It was the dawning of a new era at Liverpool.
But for many at Anfield, it was just the same old story on the opening day.
Hope sprang eternal as a new season got underway with a team full of fresh faces led by a club legend. All assembled by an ambitious new ownership.
Sir Kenny Dalglish had returned to the dugout and lifted Liverpool from the doldrums just months after New England Sports Ventures, now Fenway Sports Group, won a high court battle to wrestle the club from the grasp of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
The clouds had finally lifted from Anfield and on a sunny day in August, Liverpool fans got a glimpse of the bright future. Or so they thought.
Indeed, nine years ago today Dalglish sent out a Liverpool XI featuring plenty of new signings.
£50m strikeforce Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez were starting alongside each other for just the sixth time since arriving in a stunning January transfer window eight months prior.
Alongside them, summer recruits Jose Enrique, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson were all making their Liverpool bows.
Stalwarts Lucas Leiva, Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger and Pepe Reina were also included and an 18-year-old Jon Flanagan was starting at right-back.
New goalkeeper Alexander Doni was on the bench, Sebastian Coates and Craig Bellamy would follow, as would the youngster Jordon Ibe.
The remnants of Roy Hodgson’s reign had long since been banished.
With a newly appointed Director of Football in the shape of Damien Comolli, FSG had invested heavily in their first nine months as owners of Liverpool in an attempt to transform the club.
They wanted to return the Reds to glory, or at least a place in the top four, and quickly.
Upwards of £100m had been spent on Dalglish’s side and the new American owners wanted a closer focus on data in the transfer market.
But what was delivered, in truth, was a confused transfer approach at odds with the clear vision FSG had hoped to deliver to the club.
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New to football, John Henry and company were still learning about the game and had sought advice from a number of sources.
It meant that a lot of different personalities had been involved in Liverpool’s approach to transfers and it showed.
Suarez had been carefully scouted and signed, but his partner in attack, Carroll, was a desperate response to a departing Fernando Torres.
Henderson, signed by Comolli and his team, was seen as one for the future but Dalglish had driven the arrival of Adam, who had impressed for Rangers and then Blackpool.
Enrique arrived with Comolli praising the Spaniard as “one of the best left-backs in the Premier League” while the acquisitions of Bellamy and Doni were seen as value for money experience added to the squad.
Downing was Liverpool’s big summer deal, joining from Aston Villa for £20m. The England winger was seen as the man to get the best out of Carroll, with Comolli referring to Liverpool’s use of “data and statistics” in their pursuit of the then-Aston Villa man.
When Liverpool kicked off against Sunderland, supporters hoped that the new, aggressive Liverpool would blow the Black Cats away and signal that they were ready to challenge at the top end of the league again.
What they got was an example of how it would be for the Reds in the season to come and indeed, in the new few years under FSG.
And the Liverpool owners were present at Anfield to see it first hand.
Liverpool started well but Suarez blazed a penalty over the bar in the seventh minute. No matter, the Uruguayan would make amends with a header to put the Reds ahead within four minutes of that miss.
The Reds continued to threaten and Downing hit the bar with an outstanding effort before Liverpool ran out of steam after the hour mark.
Sunderland would equalise in the second half and frustration followed for the Reds, who by the end of the afternoon were left hanging on.
The match was the start of a theme that would continue for Dalglish’s side in the season to come. Liverpool would draw 10 times in the Premier League and a collapse in the second half of the season would see the Reds finish eighth and ultimately, cost Dalglish his job.
Of those signed, Suarez and Henderson would both become Liverpool greats in their own right and do enough to ensure FSG’s initial spending spree didn’t fail completely, but Adam, Downing, Coates, Enrique and Carroll would all be moved on at great expense.
FSG learned a valuable lesson and, in the nine years it has taken to guide Liverpool back to the summit of English and European football, have streamlined their recruitment.
Michael Edwards, who could well have been Comolli’s greatest signing having been brought across from Tottenham, and his department ensure that no such expensive mistakes are made.
Liverpool no longer bow to the will of any individual and signings are only made once meticulous scouting and background checks are done on each and every player.
The visit of the Black Cats may have been something of a false dawn for Liverpool, but FSG learned from their mistakes to ensure such bad luck in the transfer market wouldn’t continue.
It ended up being a costly experience for Henry and co – but one that has proven to be invaluable as the Reds have become the slickest operators in the transfer market.
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