Millionaires battle to takeover Liverpool FC
Sep 20 2006
A meeting tomorrow is one of the most important in the history of Liverpool FC. Larry Neild reports exclusivelyDaily Post
DIRECTORS of Liverpool Football Club have been summoned to an urgent meeting tomorrow to debate three potential bids to take over the club.
The meeting at Anfield comes just 24 hours before the club must deliver details of its package to fund the new £180m 60,000-seater stadium at Stanley Park.
The Daily Post believes three bids will be put to the board that could see the ownership of Liverpool FC changing hands if shareholders, including majority controller David Moores, agree to sell or reduce their stakes.
Steve Morgan, the lifelong Liverpool fan who made a fortune by founding housebuilding company Redrow, is understood once again to be one of the bidders to buy the club.
It will be his fifth attempt at taking over at Anfield. The names of other potential bidders are shrouded in secrecy, but as well as Mr Morgan, who figures regularly on lists of the UK's richest people, it is thought overseas investors are involved, possibly from the US or Far East.
A possible takeover or at least major investment at Anfield has been a regular possibility over the last few years with talks taking place with the likes of Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and American Robert Kraft, among others.
In March this year, the Liverpool board confirmed they were "in continuous discussions with a number of parties regarding a potential investment of new funds" that "may include an offer for the entire share capital of the club."
It appears those talks have now yielded offers which are ready to be put before the club board.
Any offer would almost certainly need to value LFC at at least £200m to be taken seriously.
The last major investment in the club was in 1999 when Granada paid £22m for a 9.9% stake.
A source close to Liverpool FC said last night: "There are definitely two or three parties involved in the ownership of the club, but it would be wide of the mark to say the club will be sold on Thursday. It will take longer for arrangements to be made."
It is understood that private investors are ready with funding to help pay for the new stadium.
The possibility of losing millions in grants is thought to have crystallised the need for final decisions on the club ownership to be taken.
Last night, officials at Anfield were keeping tight-lipped about events, and would not even confirm that the board would be meeting.
"We have no comment to make," said club spokesman Ian Cotton, when told of the Daily Post's revelations.
The outcome of tomorrow's meeting, possibly one of the most crucial in the club's 114-year history, will probably decide the fate of the controversial stadium plan that has already won planning permission from Liverpool City Council.
Just days ago, the city's executive board paved the way for the club to be granted a 999-year lease on part of the park for the new stadium.
That left just one hurdle to cross, delivering a funding package that would release £18m of vital public funding, half each from Merseyside Objective 1 committee and the Northwest Regional Development Agency.
The club have already missed deadlines to prove to the public sector they have the money, but the end of this week is seen as a "drop-dead" date, hence the need for clarification of the club's future ownership.
A senior source close to the negotiations last night told the Daily Post: "The next few days will be crucial in deciding the future of the new stadium plan. By next week the picture will be clear."
The board is likely to be faced with several scenarios at the meeting, including the ownership of the club remaining unchanged, with David Moores as the majority shareholder, or accepting that a wealthy investor will have to be brought on board to guarantee the funding for the new ground.
Currently, Mr Moores, a member of the family that founded the Littlewoods empire, holds 51% of the shares, meaning nothing can happen without his say so.
He has been club chairman since 1992, following in the footsteps of his uncle John.
Granada, the television and media organisation, own 9.9%, multi-millionaire housebuilder Steve Morgan, a regular critic of the Moores regime, owns 5.1%, and the remainder is owned by a mix of smaller shareholders.
Shareholders do not need the consent of the board to sell their shares, and the board has no legal right to force any shareholder to part with his stake in the club.
Liverpool city councillor Flo Clucas, who chairs the Objective 1 Committee said: "We have told the club that to release European funding, I will need to see evidence by Friday or the weekend at the very latest, that the club has the financial means to fund the ground. The final decision will be made on Thursday, September 28."
If the club's funding is not in place by then the offer of public funding will be withdrawn and the money allocated to other schemes across Merseyside.
Even if the board accepts that there will be a change of ownership there will be new hurdles to cross, including due diligence as part of routine business dealings.
It is also likely that the NWDA will want to determine the attitude of a new owner towards sharing a stadium with Everton FC.email@example.com
Knights in shining armour fail to give club the financial power it needs to complete costly stadium plan
Rick Parry shakes hands with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra
LIVERPOOL officials have spent years exploring ways of raising more money as they strive to close the financial gap on Manchester United and Chelsea.
The club is also desperate to attract new investment to help finance its new Stanley Park stadium plan, which has seen costs spiral.
But, while LFC has held talks with a number of different backers about possible deals, none has so far been acceptable to the Liverpool board.
The "knights in shining armour" have come from as far afield as Thailand, Spain and the United States.
