Profit and the liver­pool takeover

Exit of old guard may bring re­lief, but bat­tle for hearts and minds has just be­gun at An­field.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - by Henry Win­ter

Ten iconic names ex­ist in euro­pean foot­ball: Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Mi­lan, In­ter Mi­lan, Ju­ven­tus, Bay­ern Mu­nich, Ajax, Ben­fica, Manch­ester United and Liver­pool. All boast euro­pean Cup glory, sub­stan­tial fan-bases and shirts that are in­stantly recog­nis­able brands. Only two are up for grabs for com­mer­cial preda­tors, United and Liver­pool, so Un­cle Sam’s en­dur­ing in­ter­est in the Premier League is no sur­prise. John W. Henry can smell profit. It’s all about the brand for these Amer­i­can car­pet­bag­gers, all about the po­ten­tial prof­itabil­ity of the badge. The global game’s an­swer to the new York Yan­kees or Bos­ton Red Sox will al­ways have an al­lure to sports own­ers like Henry.

On the Con­ti­nent, sen­si­ble safe­guards on own­er­ship keeps ra­pa­cious for­eign wolves at bay, also en­sur­ing sup­port­ers wield more in­flu­ence. The Premier League al­lows any cap­i­tal­ist to join the party and Liver­pool are def­i­nitely worth pur­su­ing. De­spite the ris­ing debt and slid­ing league po­si­tion, Liver­pool are un­der­val­ued at £300mil. Henry is get­ting a bar­gain, par­tic­u­larly with eight of europe’s 10 icons out of bounds.

We all know what Henry is at An­field for. It’s not to sate some child­hood pas­sion for Liver­pool Foot­ball Club. He didn’t grow up in Illi­nois with pic­tures of Ian St John or Roger Hunt on his wall. He knows lit­tle of Mersey­side life.

If Henry and his busi­ness part­ners want to reap a rich har­vest they must tread care­fully, dis­tanc­ing them­selves from their loathed com­pa­tri­ots Tom Hicks and Ge­orge Gil­lett. They must get the bull­doz­ers into Stan­ley Park, not just prom­ise a spade in the ground. Any pledges must be swiftly met.

While An­field’s board­room civil war heads for its fi­nal, ex­pen­sive skir­mish in the High Court, a PR cam­paign is waged for the hearts and minds of Liver­pool sup­port­ers and play­ers. Get­ting Jamie Car­ragher on­side was cru­cial as the deep-think­ing, lo­cally-born de­fender is the brains and soul of the An­field dress­ing room. Play­ers, though, are more de­tached from board­room bat­tles, their en­er­gies fo­cused on the 90 min­utes, but fans are dif­fer­ent. For many, Liver­pool is their life. That is why Henry and his peo­ple must move shrewdly in win­ning the fans over. The Kop will see through any syco­phancy. They’ve been down Route 66 be­fore.

“We have to re­mem­ber Liver­pool fans will never greet with open arms any in­com­ing owner be­cause they have been badly burned once,’’ said Ro­gan Tay­lor, the tra­di­tional spokesman of the Kop.

Henry’s ve­hi­cle, new eng­land Sports Ven­tures, in­sists there will be no debt at­tached to their bid. Wed­nes­day’s fast­mov­ing de­vel­op­ments at An­field co­in­cided with the re­lease of de­tails of the rich­est own­ers in sport, topped by Manch­ester City’s Sheikh Man­sour bin Zayed al nahyan with £20bil. There are 15 bil­lion­aires in english foot­ball and Henry is val­ued at only US$600mil. even with his wealthy new eng­land chums, Henry could prob­a­bly do with ad­di­tional as­sis­tance, par­tic­u­larly as sta­dium costs may rise, and the squad patently needs re­build­ing. If he wants to gen­er­ate cash and good­will, Henry need only look to the ter­races.

“The value on the club means that £50mil would buy 20%,’’ said Tay­lor.

“I think I can get 100,000 Liver­pool fans to write out cheques for £500 each if they can guar­an­tee they won’t be shafted again.’’ even if those sums seem am­bi­tious, invit­ing the fans to have some fi­nan­cial in­put, echo­ing their emo­tional in­vest­ment, would be a smart move.

even if he re­lin­quishes only 10% of the eq­uity to sup­port­ers, Henry would guar­an­tee him­self an eas­ier ride and a quicker re­turn. Henry’s mo­tives are ob­vi­ous, mak­ing money when ei­ther the Premier League rights are un­bun­dled (un­likely) or when games are broad­cast straight into mo­bile phones as foot­ball en­ters the planet of the Apps. For all the re­lief gen­er­ated by the sight of Hicks and Gil­lett be­ing pushed to­wards the An­field exit, there must still be some cau­tion over how the story now un­folds. The Premier League must seek guar­an­tees from this Amer­i­can that he has the money for the takeover, sta­dium and squad work.

The gen­eral health of foot­ball needs a check-up from the Premier League chair­men, fi­nally ac­knowl­edg­ing that salaries have run out of con­trol, tem­per­ing clubs’ hopes of good house­keep­ing.

John W. Henry is buy­ing into an iconic name in a mad sport.

Have a cigar: Bos­ton Red Sox owner John W. Henry could lighten the load on Liver­pool FC if bid is suc­cess­ful.

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