What happened to Liverpool’s ‘dressing room spy’ who signed for £1.5million
The last week of November 1998 contained a small but very important milestone in the history of Liverpool Football Club.
In the final minute of a 2-0 win over Blackburn Rovers at Anfield, a local lad called Steven Gerrard came on as a replacement for Vegard Heggem and made the first of 710 appearances for the club in the process.
But that wasn’t the only action involving Liverpool that week. Gerard Houllier had taken sole control of the team earlier this month, after the failure of the experimental co-manager partnership with Roy Evans.
The Frenchman was quick to bring one of his compatriots to Merseyside.
The largely forgotten Jean-Michel Ferri, who turns 53 today, was the player in question, and he was signed for £1.5m by Istanbulspor. The inevitable titles of “Ferri Across the Mersey” wrote themselves.
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His time in Turkey had not been a success – the club president had told the manager not to select Ferri, who was there on a pay-per-view deal – but he certainly had pedigree.
Ferri made over 300 appearances for Nantes, including in 33 of their 38 league appearances when he steered them to the Ligue One title in 1994/95, and he also represented his country on six occasions.
But he was out of form when he arrived at Anfield and then an injury to his achilles hampered him even more.
Ferri only made two substitute appearances for the club, totaling 50 minutes on the pitch, before being sold to Sochaux the following summer. After touring 23 times in 1999/00 for them, his career is coming to an end.
It’s still unclear why Liverpool signed him. Rumors have long swirled that he was brought in just to be Houllier’s mole in the dressing room.
These seem to come from Robbie Fowler’s autobiography, in which he says, “Everyone thought he was just a spy, and they joked that he must have had a tape recorder in his bag, which he brought back to Houllier every evening. .”
So what about him now? He is not an easy man to discover.
His English Wikipedia page consists of three sentences in total, illustrating how he almost entirely disappeared from the radar. A football site dedicated to the post-career life of footballers (Where are they now?) does not contain any information and invites people to update them on its current status if they can.
Ferri apparently joined Twitter in 2016 and only shared two tweets. The first announced that he was creating his profile, the second a retweet from Pascal Dupraz, who was then in charge of Caen.
He has since “liked” the tweets – indicating the account remains active.
To find out more about his post-professional football career, you have to dig a little deeper.
Page three of the Google search results might as well be the dark web, but only it was possible to shed some light on Ferri’s more recent life.
In 2015, he gave an interview to France Bleu Loire Océan, a radio station for the general public. He then lives in Lyon and works as a wine and champagne merchant. But he couldn’t completely quit football, as he explained.
“When I retired, I wanted to cut with the world of football, then I started to miss it,” he says. Ferri then chose to train clubs that practice amateur football in the Lyon region: Feyzin, AS Minguettes Vénissieux and FC Corbas.
He then found success with the last of the trio. In 2016/17, Corbas finished top of their Promotion Excellence regional division, earning a place in the Excellence league. Their season included a 14-game unbeaten streak, 12 of which were won.
It’s no wonder it didn’t make the headlines in the UK as it’s the tenth tier of football in France. Still, Ferri was understandably happy with his side’s progress, as he told the actufoot website at the time.
“To rise in Excellence was the wish of the club but also mine. We’re aiming for that, so it’s satisfying to have achieved the goal.
Another Actufoot entry regarding Ferri dates from the following season, as his team reached the fourth preliminary round of the Coupe de France. Unfortunately for them, they faced a Chambéry team four divisions higher, and were duly dispatched 3-0.
Those minor regional league successes seem to satisfy Ferri’s footballing desires these days.
A recent interview with French media said he remains ‘the coach of FC Corbas’ – and he was asked about his career choices after leaving Nantes.
Ferri said: “You tell yourself that it’s time to see something else, that if you don’t you will regret it all your life. In the end, I realized, along with others, that weed wasn’t always greener elsewhere.”
His time at Anfield may not have been fruitful, but Ferri will always hold a minor footnote in Liverpool history as the first signing of an important manager.
*A version of this article was first published in April 2020.