Dubai: What do the likes of Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, Mohammad Salah, Andy Robertson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker and Fabinho have in common?
For sure, all of them are part of the Liverpool success story.
But another common element that binds these stars is a certain Michael Edwards, a little-known analyst formerly with Harry Redknapp’s team at Tottenham, who went on to become Liverpool’s first-ever sporting director in November 2016.
The story goes like this: It was the summer of 2011 and Liverpool’s director of football Damien Comolli rang a contact at Prozone — one of the leading data providers with the Premier League — with a simple request: ‘Give me a name.” Comolli wanted to improve and expand the club’s analytics department, and he needed someone who would obtain and interpret data and at the same time communicate that data clearly to coaches and players.
Comolli called Edwards, spoke to him, met him and liked him.
Nine years later, Edwards is one of the most influential figures at Liverpool. He is the hidden genius who, through determination, contacts and skill, has helped build one of the world’s greatest football teams. His rise has been swift.
Having arrived under Comolli as head of performance and analysis, he easily outlasted the man who had headhunted him to become director of technical performance, then technical director before being appointed Liverpool’s first-ever sporting director when he was just 36 years old.
His office at Melwood is adjacent to Jurgen Klopp’s, and the pair have forged a strong relationship since Klopp’s arrival on Merseyside in October 2015. And along with Mike Gordon, the president of Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group, they form the real power-base at the club.
It is common knowledge that Klopp converses with both on a daily basis, and it is these close relationships, and the trust which exists within them, that has allowed Liverpool to flourish off the field in recent years.
Edwards’ relationship with Klopp’s predecessor Brendan Rodgers was not the best. It is said that upon his appointment in 2012, Rodgers had pushed back against the idea of working under a director of football as he wanted total control over transfers.
At best, Rodgers and Edwards seemed to be on different pages as far as their recruitment policy went. The coach wanted Wilfried Bony, Ashley Williams and Ryan Bertrand at various stages, while Edwards and his staff felt Liverpool could have worked with players such as Emre Can, Lazar Markovic and Roberto Firmino.
Rodgers left Liverpool in 2015, labelling Edwards as a “laptop guru” sitting in his “air-conditioned office”.
And then came Klopp, whose instant liking of the bespectacled youngster saw Liverpool turn into a side of true winners on the really big stage with the lengthy list of Edwards’ signings proving to be the best for the German coach and the followers at Anfield.