Oct 7, 2010

There Are More Questions Than Answers

By Rohan Kallicharan

There are, as so often in recent times, more questions than answers when it comes to the subject of Liverpool Football Club this morning. The question that I have heard most often is whether the club can be sold whilst George Gillett and Tom Hicks are pursuing a legal challenge to the position of the independent board members, Martin Broughton, Christian Purslow and Ian Ayres.

In what is transpiring to be another very confusing period for Liverpool Supporters, we consider the key questions that might be asked:-

Can the club be sold whilst this decision is subject to legal challenge from Gillett and Hicks?
Without being a legal expert, my understanding is that any legal challenge could take several months to be prepared and heard, which might effectively place the club in limbo during that period. Martin Broughton has stated that he expects the courts to make a declaratory judgement within the week. It is also believed that Gillett and Hicks gave a written undertaking stating that only Broughton could make changes to the Board of the club.

However, The Royal Bank of Scotland could render that irrelevant on Friday 15 October by foreclosing on monies owed to them and enforcing the sale of the club to the acceptable bid that has been tabled. The transaction will also need ratifying by the Premier League.

Who are New England Sports Ventures?
NESV were established in 2001, are led by John W. Henry, and are best known as the owners of the Boston Red Sox. They are believed to be worth close to £9m, whilst Henry's personal fortune is valued in the region of £500m. In addition to Major League Baseball, they are involved successfully in NASCAR and also own 80% of the New England Sports Network, a regional Cable Television provider.

What kind of owners will they be?
They have a very strong track record, having purchased the Red Sox for £430m in 2002. Having not won the World Series since 1918, the Red Sox returned to prominence winning the Championship just two years later in 2004. Liverpool supporters should respond well to an owner who has constantly emphasised the historical traditions of the Boston Red Sox whilst making significant investment into the club and presiding over 2 championship seasons. Henry is known for being passionate, but very reserved, and unlikely to interfere in technical sporting areas.

Upon arrival in Boston, he famously said:- "Win a World Series? That's not my choice, it's my role, it's my obligation to New England, that's what I've been charged with. When you bid on the Red Sox, the challenge you're undertaking is nothing short of winning the World Series." He must understand that this is his undertaking to Liverpool Football Club.

Should Liverpool supporters be concerned at the thought of another American owner?
In my opinion, the nationality is immaterial. However, my concern will always be as to whether Liverpool is the priority to any owner who has such passion and commitment to their American franchises. I would also note that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have always been regarded as a magnificently run organisation, but have still taken Manchester United into considerable debt.

Will they invest in new players and a new stadium?
They have invested highly in attracting star names to Fenway Park, to include David Ortiz, Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka. In terms of the stadium, they spent over 200m to refurbish Fenway Park, which remains the smallest in MLB but one which is notorious for being a difficult place for opposing teams. In this regard, although the Red Sox remained at Fenway, Henry has shown that he will invest appropriately, and in the case of Anfield this would be the stadium.

Will Liverpool Football Club still be in debt?
Yes, but all refinanced debt of Hicks and Gillett will be serviced as part of the purchase. Whilst £37m of debt will remain, the Liverpool Echo describes this as a 'working overdraft' and will also see Liverpool with one of the lowest debts in the Premier League.

It is clear that John W. Henry and NESV have the pedigree to become very successful and highly regarded owners of Liverpool Football Club. However, they have much to prove to the supporters of the club, who are understandably sceptical and are passionate to protect the future of their club. They need to engage and communicate with supporters from an early stage, and must prove not only that they have the club's best interests at heart, but also that they are committed to it as a real priority.

Christian Purslow, Ian Ayres and Martin Broughton have stood up, some may say belatedly, and acted in what they feel to be the best interests of the club. Purslow and Ayres are believed to be supporters of the club, whilst Broughton business record is close to perfect. All that love Liverpool Football Club must hope and pray that they are vindicated in this decision.

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