At last there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel for Liverpool Football Club and their fans. American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett announced this week that the club is up for sale after a tumultuous three years at the helm. And while fans may be able to breathe a sigh of relief there is still the issue of actually finding a buyer willing to pay £500m for the club.
This is the third time the Americans have put the club up for sale but this time they are leaving for good. British Airways chairman Martin Broughton will oversee the sale of the club and act as chairman also.
On Friday Broughton informed fans that there is no need to panic about key players being sold off: “There’s no need for any sales. There will be no firesales”.
Apparently the asking price for the club is £500million, which in my view, is highly unrealistic when you consider the debt has risen to £237million, £100million of which is due to be repaid by July. However, they have managed to agree a six month extension to that refinancing deal with RBS and Wachovia.
The problem currently with Liverpool is that there are no interested parties, or at least none showing their hand. The only one to do that was the Rhone Group who offered £110m for 40% of the club only to be turned away by Hicks and Gillett.
Hicks and Gillett bought Liverpool for £219 million in 2007 from the Moore’s family and during their tenure as they have pointed out revenues have increased by 55 per cent, commercial income by 83 per cent and operating profit by 60 per cent.
“Owning Liverpool Football Club over these past three years has been a rewarding and exciting experience for us and our families,” claimed the co-owners.
“Having grown the club this far we have now decided together to look to sell the club to owners committed to take the club through its next level of growth and development”.
Were they only in this for the money? Of course they were. It is all well and good pointing to their success off the field in increasing revenues but on the field the club couldn’t be further away from winning the Premier League title despite finishing second last season.
Also, it is highly unlikely that the Reds will qualify for next seasons Champions League and will miss out on the incentives that go with it meaning there will be a major dent in finances which could prove to be a serious stumbling block for a potential investor.
Rafa Benitez has already said that the club is short of three top class players which would, by his reckoning, cost around £20million each – totalling £60million. Is there that amount in the bank for the summer ahead?
Personally, there is no chance Liverpool will be bringing in any marquee signings until there is money on board and a new investor at the helm. Therefore, another season could well pass before Hicks and Gillett actually depart.
Another big question is that of the new stadium at Stanley Park which is believed to cost in the region of £350million. If you couple that with the Americans valuation of the club at £500m – you are already looking at close to £1billion when you add in the proposed cost of new players and eradicating the current debt.
What the club needs right now is a total clearout both at boardroom level and in the dressing room. And then with that clean bill of health, a new owner, hopefully with lots of money, will be needed to bring the club to the next level as Hicks and Gillett have pointed out.
Finally there is the matter of the manager – Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard’s future has been talked about at length this season after Liverpool’s poor showing in certain games and his decisions in regards to start-eleven and substitutions.
His agent spoke this week saying that he will see out his contract till 2014, but, and it is a big but, this will hinge on the investment that he receives for players.
There is no real point in discussing Bentiez’s transfer policy as it has been done time and time again, suffice to say in the past six years £220m has been spent on players. So, it is a matter of opinion if he stays or goes.
Is it possible that with the right ownership he can take the club forward?
The end of the road is near for Hicks and Gillett and when they do sail off into the sunset Liverpool fans will be rejoicing, possibly even singing “Built by Shanks, broke by Yanks”.