Full transcript from FiveLive Interview
Take us through how you set up this deal with NESV
Yes, they approached us. Thereís nothing particularly unusual about that. As has been widely known, the company has been for sale since Easter and NESV, with their advisors, approached us like many have done. But unlike many others, their approach was serious from the first minute, they have done their work and ended up making a binding offer for the club.
Do you get the feeling a deal has potential from the first minute?
Yes, I think you do. They met our Chairman and he was immediately struck with their seriousness. Iím a great believer that actions speak louder than words and the entire senior management team at NESV came to Liverpool, spent a large amount of time in the club doing their work, and those are important signs of peopleís seriousness in the transaction business.
Why are John Henry and Tom Werner the right people to deal with?
Itís not for me to do a commercial for them, they will speak for themselves if and when this transaction completes. Yes, there are important ingredients and speaking personally my total priority in the last year or so has been to try and find a way to reduce or remove the debt which has been put on this club and which has been a cloud since February 07. I think itís wrong that a football club Ė itís not like another business Ė should have so much of the money that comes through the turnstiles or through our commercial activity go to paying interest on loans, particularly loans that were used to buy a business. For me, a bidder who was willing with cash to rid of all this long term debt is by far the largest and most important priority in evaluating bids. I know our fans have been very concerned in the past that this wasnít known when the last sale was done, but I can assure you weíve done our homework and NESV are buying this business with cash and clearing us of this debt which transforms our financial position overnight.
Why do they want to buy Liverpool?
I think itís a combination of business and maybe emotion. They are a very successful company. They have a number of sporting interests and its been well documented that they purchased the Boston Red Sox nearly ten years ago. I think they see a number of parallels of when they purchased the Red Sox with Liverpool today. The word that jumps off the page every time we sit with them is winning. I think they see obviously that winning on the field is very linked to how you perform commercially off the field. They go hand in hand. Itís extremely enjoyable to make sports clubs more successful. Whether you are a poor or a rich sports fan, winning is great fun and I sense both of those things when we meet with these people.
If go into administration will NESV pull out...
Iím not even contemplating administration and nobody should be. Last Monday we had two very good offers to buy our business that would clear all our debts and Iím completely focused on making sure the sale completes.
So come what may, NESV would carry on with their purchase even if points are docked...
I have not discussed that possibility with them. I am completely focused on the sale.
Why are you so sure administration wonít happen?
We are focused this week on making sure the sale of the club, for a very attractive price, completes and that is our complete focus.
Are NESV a company who will provide large amounts of money for signing new players?
I think itís simple. They want to win. They are not going to be making hostages to fortune and are certainly not going to be giving numbers into the public domain, but a couple of things have come out of our discussions. The first and most important is, again, they see a parallel to their experience in baseball and while I think many of those comparisons might not work, I think itís difficult to argue that investment in players is a key component to success in most professional sports. That is the approach they took with Boston and is the approach I am sure they will take with Liverpool. You donít spend 300 million pounds on buying a sports team for it to be a mediocre team.
Will they be owners who want to attend a lot of matches?
I think so. Again, if you have made such a serious investment and taken so much time, if they buy Liverpool I would expect them to be very visible around the business. They are serious people, they are deadly serious about wanting to succeed and I canít imagine they will be hands off for one minute.
How do you go about repairing the damage which has been done by Gillett and Hicks?
I think one area is that our fans have felt totally disenfranchised by the experience of the last three years. One thing I really like about NESV is theyíre really serious about the importance of engaging with their fans and when you look at their approach to their business in America thatís something they take seriously. Iíve asked them to consider a scheme at our club which will give our fans a real sense of ownership, a real sense of inclusion, the kind of voice that frankly they deserve. NESV have told us they will look at this very seriously if they complete.
Itís not been easy with the current owners, tensions have been high and so that side of things has been difficult. But now that we have potential new ownership I donít want to miss the opportunity to make sure our fans never again feel so disenfranchised. Itís the way forward for professional football in England.
