WEMBLEY, England: On his 500th day as Liverpool owner, American sports tycoon John Henry finally had cause to celebrate.
English football’s most decorated club, which Henry rescued from the brink of bankruptcy, ended six barren years without a trophy by beating Cardiff in the League Cup final Sunday at Wembley Stadium.
Not only is the triumph important for raising spirits at a club that has been a bystander to the domination of Manchester United and Chelsea in recent years, it finally casts Liverpool in a positive light following the racism scandal that engulfed Anfield, having only just recovered from the bitter court battle that saw Henry oust fellow Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. in Oct. 2010.
“We are just so happy for the supporters, they are so happy and we are so proud,” Henry said. “They have been through so much, so many things off the field that to win silverware for the first time in six years – and they are used to a certain kind of excellence – to see that start to emerge again ... is just great.
“After all these years of ... things off the field, we are making progress and finally starting to talk about what is going on on the field in a positive way.”
Liverpool’s first trophy since the 2006 FA Cup followed a 3-2 victory in a penalty shootout over second-tier club Cardiff after the teams were locked at 2-2 at the end of extra time.
For Henry, nothing has been as nerve-racking in sport as those spot kicks at the end of the 120 minutes, certainly not either of the two World Series victories – both four-game sweeps – he has experienced as the owner of baseball’s Boston Red Sox for 10 years and counting.
“It’s completely different [to the U.S.] because the World Series is the best of seven games and here it’s coming down to 30 minutes of overtime and these penalty kicks, which were extraordinary,” Henry said. “This is the first step for this club in moving in the direction that we hoped we would move.”
Henry’s Fenway Sports Group had go to through a trans-Atlantic court battle to force fellow owners Hicks and Gillett to relinquish control of the heavily indebted club in a 300-million pound (then $476-million) takeover.
At the time, the 18-time English champions had plunged from Premier League title contenders to relegation battlers.
The decline was halted by bringing Kenny Dalglish back as manager 13 months ago, 20 years after his trophy-laden spell in the dugout ended after a similarly successful Anfield playing career.
But the 60-year-old Scot’s judgment has since been questioned as the club’s progress stalled and he initially backed striker Luis Suarez, who received an eight-match ban for racially abusing an opponent in October.
“There was a lot of pressure on Kenny today and we are relieved for him,” chairman Tom Werner told a small group of reporters alongside Henry.
“I think the expectations were so high and it is a just wonderful day for him, and we gave him a big hug because he really deserves the credit.
“I think that now we can move on. We have a match next weekend against Stoke and our goal is still to make the Champions League,” he added.
The five-time European champions have not been in the lucrative Champions League since 2009 and are currently seventh in the Premier League, seven points behind Arsenal in the fourth and final qualification place.
But ending the six-year wait for a trophy will help the club attract the type of players who can put Liverpool back among the elite of English football.