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For most football clubs, the fight on the pitch is more important than what goes on behind the scenes in the boardroom. But for Liverpool FC, it is the fights in the boardroom that have become crucial for their survival.
So when it was understood that there were two “credible” bids, one from John W Henry, the multi-millionaire owner of Boston Red Sox Major League Baseball team and the other from business interests in Asia to buy the debt-ridden club off the current American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, everyone should have breathed a collective sigh of relief.
However, this set the stage for another low for a club that has always prided itself for keeping internal matters private. The boardroom war between the American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and the three other directors came into the full public view when an official statement from Liverpool said the board was preparing to approve the sale yesterday. However, Hicks and Gillett sought to block that decision by ousting the managing director, Christian Purslow, and commercial director, Ian Ayre, and appointing instead Hicks’s son and a close ally.
Hicks and Gillett both reiterated “commitment to finding a buyer” but said that they will not accept bids which in their view “dramatically undervalue” the club, which they say had nearly doubled its revenues since they took over.
What this whole mess most likely means is that while both the offers commit to clearing the £237m Liverpool owe Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia (which is due for repayment in nine days’ time), they were not prepared to give Hicks and Gillett much for their shares.
Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton thinks that the attempt by the club’s owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to block the sale of the club to John W Henry’s New England Sports Ventures group by changing the board, is a “flagrant abuse” of “written undertakings” and that he is the only person entitled to do such a thing.
In an interview on the Liverpool website the chairman said, “We don’t think it was valid to do it. Essentially when I took the role they gave a couple of written undertakings to Royal Bank of Scotland. Those written undertakings included that I was the only person entitled to change the board and that was written into the articles of the covenant, and also that they would take no action to frustrate any reasonable sale.”
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Broughton also believes that the proposed owners were committed to getting the winning mentality back into the team: “I think the demonstration is: let’s look at what they have done at Boston, what they said in Boston, what they have done in terms of investing in players – and I think you get a high degree of confidence of their willingness to do that.”
The iconic Fenway Park stadium and two championship wins for the Boston Red Sox under John W. Henry’s ownership does seem to suggest that he is the right man to lead Liverpool back to winning ways.
However, Liverpool fans cannot be blamed for being sceptical of any US bid after their bitter experience with Hicks and Gillett’s “leveraged buy-out”.
Article first published as Will John W. Henry be denied Liverpool FC? on Technorati.