Tuesday 10 December 2019

Fog of Anfield boardroom war clouds over Merseyside derby

Clash of red and blue the only certainty in rough seas of grey, writes Rory Smith

All that is known about the immediate future of Liverpool Football Club is this: at 1.30 next Sunday, Roy Hodgson's side will take to the field for the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. Steven Gerrard will wear the captain's armband, Fernando Torres, injury permitting, will lead the attacking line.

For the 214th time, red will face blue. Everything else is shades of grey.

Liverpool, perhaps for as much as the next seven days, exist in a state of duality. The side that Hodgson picks to face Everton may have six Premier League points, or they may have, in effect, minus three. Their wages may be paid from Dallas, from Boston, from Gogarburn or from points unknown.

They may be supported from the Paddock by fans relieved that the nightmare of the last three years, the toxic reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, is over and a new era under New England Sports Ventures (NESV) has begun. They may find the protest songs that have replaced more traditional serenades are spat with greater ferocity than ever.

They may have a bright future, or they may seem to have no future. It may all be over, or it may all just have begun. Liverpool are the Premier League's version of Schrodinger's cat. They are a club caught in existential limbo, simultaneously alive and dead.

At the High Court this week, chairman Martin Broughton must prove that Hicks and Gillett not only signed over to him the right to appoint and remove directors, but agreed he could sell the club for what he felt was the best offer.

Hicks and Gillett, in turn, must prove the NESV offer is not reasonable, and both that their higher valuation of the club is realistic and that someone may be willing to pay it.

Which Liverpool side -- the one imbued with purpose, or the one mired in doubt -- attends Goodison Park may well be decided on the Strand.

If Broughton is proved correct then it is likely to be the former, as a club inspired by the sight of its new owners in the directors' box finally feels the gloom has lifted. If Hicks and Gillett win, even after an appeal that will be heard within 72 hours of the original case, then it will be the latter.

It is here that Liverpool's future becomes complicated. If Broughton is unsuccessful, then the sale will not proceed. On Friday, RBS will call in their debts. Unless Hicks and Gillett can pay back around £200m -- and all attempts to raise that funding have failed -- then the club, or, more accurately, its holding company Kop Football, will be taken into administration.

That, too, has dual ramifications. It is positive, in that it would effectively force Hicks and Gillett out as RBS seize control and look to complete a quick sale, perhaps costing the Americans a further £110m in personal guarantees and most likely presenting the club to NESV.

It is negative, though, because the Premier League would be minded to dock Liverpool nine points, three more than they have.

It is not nearly so simple as that, though. Regardless of how the court finds, if Hicks and Gillett pay back their debts in the next six days -- however hypothetical that seems -- then they remove much of the bank's leverage. They would be able to stop the sale, buying crucial time to remove directors.

Yet even that is a shorthand. Hicks and Gillett as a dual entity no longer exist. The latter has been replaced by Mill Financial, the company with whom he took out a $75m (£47m) loan in December 2008 with his 50 per cent share in the partnership that owns Liverpool as security. He has defaulted on that loan, and Mill, a division of Springfield Financial, have called it in.

Sources in the US insist that is simply a legal measure; Liverpool and RBS believe it is not a complicating factor. Yet both sides are concerned enough to have had contact with Mill in the past few days.

That Hicks's two would-be directors are both his loyalists indicates he cannot be sure of Gillett's place on the board.

That is how unclear Liverpool's future is: not only is Broughton trying to sell a club he does not own, not only is Hicks trying to hold on to a club he did not pay for, half of that club belongs to a real estate company based in Arlington, Virginia, and their intentions -- though most likely simply to recoup their money -- are shaded in grey.

Liverpool can only hope that, by the time red and blue face each other, everything else is black and white.


Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Sunday Independent

The Left Wing: John Cooney on Ulster's European run and bouncing back from World Cup disappointment

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport