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Premiership teams. It seems like every team that has American ownership has been mired with an increasing divide between ownership and its fanbase. Although Manchester United is having their issues with American owner, Malcolm Glazer, Liverpool is an extreme case. As was reported over the past several weeks, New England Sports Ventures (NESV), headed by Red Sox owner John Henry, was involved in a bid to take over Liverpool F.C. from current American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillette.
Although Liverpool’s five-person board voted 3-2 in favor of selling to NESV (Gillette and Hicks being the two that didn’t vote for the sale) the deal was stalled several times by Gillette and Hicks. They claimed NESV’s $476 million (300M pound) bid severely undervalued the club and sought to sell their shares elsewhere at the price they wanted. That didn’t work out and Gillette and Hicks gave up the ghost and eventually agreed to the sale last Friday. Although there is a threat of an on-going lawsuit, for all intents and purposes the deal is done. So, now that the dust has finally settled on this debacle, let’s take a look at what it means for NESV and for Red Sox fans.
Let’s be hones: the main issues forcing this sale was money. One of the driving factors in this deal was the $237 million loan that was due to Liverpool’s main creditor, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), last Friday Oct. 15. With the sale in limbo, it was unclear who would actually pay the bill. When a soccer club defaults on its loans, there is a threat of the club going into Administration. For those unfamiliar with the term, this is when the bank takes over the club, appoints new leadership, and starts running the show. And they start running the show from the perspective as a bank wanting to make their money back, not as a club wanting to win and appease a fanbase. So what does that mean? It means selling your top tier talent right away, and the team is also docked 9 points on the league table. For those of you following the Premiereship this year, you know Liverpool is already in the relegation zone, so this would have surely meant relegation at season’s end.
NESV’s offer included the $476 million price tag along with taking care of the lion’s share of the clubs debt reducing the club’s debt servicing obligations from £25m-£30m a year to £2m-£3m. That is clearly a monstrous turnaround and should ease some of the tensions at Anfield.
Taking those numbers into account, the deal seems very prudent from Liverpool’s point of view. But what about the fans? The fans’ hatred of American ownership is venomous. Over the summer, fans showed up outside of the stadium and burned an American flag. Sure, that was probably a few quacks, but the general sentiment is widespread. Not just at Liverpool either. Even at successful clubs like Manchester United, the fanbase is frustrated with American ownership and there seems to be a nationalistic push to oust the Americans.
Liverpool is already off to a dreadful start, sitting 18th out of a league of 20 and, more importantly, in relegation. They lost their cross town derby vs. Everton last Sunday, which is just like salt in an open wound to Reds’ fans. This is the most successful team in English soccer. If they continue with their current form (which is awful) an already restless fan base could creep into desperation mode. But what is desperation mode? The ubiquitous violence so prevalent in the game during the 80’s and early 90’s has subsided quite a bit. But, with growing frustration with American ownership, relegation in sight and nationalistic tendencies rising, who knows what could happen?
So what will John Henry and NESV do? After the sale was complete Henry had these remarks for the Liverpool fans “”We’re going to do a lot of listening, we have a lot to learn, and we’ll walk this path together [with the fans]. We regard our role as that of stewards for the club with a primary focus on returning the club to greatness on and off the field for the long-term.”.
That’s all well and good but as a Red Sox fan all that says to me is that Liverpool is going to have the bulk of the attention from the leadership at NESV. Heading into one of the more important off-seasons in recent Red Sox history that thought is disconcerting. As a soccer club Liverpool is in dire straits. Former world class striker Fernando Torres has had a precipitous fall from form and seems like he may never recover. The face of the club for the past decade, Steven Gerrard, isn’t getting any younger and will probably want to end his playing days with a shot at a championship (be it the Premiereship or Champions League). Roy Hodgson is a brand new coach this year, brought in to right the ship, and there’s already been talk of sacking him. Needless to say, NESV has their work cut out for them.
Let’s hope the Sox get some time in the off-season or else they might see a continuation of their dwindling numbers from last year.