In March, 2004, it was reported that Liverpool chairman David Moores had agreed to sell a 30% stake of the club to a consortium led by the billionaire Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The club's chief executive, Rick Parry, made a trip to Bangkok during the talks about the deal, which would have involved the Thais using Liverpool's name and logo on a range of products in the football-crazy Far East.
But Liverpool distanced itself from the £60m offer following adverse publicity about Shinawatra's human rights record. He now faces losing control of his country following a coup by the Thai military while he was paying a visit to the UN in New York.
The most high profile candidate was Garston-born building millionaire Steve Morgan, the club's third highest shareholder but not a member of the board, and a long-term critic of the regime under David Moores.
He has made a number of separate offers of up to £70m to invest in the club, and although a deal was agreed in principle Morgan backed away after a period of due diligence, when he was able to view the club's books.
The spiralling cost of the new stadium was believed to be the reason for that failure, with Morgan wanting to re-negotiate his bid to the club chairman.
At the end of 2004, Liverpool were reported to be in talks with the L4 group, a consortium fronted by Hollywood executives Stuart Ford and Woolton-born Mike Jefferies.
Although this bid was abandoned, the consortium was thought to have the backing of the Kraft family, owners of Superbowl champions New England Patriots and the New England Revolution soccer franchise, coached by former Liverpool player Steve Nicol.
Rumours of a deal were revived when the club's chief executive Rick Parry was spotted in America as a guest of US tycoon Robert Kraft last November.
Although Parry played down rumours of a deal, he refused to rule out the possibility in future.
There is also believed to have been interest from "a rich Middle Eastern family" although no details have been confirmed.
The most recent interest came earlier this year from the London-based Spanish millionaire Juan Villalonga, who reportedly wanted to turn Liverpool into a "global force." Again,, this came to nothing.
Mr Villalonga is a friend of former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who appointed him president of Telefonica, the Spanish equivalent of BT, in 1996.
He walked away with a golden handshake of £14.5m in 2000 and joined the board of American Spanish-language network Univision the following year.
Unless someone is prepared to buy-out Moores, fund the stadium and bankroll major transfer dealings, it appears there is no easy financial solution for the club.
Len Capeling looks at the choices facing Liverpool chairman David Moores
Liverpool FC chairman David Moores
DAVID MOORES'S ocean-deep love for Liverpool will ensure that he makes the right decision for the club and its famous fans at Anfield tomorrow night.
Before him and his fellow directors will be three bids for ownership of one of football's most illustrious names.
They are bids that will put Liverpool on an exciting expansionist trip whose riches will include a new £200m super-stadium within a mis-hit goal kick of the old faithful arena.
It is an absolutely crucial moment in the history of a legendary club whose record of achievement is reflected in a dazzling array of silverware.
Under immortals like Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, Liverpool set the standards that will always be beyond all but a select band of European giants.
But increasingly, over the past five years, they have struggled to find the mega-millions to keep their dream of super success alive.
First Manchester United and then Chelsea under Roman Abramovich found fabulous funds that allowed them to make sure that, even with a manager as astute as Rafael Benitez, they would struggle to afford the kind of players queuing up at Stamford Bridge.
Deadlines for the new stadium have helped focus Anfield minds on the titanic effort needed to outstrip powerful rivals - United with their 75,000 gates, Chelsea with their Russian riches, Arsenal with their sheer class.
Their search for a saviour has dragged on far too long, infuriating easily-fretted fans and frustrating the best intentions - and I think they have been best intentions - of chairman Moores and his able chief executive, Rick Parry.
Moores himself has been heavily criticised for refusing to cede control to any number of suitors, including the shady Prime Minister of Thailand, who now finds himself without a football club and possibly without a country.
None of the bids were, in Moores's words, in the best interests of a club or team when it came to building on what has already been achieved.
Now, it seems, things have changed and Liverpool are about to engage with three potential buyers after a worldwide trawl by corporate headhunters.
The promises of Mr X and Mr Y will be scrutinised by Moores and the Liverpool board tomorrow night.
Mr S, it stands for supporter, is Steve Morgan, a man who has featured in more spats with the Liverpool hierarchy than Rafael Benitez has had paellas.
His original offer to underwrite £70m in loans failed to find favour with Moores or his fellow directors, and has since gone through a number of financial sea changes.
Alone, he looked to be Liverpool's best hope for the future. Hemmed in by two other sugar-daddies, he may find it more difficult to convince the club that he possesses the clout to put Liverpool out in front again.
But he's in the mix certainly and will again fight his corner.
What we must all hope - apart from those in royal blue - is that tomorrow's meeting leaves David Moores with a smile on his increasingly tired face.
For that will mean Liverpool's troubles are over, pretty well, and that the stadium and the team can be the partnership that once again illuminates the soccer world.