Liverpool FC

Liverpool have three clear options to replace Julian Ward

Liverpool FC

A little over six years on from Liverpool’s appointment of the first-ever sporting director, Jurgen Klopp is facing up to the prospect of searching for a third in less than 12 months.

Michael Edwards’s fortunes as the club’s first in the saddle has become the stuff of modern legend at Anfield given his wildly successful stint where he recruited many of the players who turned Klopp’s squad from top-four hopefuls into one who have won every top-level trophy available to them since June 2019.

The low-key Edwards operated behind the scenes to aplomb during his time in the role, developing a near mythical reputation in the process due to how the performances of the players he brought to the club contrasted with his penchant for shunning the spotlight at all times.

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“This decision is hugely positive for us and it will make us better and stronger in managing the process of building and retaining playing talent at all age groups,” Klopp said upon Edwards’s official promotion in November 2016.

“Development is so important and it makes sense to have a position, within the football structure specifically, that focuses on where we can improve. It’s no secret I like the concept of a sporting director and having worked under this model previously I have found it to be nothing but positive and forward-thinking.

“Michael is absolutely the right person for this. He has the knowledge, expertise and personality to flourish in the role and I was delighted when he told me he would be accepting the position. Importantly, he also has a fantastic team of people around him, who have all played a significant role in putting together the talent we currently have in the first team, development squad and at even younger age levels.”

It was an inspired decision that allowed the leadership structure to succeed on the football operations side. And as Edwards thrived, the impressive Julian Ward continued to work his way up the ladder from loan pathways manager to the Reds’ first-ever assistant sporting director in December 2020.

That announcement was the start of the soft launch of Ward’s eventual rise to the top job itself. Edwards would later reveal his decision to walk away after over a decade at Anfield last year, before formally slipping off into the summer sunset in trademark understated fashion.

“I’ve always looked ahead and for the past couple of years I’ve known that the time for me to leave this role was approaching and I think it is entirely fitting that the person to take over from me is Julian Ward,” Edwards said in his open letter on the club’s official website last year.

“As was the case with myself, I doubt you will hear much from him, but on this occasion, I will speak on his behalf in the knowledge that what I have to say will be greeted with widespread agreement by everyone who has come across him both inside and outside the club.”

On his successor, Edwards added in his open address: “Julian has been building up the skill set for this role for many years and there are countless elements of his development that could be highlighted, none more so than the outstanding work he did in creating our loan department six years ago.

“It was during this period that he not only laid the groundwork for a long-term process that continues to provide significant benefit to players and club, but he also accelerated his learning on many of the aspects you deal with as a sporting director. Last year, he took on the role of assistant sporting director and over the past 12 months he has been introduced to other facets of the role that are vital to its success.

“Again, Julian’s elevation is wholly in keeping with what I believe to be a key factor of the Liverpool Way, with promotion from within ensuring expertise, experience and institutional knowledge are cherished in the way that they should be.”

Ward’s only transfer window in the role of sporting director to date was an excellent one. He ended months of intense and worrying speculation by flying out to Mykonos to convince Mohamed Salah to put pen to paper on the most lucrative Liverpool contract in history.

That, more than any arrival, was Ward’s most important piece of work. He also acted swiftly by utilising his extensive contacts in Portugal when it came to secure deals for both Luis Diaz in January and Darwin Nunez in June, while fees for Takumi Minamino (£15m) and Neco Williams (£17m) were very much in-keeping with Edwards’ trend of extracting great value for players whose futures were not at Anfield. Sadio Mane’s exit was handled with class to ensure he left through the front door to Bayern Munich too.

Liverpool insist it will be business as usual for the short-term future, meaning Ward will surely be tasked with boosting the squad in the New Year when the January transfer window opens. At a time when Klopp’s charges are facing an uphill battle for a place in the top four, what happens in the winter trading period could yet be the current sporting director’s legacy at Anfield.

After all, a failure to qualify for the Champions League simply does not bear thinking about at a time when FSG are hoping to make Liverpool look as attractive as possible for potential investors or outright buyers.

Klopp’s say in the matter will be imperative with what happens next over the sporting director model at Anfield. It’s one he prefers to work within having done so to impressive results at Liverpool but also at Borussia Dortmund alongside Michael Zorc, where he made his name as one of the elite coaches on the continent.

It seems unlikely that the Reds boss will opt to rip up the working practices that has served Liverpool so well since Edwards became sporting director as a result, but there is a belief that the German will have a greater say on transfer targets going forward.

Klopp has always insisted that it is enough that he has the final say on matters but the deal for Nunez, for example, was a clear example of the …

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