Americans prepared to cut their losses at Anfield
TOM HICKS and George Gillett will signal their intention to walk away from Liverpool this week, having bowed to the twin pressures of financial reality and supporter antipathy that have dogged their three years in charge.
The club is expected to confirm shortly that Hicks and Gillett are to stand down as co-chairmen at Anfield in favour of Martin Broughton, the chairman of British Airways.
Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia are also preparing to offer a six-month extension on loans of £237m, paving the way for the sale of the club. That process will be led by Barclays Capital (BarCap), an investment bank Hicks and Gillett have worked with in the past and which, through its retail bank parent company which sponsors the Premier League, has a vested interest in maintaining the health and reputation of one of England's leading clubs.
Confirmation of the sale process and the boardroom reshuffle will mark the beginning of the end of the Americans' tenure, though the sale of the club is unlikely to be swift.
Prospective buyers are expected to wait to begin negotiations until the end of the season, when the club's participation in Europe and the fate of manager Rafael Benitez, again linked with Juventus yesterday, is clearer.
The Americans' valuation of Liverpool at upwards of £500m is also bound to come under pressure from buyers, but what is certain is that Hicks and Gillett are ready to end their protracted and often bruising struggle to retain control. Until recently the pair remained determined to retain a stake, believing that the club they borrowed close to £300m to buy in February 2007 remains undervalued.
Unable to raise the money to stay in, heavily leveraged across their empires -- just this week George Gillett's NASCAR team were reported to have defaulted on a $90m loan, albeit for technical reasons -- and facing continued opposition they have had no option but to prepare an exit strategy.
The crucial factor in the latest developments has been the looming summer deadline to refinance £237m of loans from RBS and Wachovia.
After numerous attempts to source investment, the Americans have sought an alternative route to appeasing the banks, starting with Broughton. His appointment was secured after the Americans approached him, rather than following any pressure from the banks, and has brought them time.
With a credible business figure in place and the sale process under way, RBS is preparing to extend the financing deal until the end of the year, giving BarCap a window in which to find a buyer.
Liverpool managing director Christian Purslow has already begun passing on the details of investors linked with the club in the past year.
It is hoped that the changes will also appease supporters who have run a vehement personal campaign against the owners since they broke a commitment not to use club revenues to service their acquisition loans.
It has intensified in recent months, with Hicks finding himself trapped inside Anfield after a Premier League game against Bolton in February by a protest coordinated by the Spirit of Shankly group.
His son, Tom Jnr, meanwhile, also found himself humiliated at the hands of supporters. In 2008 he was drenched with beer after finding himself unwelcome at the Sandon pub near the ground on a match day.
The ire of Liverpool's passionate fans is one aspect of life at Anfield that neither Hicks or Gillett will miss when they walk away. Given the bitterness of the last three years, the feeling is likely to be mutual. (© Daily Telegraph, London)