How Liverpool brought Michael Edwards back and why he wants Richard Hughes as his sporting director

Fenway Sports Group (FSG) confirmed the appointment of Michael Edwards as their CEO of Football on Tuesday.

Edwards will not only play a leading role at Liverpool, but has wider responsibilities including acquiring and running a second club as they branch into a multi-club model.

So what prompted Edwards to return to Liverpool after leaving at the end of an 11-year stint back in 2022? What does this mean for their sporting director vacancy? Will stars on expiring contracts be more likely to stay under this new regime?

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Many of Liverpool’s title winners were signed under Edwards’ previous regime / PHIL NOBLE/GettyImages

Liverpool first hired Edwards as their chief analyst back in November 2011, joining from Tottenham Hotspur where he held the same role. His job title changed to head of methodology in 2013, switched to the technical director role two years later and then became sporting director in 2016.

Overseeing the club’s recruitment, Edwards was widely heralded as a transfer guru, masterminding the signings of Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane to name a few. This nucleus would end up winning several major trophies together, including the Champions League in 2019 and Premier League in 2020.

Edwards stepped down in 2022 to first take a break and then become the non-executive director of sports advisory business Ludonautics, set up alongside former Liverpool colleague Ian Graham.

After leaving his Liverpool post, Edwards received various offers to return to football at club level, including a CEO of Football job at Chelsea in 2022. He was actually blown away by that offer, but the timing was all wrong. Manchester United more recently also approached Edwards.

Jurgen KloppJurgen Klopp

Liverpool will enter a new era without Klopp / Michael Regan/GettyImages

Jurgen Klopp confirmed his decision to leave Liverpool to the board in November, but only made this public towards the end of January. The club also knew that short-term sporting director Jorg Schmadtke was standing down at the end of the January transfer window.

FSG recognised they were entering a new era, but wanted to bring about change with a semblance of continuity, and so this is where an approach to Edwards – who enjoyed strong relationships with key personnel such as Dave Fallows (head of recruitment and scouting) and Barry Hunter (chief scout) – came into play. FSG sources refer to re-hiring Edwards as going “back to the future”.

Liverpool made their first approach to Edwards to return as sporting director in early January, a few weeks prior to Klopp’s public confirmation of his exit. He declined, but it quickly became clear the Reds would throw the kitchen sink in order to bring him back somehow.

They did not panic – the club rarely ever do – and sought out face-to-face talks with Edwards. Graham, on behalf of Ludonautics, was attending a conference in Boston, Massachusetts last month, and Edwards decided to tag along, having agreed to meet with FSG chiefs in person.

Edwards again made it clear he would not contemplate a return unless his job was grander than the previous sporting director gig he’d had before. This could have been via an equity stake – although one was never offered – or with a more senior role in the FSG hierarchy.

There were ultimately three key factors which saw Edwards give the green light to FSG – he would return as CEO of Football, a title he craved, and drive recruitment, while he would also be walking back into an environment he’s familiar with and enjoys good relationships.

The challenge of adding a second club to FSG’s portfolio was then the clinching factor. Edwards further admitted in FSG’s statement confirming his return he’s energised by the opportunity to find a new club to invest in.

Soccer - UEFA Cup - Portsmouth vs. AC MilanSoccer - UEFA Cup - Portsmouth vs. AC Milan

Edwards was chief analyst at Portsmouth when he first met Hughes / ben radford/GettyImages

Former Bournemouth technical director Richard Hughes is expected to be confirmed as Liverpool’s new sporting director in the coming days, with a deal already agreed.

Liverpool were aware that Edwards would turn to Hughes as his top pick for the role and that his hiring as CEO of Football would come almost as part of a package deal. If Edwards didn’t agree to a return, then Hughes would have almost certainly gone elsewhere – but instead it worked out for all parties in the end and Liverpool have got a two-for-one hire allowing them to now rapidly focus on the search for their next manager.

Edwards and Hughes have been friends for the better part of two decades having initially crossed paths at Portsmouth when Hughes was still a player. They know each other, trust each other and Edwards believes the former Scotland international is the perfect fit for the role.

Another plus point for Hughes is he played in the Premier League and has experience of the top flight at director level, while he is also bilingual having grown up in Italy. By chance, Liverpool’s top managerial target Xabi Alonso shares the same agent as Andoni Iraola, who Hughes helped bring in as Bournemouth’s new manager last summer.

Virgil Van Dijk, Mohamed Salah - Winger - Born 1992Virgil Van Dijk, Mohamed Salah - Winger - Born 1992

Salah and Van Dijk’s futures remain unclear / Visionhaus/GettyImages

90min reported last month Liverpool wanted to finalise their sporting director situation before moving ahead with appointing a successor to Jurgen Klopp, and so these plans are set to kick into gear. Bayer Leverkusen boss Alonso remains the frontrunner.

Edwards and Hughes will also need to make decisions on the futures of several key players whose contracts are winding down – captain Van Dijk, vice-captain Trent Alexander-Arnold and star forward Salah’s deals are up in 2025.

Van Dijk has been coy on his future and it’s likely he’ll wait to see how Liverpool’s evolution plays out some more before deciding his next step, but he may not be done with the Reds just yet.

Salah, who like the Dutchman is now in his thirties, is nonetheless expected to be the subject of another huge bid from the Saudi Pro League this summer, with Al Hilal ready to make an offer in excess of £100m and not too far shy of the £150m total package Al Ittihad offered last summer.

Tying down Alexander-Arnold, whose peak years are still ahead of him, is a top priority. His case is also the most interesting given a new manager, such as the tactically flexible Alonso, could offer him a new role and position in the side, so there may be a new sporting pitch for him to listen to as well.


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