Thanks to this morning's English court ruling, it looks like the sale of Liverpool's soccer club to a new set of Americans will go through. In the days since it was announced that the owners of the Boston Red Sox planned to buy the team, the media on both continents have pretty much been falling all over themselves proclaiming it a match made in heaven. What John Henry and his minions did for Boston, we have been told repeatedly, they will do for Liverpool. To be sure, there are surface similarities. Both teams are brand names in their sports, with illustrious histories. Neither is in the media capital of its country, but each boasts perhaps its nation's most zealous fans. At the time of purchase, both franchises were also looking for a savior.
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But not so fast. The truth is that American baseball is not European soccer and Boston is not Liverpool. As successful as New England Ventures has been running a sports franchise in the New World, it's likely to fall flat on its face in the old one. To understand why, one needs to appreciate one key difference between American and European sports: In Europe, the players have far more power. For starters, they get to decide virtually where they want to play continent-wide, since there's nothing like a college or free agent draft. Contracts aren't worth the paper they're written on, since once a player decides he wants to move elsewhere, he's now almost always allowed to go, even if there are years left on his written agreement. Finally, players are only exchanged for money, not other players. No one gets "sent" to Blackburn, unless he's ready and willing.
This means that in the new Europe, the strong teams get stronger, since once a player gets good, he usually wants to play for one of the powers in the sport. The opinion of its fans notwithstanding, Liverpool is not really one of those powers anymore. In England alone, at best it now sits fourth in the pecking order behind Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United.