The Last Word: Time to shift the goalposts for Liverpool
Premier League must create precedent to get rid of gruesome twosome and ward off other raiders
Sunday 10 October 2010
As ever in the crap shoot known as the Premier League, there is a doomsday scenario but a few rolls of the dice away. This week, armed with the legal logic most of us will never be blessed to grasp, the High Court rules that the chairman, Martin Broughton, does not have the right to sell Liverpool Football Club over and above Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Cue an outpouring of recrimination down the Anfield Road not witnessed since the Poll Tax.
The only hope then will be the banks doing the right thing, which in normal circumstances would perfectly highlight the hopelessness of the situation. Except what is the right thing? After a day or two of fretting, RBS would (a) extend Friday's deadline for the repayment of £280m, thus avoiding taking Liverpool into administration and landing the club with a nine-point penalty; or (b) do the opposite. Either way, the prospective buyers decide to say "bye bye". The Leeds analogy, anyone?
But wait, it doesn't have to be like this. Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, could perform a nifty U-turn on the intimations already made and assure the bank and New England Sports Ventures that, in this instance, Liverpool would not be hit with the nine-point sanction. That would free up RBS to call in the debt on Friday, force the club into administration when the American "owners" fail to cough up, and then sell to NESV regardless. The incomprehensible judge with his incomprehensible verdict would be deemed an irrelevance, Hicks and Gillett would be left stranded and the new, seemingly more positive, Americans could begin whatever rebuilding work they can afford. Nobody loses. Apart from the two people everybody agrees should lose.
Of course, there would be bleating from the clubs who have previously suffered because of the nine-point rule and, in some respects, their "them" and "us" exhortations would be understandable. But Liverpool are different and no, not because they are a brand the Premier League could really do with protecting. It is only the personal debts of Hicks and Gillett which can't be serviced, not any debts of the club in their own right. Liverpool are solvent; St John Ambulance are not about to go short and neither are the taxman or the utilities companies or local businesses.
The penalties were brought in to discourage "financial doping", and clubs spending beyond their means to buy success before taking refuge in Britain's administration laws. But this scenario is not a case of that – nothing like. And it would patently be absurd for Hicks and Gillett to achieve even the smallest measure of assistance from a rule which was supposed to punish those who dared to think big while spending nothing.
The Premier League are wise to worry about precedents, just as they are obliged to have steadfast rules and procedures. Yet these are critical times and it absolutely makes sense to create a new precedent. In the campaign to weed out the "leveraged buyout" monkeys, Scudamore and his pals can be courageous here and they should ride out the criticisms of the bitter and disaffected. Who knows, perhaps they are intending to do just that, and perhaps behind the scenes they are actively helping to kick out Hicks and Gillett from what still must purport to be a sporting community in which the Americans' motives always were shamelessly transparent.
The same can be suggested, and already has been, of their compatriot John W Henry, the financier behind NESV. With a comparatively paltry £600 million fortune he is clearly no sugar daddy in the mould of an Abramovich or a Mansour.
In fact, the only sure-fire pledge Liverpool fans could celebrate is that Henry will remove the "acquisition debt". In the crudest of layman terms, he has enough cash in his pocket to stand the first round.
Yet that does not mean he has the investment needed for the party thereafter. And, more to the point, it does not begin to mean he has what the supporters perceive to be "the interests of the club" at heart. His impressive and commendable track record with the Boston Red Sox may well turn out to be utterly irrelevant as he plainly has a passion for baseball, his country's national sport. Why should he possess the same for football?It is a question the Koppites should not waste too much time pondering, as this must be a case of better the devil you don't know. It couldn't get any worse than Hicks and Gillett, but the chilling prospect is that it could yet get worse under Hicks and Gillett. This process must be expedited and, with some forgivable goalpost-shifting, the Premier League can play a big hand in forcing the hand.
Even if the High Court rules in the favour of Broughton and hence Liverpool FC, Hicks and Gillett will almost certainly appeal and the inevitable legal wranglings will drag the matter beyond the Friday deadline. RBS will have a thankless choice to make at that stage, weighing upthe desire of shooing off Hicks and Gillett against the fear of scaring off the would-be owners.
But just think; whatever happens, somewhere in their complex machinations the Premier League surely have the power to send this gruesome twosome packing and lacking within six days.
If nothing else, one instance of rough justice might dissuade future opportunists from coming a'raiding. One can but dream.
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