WHAT'S HAPPENING? The 41-year-old took over from Michael Edwards in the role in the summer, but has informed the Reds' hierarchy that he will be stepping down at the end of the current campaign. GOAL understands the decision has been met with surprise and disappointment within Liverpool, but Ward has made it clear that he intends to take a break from football and that there is no intention of taking a new role immediately following his departure. Liverpool have no doubts regarding his integrity and character, and therefore his ability to continue in the role between now and the end of the season.
THE BIGGER PICTURE: Ward joined Liverpool as their European scouting manager in 2012 having previously worked as South American scouting strategist for Manchester City. He was handed the newly-created role of loan pathways & football partnerships manager in 2015, and after significant success he was then promoted to the role of assistant sporting director in December 2020.
With Edwards confirming his intention to leave at the start of the 2021-22 campaign, it was announced that Ward would take over the role in what Liverpool said would be a seamless transition.
With Edwards preparing a 'soft handover', Ward spent much of last season as de facto sporting director. He was, along with chief scout Barry Hunter and head of recruitment Dave Fallows, chiefly responsible for the signing of Luis Diaz from Porto in January, and led negotiations over Mohamed Salah's new contract, which was signed in July. He also secured the signing of Darwin Nunez from Benfica, in what could prove to be a club-record deal, and oversaw the departure of Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich, once it became clear the Senegal star had no intention of renewing, and that Jurgen Klopp was open to his exit.
GOAL understands that Liverpool made significant efforts to persuade Ward to stay, but that changes in organisational structure at Anfield, as well as the looming spectre of a possible takeover of the club, have played a big role in his decision - in particular, the decision of Mike Gordon to take a back seat in terms of day-to-day operations in order to focus on a potential sale.
Billy Hogan, the CEO, has assumed greater day-to-day responsibility but previously Liverpool have worked in a world in which Gordon, Klopp and the sporting director, either Edwards or more recently Ward, have worked together as close-knit triumvirate. Indeed, they had great success doing so, but it appears that that is now changing, and it remains to be seen whether more changes occur at the club in the coming weeks and months, with GOAL understanding that Ian Graham, the highly-regarded director of research, could be next to leave.
AND WHAT'S MORE: Liverpool's owners, Fenway Sports Group, have said they are open to the prospect of new investment into the club, or even a complete sale, should the right offer arise. As yet there have been no concrete developments in that regard, but Gordon has been tasked with taking the lead, suggesting there is a desire to make progress. Indeed, GOAL understands there is a belief within the club that FSG's ownership model, which depends largely on generating revenue through player trading, is reaching the end of its shelf life after a period of remarkable success.
STORY IN THREE PHOTOS:GettyGetty
THE VERDICT: Big changes are happening at Liverpool, that much is clear. Ward was the man chosen to provide continuity following the exit of Michael Edwards, but his departure leaves a big void, and big questions as to which direction the club are heading in. FSG have transformed the club in terms of its status and value, but how long can their 'self-sustaining' model continue, and how long can the likes of Ward, Fallows, Hunter and Klopp be expected to turn water into wine? Ward's legacy at Anfield is assured - he transformed the club's loan policy, and his fingerprints are all over some of the most significant transfers (Alisson, Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara, Ibrahima Konate, Luis Diaz, Darwin Nunez), as well as key contract renewals (Salah, Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Diogo Jota, Harvey Elliott). Liverpool insist it will be 'business as usual' between now and his departure, and that no decision has been made yet regarding a possible replacement, but one thing is clear; times are changing at Anfield, and it will be interesting to see whether that's for better or worse.
WHAT NEXT FOR LIVERPOOL? The Reds are not in action until they face Manchester City in the Carabao Cup fourth round on December 22. Their non-World Cup players will head to Dubai for a training camp early next month.
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