You say you want to give the fans a voice and a sense of ownership Ė what do you mean?
No more than that. There are various ways to do this and Iím sure theyíll all be considered seriously after a transaction. One or two clubs have gone down that line already. I was very impressed with what Arsenal recently announced. The most important principle is that fans need to feel they have a means to express their views and to be listened to. A sense of ownership obviously is the most extreme example of that, but there are many forms and many shapes to these ideas. The important point is one of principle, engaging with our fans Ė particularly Liverpool fans Ė and, remember, thatís all I am. Thatís a very important ingredient.
How do you feel about what Hicks and Gillett have done to Liverpool?
Iím sorry, I donít personalise it at all. I do feel right now that they do have an opportunity. One simple and short correspondence today can allow a sale to complete and that would clear the club of all the acquisition debt and give us a massive lift before the Everton game. A really fresh start, frankly, and a real hope for our fans and our players that we can get back to the top. Thatís in their gift and that might enable them to leave with some dignity and some peace rather than precipitating a messy dispute. I hope theyíll think about that.
I donít know.
How do you reflect on recent results for Liverpool?
Itís been a disappointing start to the season, thereís no doubt about that. We just havenít been able to get any rhythm yet. I must say there have been some important mitigating factors. Itís been a very unusual start to the season. We had a large number of our players back very late, we had three international breaks already and of course weíve changed our manager and have some new players so those three together mean Roy just hasnít had the time with the players to do the week in week out stuff that is his trademark. Heíll have that now. I think we also have to keep some perspective, we are five points behind Arsenal who are in the Champions League spots. I would ask people to be patient and supportive. These are trademark qualities of Liverpool, both our fans and our management, and I urge people to provide those.
Does Roy have a clause in his contract for a new owner to replace him if they wanted?
The first thing I would say is itís absolutely wrong to discuss anybodyís contract in public on radio on a Sunday morning. In case you think Iím trying to avoid the question I must say there is nothing in Royís contract that is not totally standard under the LMA guidelines.
Do you believe Hodgson will be part of the new set-up when NESV take over?
What will happen with the new ground when the new people come in?
A key part of their interest in Liverpool has been to try and improve the experience of our fans on match day. We all know that for far too long too many of our fans have been unable to get in to watch the team on match day. Weíve shown NESV all the plans around the stadium that we have full planning permission for in Stanley Park, they know how strongly we as a management team believe this is the way forward. They have been very impressed by that and I think it was a key ingredient of attracting them to Liverpool. I think a bit too much has been made this week of when they bought the Red Sox in Boston they refurbished the existing stadium; in fact the very same ownership group in two previous teams built new stadia in Baltimore and San Diego. Given that a new owner will be paying for a new stadium, itís entirely reasonable and their prerogative to, when they get here, pull up the carpets and look in fine-tune detail at what weíre proposing and make their final decision. One thing is crystal clear, they want to increase the capacity of Liverpool FC.
Henry Winter: Have you met such an unappealing character as Tom Hicks before?
Itís nice to talk to you Henry and I fully understand the question but Iím not going to discuss or entertain personal questions.
Henry Winter: But you love LFC and he clearly doesnít...
I do love Liverpool FC and I think there have been times when our current owners have loved the football club, but Iíd rather speak for myself. I do and I have a wonderful set of colleagues at Liverpool who do as well, all of whom would like the cloud to be lifted over our club. That cloud is one of uncertainty, our business being more talked about than our football and the biggest cloud of all which is debt which is draining our club of resources that should be on the pitch. Yes, I came here to try and lift that cloud and my executive colleagues and my Chairman have really stepped up to try and lift that cloud this week and I really hope weíre successful in doing so.
So you definitely believe the club will not go into administration...
Iím not in the prediction business but what Iíve told you is my focus this week is making sure a tremendous sale completes, as we sought to do last Monday.
And youíre pretty confident the deal with NESV will go through...
Yes, I am.