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Interview with Tom Werner

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the count

SCM's least favourite muppet- There was a poll
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Tom Werner has vowed that Fenway Sports Group are fully committed to helping to deliver a golden era for Liverpool as he admitted: “We're hungry for silverware.”

The Reds' chairman has arrived in Madrid with principal owner John W Henry and FSG president Mike Gordon ahead of Saturday's Champions League final against Tottenham.

During a wide-ranging exclusive interview with the ECHO, Werner reflected on the club's thrilling resurgence under Jurgen Klopp and how top-class recruitment – both on and off the pitch - has helped propel Liverpool back among Europe's elite.

He also addressed the ongoing investigations into the conduct of rivals Manchester City regarding alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play rules, the further expansion of Anfield, fans' anger at UEFA over their ticket allocation for Madrid and FSG's future plans for the club.

Saturday's showdown in the Spanish capital is the final chapter in a remarkable season which has surpassed all of the owners' expectations

Twelve months after the heartache of Kiev, Liverpool once again find themselves 90 minutes away from lifting the biggest prize in European club football for a sixth time.

“We saw the players after the final last year and you could see how much that defeat hurt,” Werner told the ECHO.

“I thought we played as well as Real Madrid until the unfortunate injury to Mohamed Salah. When you leave Kiev after a night like that, you wonder when will you return to another final?

“It's such a challenge to get that far. We certainly never expected that we would come back to the final again in the very next season.

“I don't think LFC have done that since the mid-1980s. To be back so quickly is wonderful but we haven't accomplished the goal we set out to achieve yet and that's to win.

You don't get a lot of roses for coming in second. Our focus is on bringing that trophy back to Liverpool this year.”

The transformation since FSG completed their £300million takeover of Liverpool back in 2010 has been vast. From the brink of administration to being the model that other top clubs seek to emulate.

Securing the services of Klopp in October 2015 was undoubtedly the owners' finest achievement to date. That was truly the trigger. His passion, drive, knowledge and tactical acumen has inspired everyone around him.

“It's been a period of constant progress and it's been a real pleasure to watch the continual improvement of the team,” Werner continued.

“It's been a wonderful time for the club. I remember when we locked in our position as one of the top four teams qualifying for the Champions League for next season, some people almost took it for granted because our goal really all year was to actually win the league.

“We are extremely proud of what the whole team at LFC have accomplished. When I say 'we', I'm talking about John, Mike and I.

Our philosophy is rooted in the belief that when there is an atmosphere where people are empowered to work together as a team, great things can happen.

“Obviously, it starts with Jurgen and his outstanding leadership. That's critical to everything that we've achieved this year.

“Jurgen also is surrounded by a number of extremely talented people in the football organisation such as Michael Edwards (sporting director), Barry Hunter (chief scout), Dave Fallows (head of recruitment) and Pep Lijnders (assistant manager) and many others.

“And of course it's very important that they're supported off the pitch by many other dedicated people - the likes of Peter Moore (chief executive), Billy Hogan (managing director) and Susan Black (director of communications).

“Everybody is doing an extraordinary job working together and I am very proud of what the organisation has achieved, not simply on the pitch, but off the pitch too.”

Klopp's current deal runs until the summer of 2022. Surely, FSG will be waving a lucrative contract extension under his nose this summer?

We don't really want to discuss his situation publicly, especially so close to the final,” Werner said.

“But I think you know that we think the world of him. We have already extended his contract once.

“All I can say is that it's obviously important that he stays for as long as he likes. We believe that he's committed to Liverpool.”

What about FSG? The rumour mill regularly goes into overdrive about the possibility of them cashing in their chips considering how the value of the club has rocketed.

“Every time those rumours come up we bat them down,” Werner said firmly.

“I hope people now know that we are focused on continuing the progress of this club.

“We have no intention of selling. We have reached a position where I think the club is in the best shape it's been for a very long time.

“We have always said that our desire is to win silverware and we're hungry to touch that trophy in Madrid.”

Werner was at Anfield on the final day of the Premier League season when the Reds beat Wolves but fell agonisingly short in their pursuit of title glory.

Ninety-seven points, the third highest total ever accumulated in England's top-flight, wasn't enough as Manchester City were crowned champions by a solitary point. The scenes after the final whistle resonated with Werner.

“There is such unity between the fans and this team and that's special to see,” he said.

The fans wanted to acknowledge the extraordinary season that we had all experienced, all the great play and all the beautiful moments along the way. The response was one of pride and defiance. That speaks for the knowledge and the loyalty of our fans.

“If I'd said to you at the beginning of the season 'We're only going to lose one match this whole year', you would have thought I was crazy!

“Even though we didn't win the title, we still had this huge match to look forward to on June 1.

“We could only do what we could do. We were in a very competitive title race. By the way I want to compliment Manchester City because they were just a tick better than we were. They deserved to win.

But was it a level playing field? City are currently under investigation by UEFA, FIFA, the FA and the Premier League regarding their conduct off the field.

The champions stand accused of breaking Financial Fair Play rules and if found guilty could be banned from playing in the Champions League.

“One of the reasons why we were pleased to become involved with Liverpool was that we believed in the importance of Financial Fair Play rules,” Werner said.

“I don't know very much about what's going on with the investigations but all I can say is that we are strong advocates of the rules.

“We expect all the clubs in the league and all the clubs in Europe to comply. If they don't comply then there should be punishments.”

Liverpool have certainly proved adept at living within their means. The latest accounts for the year up to the end of May 2018 showed that annual revenues had rocketed to £455million.

With the riches that come with being involved in the Champions League and maximising commercial opportunities, the Reds have been able to compete at the top end of the transfer market.

