Liverpool, Roma's shared history extends to the Boston men in charge
Boston to Kiev is not the most well-trodden path, but when Liverpool take on AS Roma in the Champions League semifinal this Tuesday, it will all be about completing that long journey from Massachusetts to the capital of Ukraine for the men in control of the two clubs.
Liverpool and Roma have their own shared history centred around the 1984 European Cup final in Rome's Stadio Olimpico, which the English club won following a penalty shootout, but the respective ownership groups have even closer ties, with both emerging from private investment companies in Boston to step into the often unforgiving world of football club ownership in Europe.
Fenway Sports Group, the owners of Liverpool and the Boston Red Sox, have learned on the job since completing its takeover at Anfield in October 2010, while Raptor Group, led by James Pallotta, a board member at the Boston Celtics, have also experienced bumps along the road since acquiring Roma in 2011.
In a world dominated by the old elite of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Bayern Munich, with the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City propelled into the "superclub" bracket by state-backed owners from the Persian Gulf, Liverpool and Roma have bucked the trend by reaching the Champions League semifinals with a shared approach rooted in analytics, smart scouting and astute recruitment. And one of them is going to be rewarded with a place in this season's Champions League final.
"Liverpool and Roma are great case studies of the impact of U.S. sports thinking on the Premier League and European football," says Mike Forde, CEO of the consulting and software company Sportsology, who advise over 30 ownership groups in five major sports in the United States.
"Boston is without doubt an incredible sports city in the U.S. with the success of the [New England] Patriots and the Red Sox and one of the common denominators is their teams' ability to out-think and outperform the opposition. Liverpool, in particular, have taken this to another level with their approach to scouting, analytics, screening and acquiring players. Their work around a multifaceted recruitment process, led by Michael Edwards, has been very impressive.
"A lot of credit for both teams success should go to Mike Gordon at Liverpool and Jim Pallotta at Roma. Both had the vision, as owners, to see beyond 'business as usual' when it came to building an infrastructure to minimise risk when acquiring players, which is the biggest driver in long-term success.
"Many teams in the Premier League combine scouting and analytics but the missing piece is usually a disconnected owner who, deep down, doesn't believe in this process and continues to make vanity signings. Mike and Jim have proved that if disciplined thinking is kept at the ownership level, then success will come.
"I'm sure their private equity and hedge fund background no doubt contributed to this thinking. And I think Liverpool, in particular with their model led by Gordon, Edwards, Dave Fallows [director of scouting and recruitment] and Barry Hunter [chief scout] are perfectly poised to continue to punch above their weight against the other high-spending teams in the Premier League and Europe."
Liverpool's approach differs to Roma's in the sense that the riches of the Premier League enable them to compete at a higher level in the transfer market than their Italian rivals, although the recruitment of the renowned Monchi from Sevilla as director of football is a pointer towards Roma's efforts to hone their transfer strategy.
Roma, who can pay big salaries rather than hefty transfer fees, are prepared to take calculated gambles on older players such as Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov, as well as attempt to rehabilitate those at the younger end of the scale who have struggled to succeed elsewhere.
In many respects, Mohamed Salah typifies the approach of both clubs. Roma rescued the Egypt international from his difficult spell at Chelsea in 2015, initially on loan before paying just €15 million (£13.14m) for the player, and then saw him flourish in Rome before selling for a huge profit in a £36.9m deal to Liverpool last summer.
While United were busy spending £90m on Romelu Lukaku and Chelsea were lavishing £58m on Alvaro Morata, Liverpool took a chance on Salah despite his failure at Chelsea and have since been rewarded with 41 goals in all competitions.
Liverpool had done extensive work on Salah during his time in Basel ahead of their attempts to sign him in January 2014. As well as his performances they also watched him train and assessed his character, conscious of the risks of bringing in a player during the season.
"Credit to Roma too, because they have lost Salah, Emerson Palmieri and Leandro Paredes since last summer and still been able to rebuild and reach the Champions League semifinals."
To recognise the contribution of Paul Goldrick, Anfield's Milan-based scout who covers Italy, Switzerland and the Balkans, in the Salah deal, Liverpool ensured that he was at the PFA Awards in London on Sunday night to witness Salah being presented with his PFA Player of the Year award.
Liverpool's three-man strike-force of Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino cost a combined £100m but would now arguably be worth treble that figure after their feats this season. All three players were identified by Liverpool's recruitment process, but doubts were cast over all three by those outside the club -- namely supporters and pundits -- who wanted higher-profile signings. Yet all three now form part of one of Europe's most feared strike forces.
Roma, meanwhile, look to buy low and sell high, but Liverpool's approach is similar, merely with bigger numbers at both ends of the scale.
The early days of that approach at Anfield, which saw unsuccessful investments in the likes of Mario Balotelli and Christian Benteke, have enabled the club to fine-tune their approach but even the failures of those days have proved their value since leaving Liverpool.
The majority of the £32.5m Benteke fee was recouped when selling the forward to Crystal Palace and a £7m profit was made on Mamadou Sakho despite him being dropped to the reserves by Jurgen Klopp. In contrast, City spent £42m on Eliaquim Mangala and have had to subsidise his loans out of the club. Iago Aspas has gone to score regularly for Celta Vigo and earn selection for Spain, while Luis Alberto has become a key figure for Lazio having been sold to the Rome-based club with a substantial sell-on clause inserted into his contract.
Philippe Coutinho, signed from Inter Milan for £8.5m in 2013 after Goldrick was made aware of the Italian club's need to generate around £10m from a player sale, was sold to Barcelona in January for a deal potentially worth as much as £142m. It's a transfer that, like Salah's from Roma to Liverpool, perfectly outlined the respective strategies of both clubs.
But can they both succeed and prosper on a consistent basis in a market, both on a domestic level and internationally, dominated by more financially powerful clubs?
"Both clubs are run by smart people," said Forde. "Pallotta and his right-hand man, Alex Zecca, are implementing a great scouting model at Roma and they are building a great infrastructure.
"The Red Sox have won three World Series titles under FSG's ownership, and they are now seeing the fruits of their work at Liverpool. Gordon has been the architect of the changes at Liverpool, working closely with Edwards and Fallows, and they are showing that you do not have to rely on huge transfer spending year on year to make giant strides.
"Roma are the same, and this semifinal offers a great example to other clubs, including the likes of City and PSG, that good scouting, well-researched analytics and, crucially, an absence of ego in all key positions can be a winning combination."
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_