Liverpool's pursuit of £100m in new investment is being carried out on the orders of the club's bankers, it emerged yesterday, and with the managing director admitting he cannot "guarantee" success, the genuine possibility is emerging of owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett being forced to sell up this summer.
Though it has been known for several months that MD Christian Purslow is seeking cash by selling equity to alleviate Liverpool's £237m debt, only yesterday, in the published minutes of a recent meeting between Purslow and the club's Spirit of Shankly (SoS) fans' group, bankers Wachovia and Royal Bank of Scotland's (RBS) express "requirement" of the new cash become clear.
The deadline for securing the £100m is July – when Hicks and Gillett must refinance their debts once again. Fail to find the cash and the Americans will be out of Anfield after a rocky and largely unhappy three years on Merseyside. The consequences of that for Liverpool could be defining ones – conceivably a fire sale of the club similar to the one which West Ham United have just undergone, with the attendant loss of money, elite players and status as a top side.
The pursuit of the investment seems to be proving more difficult than Purslow had originally foreseen, with initial hopes that a number of investors could be sought to secure the £100m in return for a 25 per cent share now giving way to the acceptance that no new investor will be prepared to lay out millions simply to take a minority stake in Liverpool. As The Independent reported on Monday, a 34 per cent stake seems to be the minimum a buyer will accept, with Hicks and Gillett owning 33 per cent each.
The picture is further complicated by the fact that Purslow firmly rejects SoS's minutes of their 21 January meeting with him, in which he portrayed RBS as extremely unhappy with Hicks and Gillett and keen to be rid of them. But even his less eye-catching account of the meeting confirms that securing £100m to reduce borrowings was agreed when he, a former merchant banker, was appointed last autumn. "There are now five or six potential investors with whom we are talking," the MD says in his own minutes. Purslow has rejected suggestions that the Americans are so desperate for cash that they are willing to sell 40 per cent of the club for £100m. Some prospective buyers may now be waiting for a fire sale, which would bring the price tumbling from the £500m offered by Dubai International Capital (DIC) two years ago – and which Hicks rejected.
Purslow's version of his disclosure to fans did not include their claims that he told them failure to qualify for next season's Champions League would damage the pursuit of investors. SoS said Purslow had told them: "The team's performance... is talked about by potential investors, as while we might make up the loss [of] Champions League revenue through a good run in the Europa Cup [sic], the loss of Champions League football next season would impact upon income and this has a relevance to investors."
Purslow's minutes also excluded the assertion that he told them RBS was "annoyed and unhappy" with Hicks and Gillett and "they want a change of ownership". SoS say he told them the club is for sale: "It will be sold. The owners have to sell it, they are out of money. The bank want it sold, the fans want it sold and people want to buy it."
Neither did the MD repeat the fans' claim that he told them that he expected a deal with new investors concluded "by Easter" with the initial expectation of something in place this month.
But Purslow, whose club yesterday agreed a three-year deal to sign Milan Jovanovic, the Standard Liège striker, on a free transfer in the summer, does paint a more rosy picture of the money available to Rafael Benitez in the transfer market than had been widely believed, suggesting that while there had been "plenty of funding available" last month, Benitez had "chosen not to bring in anyone other than Maxi Rodriguez, the Argentine international". That is not how Benitez has characterised things over the past few months, suggesting only last month that servicing the club's debt was now a bigger priority than buying players.