perceived rivalry between manager and transfer committee—Edwards was among their number, and has now endeared himself to the famously frugal Americans and secured a hugely important role as figurehead.
While it’s debatable as to whether the principles of Moneyball—the statistics-heavy analytical approach to recruitment that so enamoured Henry back in 2002, and inspired the Boston Red Sox to World Series triumph two years later—has a place in football, Edwards’ similar model has helped Liverpool to acquire a number of their finest talents in recent years. Roberto Firmino, Emre Can, Divock Origi, Sadio Mane, Loris Karius and Joel Matip are all signings that Edwards endorsed, and while Firmino and Mane arrived for a combined £59 million, the £83.45 million paid to sign all six certainly represents value given their relative importance to Klopp’s Liverpool; crucially, these are all players the German appreciates, with Firmino previously destined to join the likes of Luis Alberto, Javier Manquillo, Lazar Markovic and Nuri Sahin in the pantheon of committee signings Rodgers consistently overlooked or, perhaps more criminally, misused.
Finding value and quality in an increasingly competitive transfer market has elevated Edwards in the eyes of Henry and Werner, and the former Head of Performance Analysis at Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur is now able to continue his fine work in the illustrious role of sporting director—though, as Klopp has been quick to stress, the manager will retain “final say” on all transfers.
However, while the appointment of a dedicated transfer figurehead will no doubt lead supporters to speculate as to the Reds’ next big signing—and Klopp is likely to continue his pursuit of both Mahmoud Dahoud and Christian Pulisic in the coming transfer windows—Edwards’ priority in his new role comes with some of the stars that helped make his name. Can (2018), Origi, Alberto Moreno, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren (2019) all see their current contracts expire in the coming years, while the jewel in Liverpool’s crown, Philippe Coutinho, is tied to the club until 2020 but on alarmingly paltry terms compared to some of his team-mates.
Ensuring Liverpool are able to retain these core players’ services is paramount to their success under Klopp, and therefore while recruitment is an important issue to focus on, keeping those already at the club content and in no danger of running their contracts out and leaving for below their value is key. Work on many of these is already underway, with Liverpool beginning preliminary discussions with Can’s agent in June, and extensions for Lallana, Lovren, Origi and Moreno reported to be on the agenda back in September—and with his new role now clarified, concluding these deals should be Edwards’ primary objective for the short term.
Liverpool have proved themselves hugely resourceful of late, with Klopp looking to promote from within whenever possible and, with Edwards’ upward trajectory, the same with FSG—and looking after their own should remain on the agenda as the Reds continue an exciting new era with their own Billy Beane at the helm.