Christian Purslow: Liverpool's enemy
A standard oleaginous football executive with degrees from Cambridge and Harvard and a background in private equity has become the villain for Liverpool fans; writes Ken Early.
Liverpool fans are proud of their banners. Sometimes the message is humorous, as at Galatasaray's Ali Sami Yen stadium: "Welcome to hell my arse. If you think this is hell you should try the Grafton on a Friday night." Sometimes enigmatic: "Wine for my men, we ride at dawn." Sometimes derivative: "What we achieve in life echoes in eternity." And sometimes ludicrous: "Alberto Aquilani: A hero will rise."
The recent protests against Tom Hicks and George Gillett have inspired a new wave of graphical creativity, and one example stands out from the rest, not just because it is carried about above the crowd on a 15 foot flag pole. It is unconventional in shape, being a tall, thin rectangle, and on it is painted a giant penis with an angry red tip and the letters "P-U-R-S-L-O-W" daubed on the shaft.
It is curious that the most striking visual protest against the Anfield hierarchy is aimed at an essentially second-rank figure. The more so because as the Hicks/Gillett regime approaches its terminal crisis, managing director Christian Purslow has emerged along with the chairman Martin Broughton and the commercial director Ian Ayre as the fans' apparent ally in the struggle against the American owners. Banding together, these three could outvote the two Americans on any proposed refinancing deal if they deemed it bad for the club. In those circumstances you might expect the fans to cultivate Purslow rather than subject him to coarse if hilarious ridicule. So why does he remain so unpopular?
Christian Purslow is a standard oleaginous football executive with degrees from Cambridge and Harvard and a background in private equity; well-groomed and smooth-talking, he never simply believes something, he "passionately believes" it. As such he was never likely to enjoy legendary status on the Kop, even before the rumour went around that he had jokingly referred to the Spirit of Shankly (S.O.S.) protestors as "Sons of Strikers". Yet other football executives have had little in common with their fans without finding themselves represented as a 15-foot penis.
Purslow speaks fluent Spanish but it is unlikely that he used his linguistic skills very often to shoot the breeze with Rafael Benitez. The former coach felt Purslow was pretending to support him in public while scheming against him in private. They became enemies and while Benitez disputes that his departure from Liverpool was, as Purslow claimed, "about as clear a case of mutual consent as I've ever been involved with", it is clear that they will be quite happy if they never meet again.
Even still, ending up in Rafa Benitez' black book of enemies is no disgrace; by the end of his time at Liverpool Rafa had taken a lot of names. More damaging was Benitez' accusation - made against nameless "directors" but obviously aimed at Purslow - that his bosses at Liverpool "knew nothing about football. You couldn't talk to them about football."
The sticking-plaster appointment of Hodgson confirmed that nobody had a clear vision of where Liverpool could be in two years. It's a sinking ship.
Football managers have always claimed their directors knew nothing about football, but in Liverpool's case the claim struck a nerve. Purslow describes himself as "a specialist in taking financially troubled companies forward." Hicks and Gillett specialise in turning previously solid companies into financially troubled ones. Ian Ayre knows marketing and media, and Martin Broughton is an accountant turned dealmaker with heavyweight business connections. So there is nobody on the board with any deep expertise in the world of football. We're not talking about expertise of the game-changing tactical variety, but rather long experience in running a big club with the contacts and knowhow that implies.
The presence of Kenny Dalglish in a vague advisory role was supposed to address that shortcoming. It soon became clear that nobody was listening to him when he put himself forward for the vacant manager's job and was told he wouldn't be considered. In the event it seems Liverpool's decision makers were listening mainly to the amnesiac media, because they ended up with the flavour of the month appointment of Hodgson, just then enjoying plaudits after decades of relative obscurity, even though his career record didn't compare to Dalglish's own.
Alan Sugar recently described Liverpool as one of Britain's great sporting institutions. In fact its institutional memory has been erased. The club has no clear idea of itself and has been behaving like a naive start-up. The smooth, empty Purslow represents the severance of the present from the past.
As for Hodgson, he represents the severance of the present from the future. Liverpool have always hired managers for the long-term. Even if they didn't ultimately last, the idea was always to emulate the Napoleonic reign of Shankly. Everybody knew Hodgson was for the short term. His record shows a man who likes to move on, whether through his own choice or his employer's, every year or two. Was he really about to begin the biggest project of his career at the age of 63?
The manager should convince people around him they are part of something bigger than themselves; this is one reason why David Moyes succeeds on a small budget at Everton. Liverpool's players needed someone who could sell them the illusion of a future beyond Hicks and Gillett. Instead the sticking-plaster appointment of Hodgson confirmed that nobody had a clear vision of where Liverpool could be in two years. It's a sinking ship and it's every man for himself. For now the only part of the club that seems to have a guaranteed future is that 15-foot penis.
Ken Early is chief football correspondent for Newstalk 106-108FM. He will write a regular column for JOE.ie throughout the Premier League season.