Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ex-Owners Set For Humiliating Exit

They arrived as potential saviours, but it seems the last act of Tom Hicks and George Gillett's Anfield reign will be a "humiliating" departure in the role of despised villains. The American pair arrived with a promise they were "custodians of an historic legacy, not owners", but have done nothing in the intervening period other than to suggest they were there to pillage Liverpool's heritage, not protect it. In keeping with that image, even their impending departure next week is sullied. An attempt to sack board members Christian Purslow and Ian Ayre, because the pair want to sell at a reasonable, rather than impossibly inflated, price, smacks of greed above all else. That much was suggested by chairman Martin Broughton last night, who offered one heartfelt plea to the Americans to realise that the writing is on the wall, and accept their fate with a grace that has singularly been lacking from their tenure. Broughton is confident the court case that will be played out within a week will fall in the club's favour, and force a sale to the owners of the Boston Red Sox at the market value of £300million. But he has warned that even if Hicks wins the High Court dispute, he will still lose the club and with it even more money, because bankers RBS will then simply put Liverpool into administration and sell to the Boston group at an even lower price. And he issued one last plea for the Anfield owners to go now with the last scrap of dignity they have remaining. "I do recognise that they seem to want to fight to the end and I have to say that I think it's rather sad," Broughton said. "I think it's rather sad for their legacy. By any stretch of the imagination it was never going to be good, this was the one final opportunity where they could walk away with their heads held high, saying to the Liverpool fans 'we said we would deliver you the right owners, we have, and we did it at great personal cost'. "But they chose, effectively, in my view, to suffer the great personal cost and walk away humiliated as a result. That's their choice and I think it's a pity. "It is a pity they are not going to take the last opportunity to be the good guys. That is what they promised to do, but when it came to it, they decided to hold out for more money that they simply are not going to get, and I find that terribly sad." 'Humilated' and 'dishonourable' are words that Liverpool fans have become all too used to when referring to their current owners, and it was interesting to hear Broughton yesterday condemning one set of Americans, while in the same breath recommending another. That contradiction understandably makes Liverpool fans nervous, and the fears of the fans is certainly recognised by the board, who yesterday made clear they have made exhaustive checks on the Red Sox group, to ensure there is not a repeat of the Hicks debacle. In particular, Purslow and Ayres have reached a legally binding agreement with the New England company that ensures no acquisition debt will be placed on the club when the takeover is complete. And according to Broughton, that is the important - and massive difference - between the Red Sox owners and their American predecessors. "It is absolutely the wrong perception to say we are going out of the frying pan into the fire. I can understand perfectly why the fans will be concerned," he said. "There is nothing wrong with being American. It doesn't matter where you come from, if you are leveraged, that's bad for a football club. The problem is the leverage, not the nationality. "They are injecting cash equity to reduce our debt to £37million, that is cash, it is not borrowed money, it is not going in in the form of loans. Liverpool's balance sheet will be equity rich after this transaction. "It is the single most important question. We wondered whether this question was asked last time round. We were never going to repeat that mistake, and you have sophisticated people on the board who know the difference between debt and equity. "It was our number one focus. On our list of criteria, when we had some competitive tension in the bidding, we had choices between no debt and some debt, and our aim was always zero debt. Why? "If you look at it from a position whether history will judge if they are or are not successful, it seems to us as a board if the worst that happens is a group invests £300million, that action speaks louder than words, and in a couple of years if they haven't been fantastic in any other element, our club is still debt free. "It means the club has vast profits available again to the levels it always should have had available to invest in the business instead of servicing loans. Whatever happens it's massive progress." The Boston group are prepared to use Liverpool's own business model to ensure that the club becomes successful once more and the proposals from the Red Sox owners. They will wipe out debt, and also inject cash to buy new players and get a stadium build underway.

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