By RONALD BLUM
AP Sports Writer
FILE – In this Jan. 15, 2020, file photo, Boston Red Sox baseball team owner John Henry, left, listens as chairman Tom Werner speaks during a news conference at Fenway Park in Boston. Liverpool won its first league title since 1990, clinching Thursday, June, 25, 2020. Because of the pandemic, Henry and Werner, who headed the group that bought the team in 2010, watched on television from the U.S.
They had waited 10 years for this, just the last of three decades of frustration for Liverpool supporters that included tragedy and heartbreak yet rarely silenced the passionate scouse voices singing in the Kop.
When the final whistle sounded at London’s Stamford Bridge, John Henry was in Brookline, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, where he’s been in lock down with wife Linda. Tom Werner was on Cape Cod.
They had restored Liverpool to the top, just like they had with the Boston Red Sox. Only because of the coronavirus pandemic, they had to watch from afar.
Didn’t matter that they couldn’t be there.
Didn’t matter that Liverpool’s players couldn’t celebrate on the field and watched from the patio of the Formby Hall Golf Resort & Spa as Manchester City fell 2-1 to Chelsea at London’s Stamford Bridge on Thursday night. Players sprayed beer and bubbly all the same when Liverpool clinched its 19th league title but first since 1990 — two years before the Premier League launched.
“There can be no disappointment in winning the Premier League!” Henry wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
Henry and Werner would have had to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the U.K., but they thought it was important to quarantine at home and knew they would not witness Liverpool’s title firsthand.
They partnered to head the group in 2002 that bought the Red Sox. Boston had not won a World Series title since 1918, was thought to be cursed since selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, and was hampered by tiny and antiquated Fenway Park.
They restored the ballpark with Larry Lucchino and Janet Marie Smith, lifting it back to its perch among baseball’s crown jewels and expanding capacity to generate more revenue for a higher payroll. They became the most successful Major League Baseball team of the 21st Century, winning a championship in 2004, followed by three more in 2007, ‘13 and ’18.
Then their company took over Liverpool in October 2010 and just like they had in Boston, they put aside plans for a new grounds and got to work rebuilding cramped Anfield.
More seats. More revenue. Higher payroll.
Seems so familiar.
“I think it’s the similarities that are important. Building the right team first and foremost with the discipline to stick to bold plans,” Henry said. “You never stop learning in football and we had a lot to learn. We made a lot of mistakes and I’m sure we will make more but there is a team operating at many levels with a focus.”
Liverpool won its sixth Champions League title last year, but the Premier League remained elusive.
Which title is more satisfying, baseball, English soccer or European soccer?
“People have asked about which World Series that we’ve won was the most meaningful,” Werner said in a phone interview with the AP just after Thursday’s match. “It’s like comparing one child to another. You love all your children. We were all in Madrid last year and winning the Champions League was special, but this is really magnificent because it’s the culmination of 30 years of trying to win the Premier League.”
There was so much hurt over the 11,016 days between league titles, sporting failures inflicted on a franchise still scarred from the the Heysel and Hillsborough disasters of the 1980s.
Pain remains from the slip by captain Steven Gerrard against Chelsea that cost the Reds the 2014 championship. There was a midseason fade in 2018-19 that turned a nine-point lead into a one-point finish behind City.
This season was a blowout in the league, with streaks that stretched to 18 wins in a row, 23 victories at home and 44 games unbeaten at Anfield before a 3-0 defeat to Watford on Feb. 29.
Then the coronavirus pandemic put Liverpool on hold for more than three months. Following last week’s resumption, the Reds clinched with seven games to spare — two more than the previous record Manchester United set in 2001.
This season’s Reds threatened to match Arsenal’s 2004 Invincibles. Mo Salah, Sadio Mané and Robert Firmino led the offense, Virgil van Dijk towered on the back line and Alisson dominated in goal. Jürgen Klopp, a bespectacled German with a penchant for hugs and exuberant profanities during televised interviews, made the right moves in the locker room, entertained the Koppites and established himself as among the world’s very best managers.
“The key was the ability of Jürgen to ask so much of everyone, every match over the last two years and their ability to respond,” Henry said. “The harder the road became, the more effort these young men expended.”
Fenway Sport Group’s management team headed by Henry as principal owner, Werner as chairman and Michael Gordon as president succeeded, along with Liverpool CEO Peter Moore, in a difficult market that lacks the supporter and corporate wealth of London and Manchester, and of Boston.
Liverpool won its 18th league title in 1990, two years before the Premier League launched and helped transform soccer into the global business it would become. Manchester United won 13 league championships in 21 seasons under Alex Ferguson to become England’s ideal.
Henry and Werner embraced the turnaround, if unable to physically hug each other and the players.
“When I look back on this season, when I’m in a retirement home in 10 years, it won’t matter. I’ll just be able to reflect on an achievement,” the 70-year-old Werner said. “When we first got involved with the club 10 years ago, we dreamt of this moment.”
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