Reds Struggle to stay afloat
The start of another Premier League season, and once again a decent team with good players are struggling for points and hovering perilously close to bankruptcy and the dreaded downward spiral so often precipitated by administration. Admittedly this year’s hapless club, Liverpool, are a somewhat more permanent fixture of the Premiership than the chronically unfortunate Portsmouth, who once more find themselves propping up a league table. At the centre of the controversy we find, unsurprisingly, enterprising billionaires; a feature of top team ownership fast becoming the norm rather than the exception to it.
Following Roman Abramovich’s acquisition of Chelsea in 2003, wealthy entrepreneurs and oil magnates have flocked from around the globe for the chance to secure a lucrative purchase of one of England’s top sides. Perhaps the most notable example has been the takeover of Manchester City by Kaldoon Al Mubarak in 2008, whose vast riches have allowed for the purchase of numerous world class players as well as highly sought after manager Roberto Mancini.
Of all these highly publicised buyouts undoubtedly the most turbulent and protracted has been that of Liverpool, who are quickly discovering that ownership by wealthy businessmen can prove to be a curse as much as a blessing. To say that the last twelve months have been challenging for the red section of Merseyside would probably be an understatement. It has been a year of nail biting and hair pulling for the club’s two owners, two managers, thirty-odd players and tens of thousands of fans. Following on from a disappointing seventh place league finish and a fairly swift exit from the Champions League last season, Liverpool were undoubtedly hoping for a better start to their current campaign.
Having sacked their manager of five years, Rafael Benítez, and appointed official ‘Manager of the Year’ Roy Hodgson, the Reds were looking to come back refreshed and reinvigorated, buoyed by the return of star striker Fernando Torres and the recent acquisition of England playmaker Joe Cole. However, far from restoring former glories and vanquishing the uncertainty that has hounded the club over the past few years, Liverpool find themselves floundering near the foot of the Premier League table, having already been dismissed from the Carling Cup by League Two minnows Northampton.
To make matters considerably worse, the club is now steeped not only in tradition and history but also in crippling debt. American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. currently owe the Royal Bank of Scotland somewhere in the region of £240 million and have remained obstinate in their refusal to sell the club to American company New England Sport Ventures, who have generously offered £300 million to buy the unfortunate Merseysiders out of their fairly substantial debt. Fortunately for Liverpool a High Court hearing has intervened in their favour and it now appears that sale of the club can continue unimpeded by the procrastination of Hicks and Gillett.
Had their truculent attitude continued then Liverpool could well have seen themselves teetering on the edge of administration; potentially joining former Premier League clubs Portsmouth, Crystal Palace and Southampton in the bleak world of financial instability and fluctuating on-field fortunes. A spokesman announced that the pair had been wary of selling the club “without properly considering alternatives”, although how many alternatives they intended to consider will forever remain a mystery, having already turned down a string of potential buyers over the past few months.
Considerable interest was expressed at the end of last season by Syrian businessman Yahya Kirdi and Chinese video game mogul Zhu Jun, whilst the prospect of top-flight football ownership also enticed Kenneth Huang, who is already the chairman of both the Basketball and Baseball Leagues in China and looked set to make an offer over the summer. The latest offer for the Merseyside club comes from Singapore billionaire Peter Lim, who has not only offered to buy the club out of its debt but has also promised £40 million for new players, despite owning a chain of successful Manchester United-themed bars in Asia.
However, the club now look set to confirm an offer after a board meeting next Wednesday and for the time being their financial future appears to be in good hands. Whether or not this new found stability will translate onto the pitch remains to be seen, but for the next few days chants ringing around Liverpool will no longer be reserved for international superstars Torres, Kuyt or even local hero Steven Gerrard. Instead the fans will most likely be singing the praises of their chairman of six months and self-confessed Chelsea fan Martin Broughton. With little else to cheer at the moment Anfield could well be indulging in choruses of “We love you, Martin, we do”, echoing the triumphant scenes witnessed outside the courthouse on Wednesday, as the Reds attempt to salvage much lost pride and resurrect their faltering season.