The extraordinary Liverpool ownership soap opera took another dramatic turn last night when the co-owner Tom Hicks declared he had terminated talks with prospective Dubai-based investors after they demanded a say in transfer policy and who should manage the club.
Five hours after Dubai International Capital (DIC) had declared talks on the purchase of George Gillett's 49 per cent share in the club were progressing well, Hicks issued a statement saying he would not tolerate DIC's demand that it would want the club "to be managed by committee" should it invest. The future of the general management team is another issue DIC wants a say on. DIC had no comment on Hicks' announcement last night but with the American in such dire need of investment for Liverpool, it does not consider negotiations closed. Hicks has cherished full involvement during his 13 months at Liverpool – sounding out Jürgen Klinsmann about Rafael Benitez's position and ordering the Spaniard last November to make do with his present squad.
"Based on my 13 years of successful experience as an owner of professional sports teams, and based in particular on the situation at Liverpool Football Club over the past year, it is clear to me that such a committee approach would not be in the best interest of.. the club or [its] loyal and passionate supporters," Hicks said. "Accordingly, I have decided to exercise my right under the [club's] partnership agreement to veto any sale of any portion... to DIC."
To some extent the breakdown, after a day of talks in Dubai between the parties' advisers, was to be expected. Though DIC, aware of the finance it can bring to help his heavily-geared club, has backed down over its demands for an immediate majority share, it does expects some say in return and Amanda Staveley, its chief negotiator, told The Independent on Friday that 100 per cent ownership was its ultimate goal.
Hicks immediately retorted that if DIC was unwilling to accept a position as "a passive, minority investor" it was "not going to be involved"– and he has been as good as his word. But DIC's continued optimism is borne from the fact that there is little evidence of who Hicks' alternative minority shareholders might be, despite renewed assertions by the Hicks camp last night that they do exist and that their commitment had reached "varying degrees of detail".
DIC was so confident of progress yesterday that it issued its first public statement about the purchase. In it, DIC said it was in "advanced discussions" with Hicks and Gillett and though it added that no agreement has been reached on "price or shareholding percentage" it is understood that a position of understanding had been reached, subject to legal work being completed. The issue of "management control" therefore dominated yesterday's talks.