When George Gillett and Tom Hicks emerged as the likely owners of Liverpool FC they received a surprisingly warm welcome from supporters. Desperation to re-visit past championship glories perhaps made Koppites more susceptible to the Americans’ honeyed words. Hicks and Gillett were quick to describe themselves as merely “custodians” of a football institution and their apparent humility and new found fandom stilled the sceptical voices who suggested that the pair had no understanding of the game, were not as cash rich as the alternative bidders from Dubai and that they would finance their takeover by saddling the club with a great deal of debt.
Already it appears that these sceptics were the more astute judges of the duo’s bid. Perhaps the most surprising factor in the whole affair is that people are so surprised that the deal has gone so bad so quickly. At a very early stage it became clear that the money to buy Liverpool was not readily available and that the takeover depended on the pair borrowing a great deal of money from the Royal Bank of Scotland. Initial assurances that the debt would be taken on by the pair themselves, as opposed to the football club, appear now to be disingenuous. Whilst the £350m loan with which the owners plan to refinance their investment and the building of a new stadium will rest partially with a holding company, approximately half the debt will accrue to Liverpool. That presupposes that a loan will actually be forthcoming.
With Hicks insisting that he will not sell to the Dubai Investment Company, who retain their interest after missing out last summer, and with rumours of disagreements between the two men themselves, there is an air of crisis at Liverpool. Meanwhile acrimony remains between the owners and manager Rafa Benitez after talks were held about the possibility of Jurgen Klinsmann replacing him in the summer. The January transfer window is elapsing without much needed signings arriving to address deficiencies on the pitch.
The highlight of the Americans’ tenure undoubtedly has been the arrival of Fernando Torres. This transfer was to herald the beginnings of Liverpool being able to truly compete in the transfer market in parity with Chelsea and Manchester United. However that purchase has proved to be the exception rather than the rule. Indeed Hicks was audible in his disinclination to avoid spending “like a drunken sailor”. Liverpool fans were left wondering, if the new owners were not taking over the club to spend precisely in that fashion, why exactly were they there? Perhaps to bring their expertise to the construction of a new stadium. With design and financial issues still pending as regards this supposed signature project, it appears even their ability to oversee that necessary development is in some doubt.
The Dubai Investment Company are still interested in buying the club and most supporters would gratefully welcome a buyout at this stage. Moving the club’s ownership from Texas to Dubai is hardly ideal and cannot be seen as a panacea, but certainly it would put things on a sounder financial footing than seems to be the case presently.