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