The £75million signing of Virgil van Dijk in January 2018 was followed by a further £170million influx of talent last summer with the arrival of Naby Keita, Fabinho, Alisson Becker and Xherdan Shaqiri.

The money from the £142million sale of Philippe Coutinho was reinvested wisely.

Shrewd recruitment has been key to Liverpool's sustained rise. The Reds made Van Dijk the most expensive defender on the planet but the PFA Players' Player of the Year has proved to be worth every penny.

“It's a great compliment to the whole organisation,” Werner said.

“These players were identified by Michael Edwards, Barry Hunter and Dave Fallows and their team.

“I can't say enough good things about Virgil van Dijk. His fellow professionals voted him as the best player in the league.

“You can never be 100% sure when you sign a player whether he's going to live up to your expectations. But he has really anchored the squad.

“One important thing that I know our recruitment team look at when considering potential signings is the character and heart of these players. Virgil is just an outstanding human being and a leader.

“That doesn't take away from the pride we have in Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane sharing the Golden Boot. They have exceeded expectations again. Mo had a wonderful year after his extraordinary first year with us.

“You could go right through the squad because it's been such a team effort. The contributions of players like Andy Robertson, James Milner, Jordan Henderson.... the extraordinary play of Joel Matip.

“It's been a joy to watch Jurgen's brand of attacking football. It's been a pleasure as a fan to enjoy what's been an historic season.”

The road to Madrid was far from straightforward. The three away defeats in the group stage didn't prove costly thanks to the power of Anfield.

Bayern Munich and Porto were swept aside in the knockout stages before an unforgettable semi-final tie with Barcelona. Liverpool looked doomed after a 3-0 defeat in the Nou Camp but produced the mother of all comebacks on home turf.

Werner, Henry and Gordon met up in Boston to watch that momentous second leg unfold together.

“We achieved that against quite extraordinary odds,” Werner said.

To not have Salah or Firmino in the squad that night made the challenge even greater.

“But Jurgen made the players believe it was possible. He brought out the best in those who started. You had Divock Origi and Gini Wijnaldum scoring two goals each.

“One of the things that makes Jurgen so great is that he's an individual of such quality that he turns top players into outstanding players.

“When we scored the third goal you start to think 'oh my God, is this really possible?'

“We obviously had June 1 circled in our calendar. Then you start to think we might actually be on a plane to Madrid.

The fourth goal came from a piece of genius from young Trent Alexander-Arnold taking that corner quickly, it really was inspired.

“I don't know if you heard John, Mike and I screaming after that goal! We were in Boston watching it together.”

It will be three years in September since the new Main Stand was unveiled. With every home game sold out, a capacity of just over 54,000 simply isn't big enough to satisfy demand.

What about redeveloping the Anfield Road End and lifting the capacity up around the 60,000-mark.

“We are continuing to study the feasibility of it,” Werner revealed.

“We have outline planning permission to proceed if we do move forward and that outline permission is good until September.

“We're continuing to examine potential options and we will probably look at it again in the weeks after the final.”

Tickets have also been a hot topic in the build up to Saturday's final. Both finalists were only given 17,000 tickets by UEFA in a stadium that holds 64,000.

With so many loyal fans left crestfallen, Liverpool have made their feelings known to the governing body.

“It would be good for us if they could examine that going forward so that more supporters are able to go,” Werner said.

“Ultimately, it comes down to UEFA. We're just guests invited to their match. We're looking forward to the experience of Madrid and sharing it with the 17,000 fans who have the opportunity to be inside the stadium.”

Tottenham stand in Liverpool's path. Unlike in Kiev, this time around Klopp's men will start as favourites having already beaten Mauricio Pochettino's men twice this season.

“They are an outstanding team with an outstanding coach,” Werner said. “They have an advantage that Ajax wouldn't have had if they had got through as Tottenham have played us a couple of times already this year.

“I think it's going to be a very close game. They know our squad well and we know their squad too.

I don't take too much heart from the fact that we're slight favourites as you know football, sometimes you can be the better team and not make the most of your scoring chances. What makes sport so exciting is that it's unpredictable.

“We have a great team and we're really excited about the final. We hope the experience of Kiev will help.

“All we can do is trust in Jurgen and in our extraordinary squad. We deserve to be here. We got 97 points in the Premier League this season and we beat some wonderful teams to get to this final, including Bayern Munich and Barcelona.”

Since winning the League Cup in 2012, Liverpool have lost four major finals. They have also twice narrowly missed out on the Premier League crown

After all those near misses, Saturday night is about taking the next step as Jordan Henderson looks to become the fifth Reds skipper to lift the European Cup.

"Winning the Champions League would mean everything to all of us at FSG and I know it would mean everything to our millions of supporters around the world," Werner added.

"Jordan is a worthy captain. He exemplifies the heart and the talent of Liverpool.

"When you lift that trophy, you know it's one of the special moments in the history of the club. It would mean everything if that happens."
For a minute I thought we’d signed Timo Werner...
Didn't they sell off some of their other sporting holdings shortly after they bought the club? Obv.they are in it for the money, but they know as well as anyone that the best way of maximising that side of things is to win lots.
I think this is the key quote from Werner and now true:

“As far as I'm concerned, there's no reason why any elite player wouldn't want to be playing for Liverpool,” Werner told the ECHO.

Those who decide to leave will only do so because they cannot handle the intensity of Klopp's game or they have some irrational 5-year-old dream of playing for another club.

The question now is which world class (or soon to be) players have the heart and character to deserve to wear the shirt. Recruitment in this regard has been phenomenal lately.
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