THE open letter from Spirit of Shankly to Liverpool’s owners this week largely contained the standard messages of concern from fans who always want to know more information than a club wants to give.
But they did ask a question that goes to the heart not just of Fenway Sports Group’s plans for the Anfield club, but one that is relevant to every professional sports business.
It asked: “Is it now the strategy of Liverpool FC to place greater importance upon generating revenues above winning trophies?”.
In other words, what is the point of a professional sports club?
Club owners will, on the whole, say that it is merely a question of timing, and that the central aim is to ensure that success and profitability are woven together in a mutually-sustaining relationship.
Put simply, a winning team generates more revenues which allows for more investment to strengthen and improve the team, which continues to win matches and trophies.
But that model is inherently flawed, both in Liverpool’s case, when investment doesn’t generate any noticeable uplift, or Everton, where the levels of investment available make it unlikely that the club can be successful, in the conventional sense of having an expectation of winning the competitions it enters.
So what is the strategy?
To risk it all in the hope of claiming the FA Cup or the Europa League?
To tread water in the hope that most of the rest of the Premier League also effectively give up on challenging the financial behemoths in Manchester and London?
The answer really comes down to your view on the purpose of professional sport.
The traditional view is that the club is an extension of the community in which it resides, as much made up of and representative of its population as the military brigades of centuries before.
I wonder if the Manchester United team of the mid-1990s will be the last Premier League winning team that can even attempt to make that claim.
Compare that with, for example, the starting line-ups for Leeds Rhinos against St Helens in Monday night’s Super League match, where nearly half of the 26 players on the pitch at kick-off grew up either in walking, or at least cycling, distance of the team they were playing for.
Nowadays football clubs are really franchises. There are only superficial links between the club, as a representation of a place, and the team that represents it.
Mostly they play in the same coloured kit and in the same location as their predecessors, but that’s where the links end.
If Roman Abramovich could move the entire Chelsea squad to a club based in, say, Moscow, would it really change?
Would it have lost anything indefinable, the essence of being Chelsea? I’d say not; that has already been lost.
The Merseyside clubs have a long history which they are both acutely aware of. But the choice for both is straightforward – chase the trophies at whatever cost or retain the values and character of their historic clubs, and accept the inevitable demise.