John W. Henry has some swagger in his step right now and it's not just the eternal optimism that accompanies baseball's spring training where the air is fresh and anything seems possible.
No, it is Henry's "other" sporting investment that might be his greatest source of current satisfaction as his financial plunge on English Premier League club Liverpool continues to reap rewards.
For so long a sleeping giant, Liverpool has started to wake up under Henry's watch, so much so that it has a genuine chance at winning its first English championship since 1990 and appears certain to return to the lucrative UEFA Champions League next season.
All of that means more revenue and an increase in the value of Henry's holding, but the 64-year-old has the mentality of a sportsman and knows that income streams and balance sheets are not the barometers that the club's passionate fan base is most interested in.
What Liverpool's loyal followers want just as much as silverware is to feel that once again, after too long looking up at others, the legendary club is firmly established among English soccer's ruling elite again.
This Sunday provides the chance to do just that. Liverpool visits Old Trafford to take on Manchester United in a battle of heavyweights whose fortunes have flip-flopped. Struggling desperately after the retirement of legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson, United presently finds itself where Liverpool have spent so many seasons in recent years – cast adrift of the leaders.
This is only the second time since the advent of the Premier League in 1992 that Liverpool will go into a matchup against United occupying a higher place in the table. Liverpool sits in second place behind Chelsea, while United is down in sixth and 18 points back from the top spot.
Much of the reason behind Liverpool's revival is attributed to the toughness and advanced coaching of manager Brendan Rodgers and the drive and excellence of controversial Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez. That much is beyond dispute, but perhaps the club has taken a thing or two from the mindset of Henry, never a man to take a punch without coming back with a couple of his own.
Henry showed his feisty side in the baseball world this week, responding to the Miami Marlins' indignant stance on the Red Sox putting out a weakened team in spring training by sniping that the Florida club should apologize for the lineups they have trotted out during the regular season.
Liverpool fans like that kind of bravado and have seen it firsthand from Henry, whose Fenway Sports Group acquired the club in 2010. The most notable example came last summer when Henry dug in his heels and refused to let Suarez leave, even when Arsenal appeared to have activated a release clause in his contract with a $65 million transfer offer.
As far as English fans are concerned, this weekend's showdown is all about whether Liverpool can sustain a title challenge and if United can both stymie that effort and get itself into top-four contention. Yet it is easy to forget that it is also a clash between two American investors, with the publicity-shy Glazer family ruling over United. While United remains an enormous global brand, shareholders will start getting seriously twitchy if things do not quickly turn around on the field.
According to the New York Times, one major hedge fund manager has already taken a multimillion dollar "short position" on United's shares, effectively betting that they will dip in value. United coach David Moyes' stock has certainly fallen since he took over from Ferguson and although it is accepted that replacing an icon is never easy, the Manchester club is not enjoying this difficult transition.
Which is why there is so much up for grabs on Sunday. Liverpool, coming off four straight Premier League victories, wants to send a signal of intent that its rediscovered status among the big boys of English soccer is no aberration. United wants to prove its frustrating plummet is exactly that, a blip that will soon be rectified.
Just three points are at stake at Old Trafford but such is the level of interest in England you could be forgiven for thinking it was a whole lot more. With title hopes, Moyes' job security, stock prices and even pointers to the future on the line, maybe there is.
- Sports & Recreation
- John W. Henry
- Premier League