Michael Edwards close to FSG role with Richard Hughes as Liverpool sporting director


Michael Edwards is close to agreeing a senior role with Fenway Sports Group, which would include the former Liverpool executive taking oversight of the club’s football operations.

Liverpool are in the midst of a huge transition following manager Jurgen Klopp’s decision to step aside this summer, with his closest staff also scheduled to leave and sporting director Jorg Schmadtke already having departed.

If Edwards accepts FSG’s offer, the sporting director position is expected to be filled by Richard Hughes, whose exit as Bournemouth technical director was confirmed on Wednesday.

FSG targeted Edwards to spearhead the restructure — floating the idea of him occupying a top job at Liverpool or inside the ownership group — but he initially turned down the opportunity.

However, the US group continued its pursuit and Edwards is now on course to join in a far broader capacity that encompasses Liverpool, rather than specifically returning to Anfield.

While a deal is not yet done, discussions are progressing and it is anticipated a definitive resolution will be reached early next week.


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The appointment of Hughes has always depended on FSG securing Edwards and, having served notice to the south coast team some time ago, the ex-Scotland international has held discussions with multiple suitors since the January transfer window closed.

Edwards is known to regard Hughes among the industry’s leading operators and his move to install Andoni Iraola as Bournemouth head coach last June underlined his credentials.

Although Hughes has long been touted as a possible candidate, it only became a concrete direction of travel once FSG made progress during talks with Edwards in the past week.

It is unclear what Edwards arriving would mean for his commitments to Ludonautics, a sports advisory firm launched alongside his former Liverpool colleague Dr Ian Graham.

The company is thriving, with Edwards heavily involved, but as a non-executive director he would not be prevented from entering into employment elsewhere.

Those privy to the matter say the Englishman has no intention of being a sporting director again and would only contemplate going back to an individual organisation if the scope was wider and more stimulating — enabling him to empower the sporting director and others on the ground.

That would form part of his remit in a new-look FSG set-up that is growing across different sectors, as shown by the appointment of Theo Epstein from the Boston Red Sox and promotions for Sam Kennedy (to chief executive) and Billy Hogan (to chief executive of its internal division).

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GO DEEPER

Michael Edwards — the visionary behind Liverpool’s remarkable rise


What did Edwards do at Liverpool last time?

It’s clear why Fenway Sports Group didn’t take no for an answer when Michael Edwards turned down their initial approach about a possible return to Liverpool earlier this year.

Senior executives John W Henry, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon view Edwards as absolutely integral to the success the club have enjoyed under their ownership and have been desperate to get him back on board to help shape the post-Jurgen Klopp era at Anfield.

Edwards earned their respect initially with his work as head of performance and analysis after joining Liverpool from Tottenham in 2011. Five years later he was promoted to the role of sporting director and recruited the team which won the Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League title in 2020.

It was Edwards who pushed hard for the signing of Mohamed Salah from Roma in 2017 and convinced Klopp that he would light up the Premier League. He also secured deals for the transformative duo of Alisson and Virgil van Dijk, as well as bringing in the likes of Sadio Mane, Andy Robertson, Fabinho and Ibrahima Konate.

He earned a reputation as a shrewd negotiator – holding out for a record fee of £142million when Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona in January 2018. He also secured hefty fees for fringe stars such as Mamadou Sakho (£26m, Crystal Palace), Dominic Solanke (£19m, Bournemouth), Danny Ward (£12.5m, Leicester City) and Danny Ings (£20m, Southampton).

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Edwards (right) held a key role at Liverpool (John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

With a data-led approach, Edwards made FSG’s self-sustaining business model work and established a close bond with FSG president Gordon.

The owners always admired his ability to take the emotion out of the decision making process and the fact he was never shy to question and challenge other senior figures, including Klopp.

They didn’t want to lose him in the summer of 2022 when Edwards decided to step down following the end of his contract.

With Edwards not interested in returning to his former job as sporting director, FSG have had to offer a more wide-ranging role with greater responsibilities.

There’s a lot of uncertainty at Liverpool with so much change on the horizon this summer. FSG view Edwards as the perfect candidate to put the right structure and personnel in place to guide the club through that transition.

James Pearce

Who is Richard Hughes?

Hughes, 44, spent a decade as Bournemouth’s technical director before his departure was announced earlier this week.

He was appointed to that role in 2014 because of the strength of his relationship with former manager, Eddie Howe, who he had known as a teenager after they entered the club’s first team together.

After they both transferred to Portsmouth within a few months of one another in 2002, they met Edwards a year later when he moved to Fratton Park as a performance analyst.

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Hughes played for Portsmouth between 2002 and 2011 (Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

Howe spent much of his two years at Portsmouth injured and this led to him considering where his future might lie after his career was over. Both he and Hughes became closer to Edwards. Though their paths would diverge over the years that followed, they remained connected because of the nature of their work.

As Liverpool’s sporting director, Edwards would later sell Jordon Ibe, Brad Smith and Solanke to Bournemouth, managed by Howe and with Hughes installed as technical director, for considerable sums. Harry Wilson also enjoyed a year on loan at the south coast club.

After Howe departed in 2020 following relegation from the Premier League, Hughes remained. He has since increasingly operated in the European market. Some of his more recent eye-catching recommendations include Dynamo Kiev’s Illia Zabarnyi and AZ Alkmaar’s Milos Kerkez, players who were interesting some of the continent’s leading clubs.

Simon Hughes

What does this mean for Liverpool’s manager search?

FSG has maintained that it wants Liverpool’s new sporting director to lead the search for the club’s next manager, although some progress has already been made.

Until now, the hunt has been headed by FSG president Gordon, who asked Liverpool’s data analysts to draw up a longlist of possible candidates.

The preferred profile is a young manager who has overachieved with the resources at his disposal and has a record of developing young talent.

As The Athletic reported last week, Xabi Alonso is the current frontrunner, with the former Liverpool midfielder having taken Bayer Leverkusen to within sight of the Bundesliga title this season. Bayern Munich’s interest in him is a complicating factor, however.

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Alonso is the current managerial frontrunner (Leon Kuegeler/Getty Images)

Other possible candidates to have scored well on data include Sporting Lisbon’s Ruben Amorim, 39, who has a €10million (£8.6m; $10.8m) buy-out clause, and Julian Nagelsmann, the current Germany manager.

Other managers — such as Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi, Newcastle United’s Eddie Howe and Lens’ Franck Haise — also score high on data but are considered less likely to make Liverpool’s final shortlist.

David Ornstein and James Pearce

What else could be changing at Liverpool this summer?

It is not just Klopp’s departure as manager which is creating uncertainty at Anfield.

In July, three key players — Salah, Van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold — will enter the final year of their contracts and no meaningful progress has been made on renegotiating terms.

While none are agitating for a transfer — despite interest from Saudi Arabia in Salah — a key part of Hughes’ role, should he join, will be to accelerate negotiations.

There will also be changes behind the scenes, with Klopp’s long-serving assistant Pep Ljinders, Peter Krawietz and Vitor Matos all leaving the club, although any new manager would ordinarily be expected to bring in his own coaching staff.

Edwards’ return also invites questions about the future of Gordon, who has previously acted as its lead on Liverpool matters.

FSG has been keen for more decisions relating to the club to come from Merseyside.

Gordon, who quietly became more influential from 2012 onwards, was a key supporter of Edwards in the early years of his first spell at Liverpool when his data-influenced approach received scrutiny.

Gordon has operated from Brookline in Boston throughout his involvement and acted as the owners’ point of contact for Klopp since his appointment in 2015.

Simon Hughes

(Top photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images / AFC Bournemouth)





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