The fate of Liverpool Football Club is now teetering on the outcome of a ‘unique’ courtroom battle, with chairman Martin Broughton imploring owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to view the sale of the club to the New England Sports Ventures (NESV) group as a last opportunity to ‘walk away with their heads held high’, whilst the American pair seem vehemently opposed to relinquishing control of their investment despite incredible pressure from the boardroom, the terraces and, crucially, the lenders.
The English contingent of Liverpool’s current board of directors (Broughton, managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre) were installed back in April to help broker the sale of the club, with the chief principle of their mandate being to facilitate any ‘reasonable endeavours’ to sell the club at a price high enough to service Hicks and Gillett’s acquisition debts (£237.4 million).
However, whilst Broughton et al were seriously courting (i.e. ‘accepting’) NESV’s £300 million offer, the American pair were taking drastic steps to seize back the boardroom power they had relinquished so readily five months previous by attempting to usurp Purslow and Ayre by replacing them on the board with Hick’s son Mack and the financial controller of his holding company Lori Kay McCutcheon respectively – thus handing the executive power back to themselves in the process.
This chasmic split has ensured that the directors are now seeking an unprecedented legal injunction that will allow them to sell the club without the owner’s permission. The case is due to go before the High Court within the next few days, with Broughton urging Hicks and Gillett to punctuate their lame legacy with a final, positive note by agreeing to finally sell up and ship out;
“We will be seeking a declaratory judgment to say we acted within our rights. George and Tom had recognised that the only way of moving forward was by selling the entire club, and that if they alone said that is what they were going to do, it would not have any credibility because they no longer had any credibility.
They agreed to appoint an independent chairman to add credibility to the process. I was not prepared to be their patsy, adding credibility to a process that did not have it. They gave those written undertakings and on Tuesday they flagrantly abused them [by attempting to overthrow the board.”
Broughton also added that he believes that it is in the owner’s best interests for him to flex his legal entitlement to accept NESV’s deal (even though it falls some way short of their valuation), before the bank steps in on October 15th and renders the club, for all intents and purposes, worthless;
“I think it’s rather sad. Their legacy, by any stretch of the imagination, 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.”
The court hearing will be held no later than this time next week, with any appeal expected to be fast-tracked soon thereafter.
As Hicks and Gillett don’t look to have a legal leg to stand on, it is widely expected that the court will rule in favour of the Liverpool board – effectively giving them the green-light to press forward with NESV’s takeover bid.
The American company’s principle owner John W Henry and his associates have moved to allay fears of further upheaval by informing chairman Broughton that he believes incumbent manager Roy Hodgson is still to be regarded as the ideal candidate to lead Liverpool into a potentially exciting new future – although these plaudits have failed to inspire many supporters who, after witnessing their club make their worst start to a season since the mid-1950’s, have reasonable grounds to argue to the contrary.
Hodgson himself seems to think that the potential change in ownership (NESV’s offer will still be subject to Premier League approval, regardless of the court case) can only be construed as positive progress on the club’s part;
“It’s very positive and of course I’m delighted. It’s been going on a long time and I know how hard the board have worked to set things up.
I know it’s not easy for them because the owners have other ideas in terms of the sale of the club and what is achievable, but I was delighted to hear the news and have it confirmed that it looks like it is going to go through.”
True, the removal of Hicks and Gillett’s negative presence from the club will help steady the ship, and serve to eradicate one of the excuses being peddled for the side’s dismal performances of late.
However, the fact remains that, in the space of seven Premier League games, Hodgson has guided Liverpool into the relegation quagmire with just one Premier League win to his name, thanks chiefly to a string of insipid, flat and largely forgettable performances. Granted, the season has been tumultuous and is barely underway, but still, it’s hardly ‘ideal candidate’ form now is it?
Whilst it’s fairly insulting to suggest that Hodgson’s skills have merely dissipated upon arriving at a ‘big club’ from less illustrious surroundings (especially given that he was lauded as one of the best coaches in Europe after guiding Fulham to the Europa League final last term), I would argue that his obvious merits aren’t particularly applicable to the Liverpool mindset;
“I had two-and-a-half wonderful years at Fulham where nothing ever negative was said about me and my team. Now maybe people are saying negative things. It doesn’t change anything. I work the same way as I did last year.”
And therein lies the problem.
In Hodgson, what Liverpool have is a mild-mannered and highly-personable manager, well-versed in taking groups of fairly average players and, by means of constant encouragement and a promotion of a concerted team ethic, swelling their confidence in their own abilities as well as that of the group.
He’s a fine manager, just saddled on the wrong horse.
What Liverpool need is a mirror of the club’s often baseless but now rejuvenated ambitions – an arrogant, unswerving and egotistical bastard that does a good line in siege mentality, namely Rafa Benitez.