Morgan would cut short Houllier's Anfield reign

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The Independent Football

Daresbury Park, where Steve Morgan launched his bid to revolutionise Liverpool, is a theme hotel and its theme is Alice in Wonderland.

Daresbury Park, where Steve Morgan launched his bid to revolutionise Liverpool, is a theme hotel and its theme is Alice in Wonderland.

Anfield through Morgan's looking glass is a strange world: a club which has frittered away its history on a welter of underachieving foreign signings and where fourth place, embarrassingly adrift of the leaders, is lauded as a triumph. More importantly, it is a club that would rather raise new investment by doing a deal with a Thai politician, condemned for human rights abuses and who has difficulty naming one player unprompted, rather than with a man, born in Garston, whose third word after "mum" and "dad" was "Liverpool".

Merseyside can be mistrustful of outsiders and yesterday Morgan played up to that. Who, he argued to Liverpool fans, would you rather have put £60m-70m into Anfield? A man whose has been photographed accepting a Manchester United shirt from Sir Alex Ferguson and who yesterday admitted he would happily go elsewhere to invest, or this local boy from the city's southern suburbs made very, very good.

Contrasting himself nakedly with the Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, he said: "I have no alternatives. I couldn't invest in Everton or Manchester United or City. There is only one place where my heart is and that's Liverpool Football Club. I have nowhere else to go. If it's not Liverpool, it's nothing."

His deal, if accepted, would raise £73m - slightly more than Thaksin's - the majority of which would go towards strengthening the squad. Some £61m would come from a rights issue available to Liverpool's existing shareholders, of which he is ranked third behind the chairman, David Moores (51 per cent) and the Granada media organisation (9.9 per cent). The rest would be raised from an issue of new shares to Liverpool fans.

Since his own company, Bridgemere Investments, would underwrite the operation, Morgan would almost certainly find himself the second largest shareholder at Liverpool, behind Moores.

The price would also include a seat on the board and almost certainly the surgical removal of Gérard Houllier as manager. Morgan took care not to state anything too explicitly but his assessment of the Frenchman was withering.

Asked to comment on Houllier's assertion that, in another two or three years, Liverpool on its current course could overtake Arsenal or Manchester United, Morgan remarked: "I think we are in year six of a five-year plan. What is disappointing is we have not brought through any young lads from the academy at Kirkby.

"If I were a young lad at Kirkby, I would feel depressed that every time you feel you are getting close to the first team, another foreign player gets brought in." The academy, which cost £5m to build and £3m-a-year to run, is a sore point at Liverpool. Morgan stated the last player of note it produced was Steven Gerrard. He made his debut in 1998.

Moores and his board cannot, however, be accused of parsimony. Houllier's squad cost £84m to assemble in transfer fees alone. This is some £13m more than Arsène Wenger spent on the players who on Saturday will attempt to go through an entire season unbeaten. Manchester United's squad comes in at £100m, although Chelsea's outlay of £177m dwarfs them all.

It is the quality of those signings that enrages Morgan, whose personal fortune from housebuilding is estimated at more than £300m. He would not name them specifically but El-Hadji Diouf, Salif Diao and Bruno Cheyrou touch an especially raw nerve.

"Like every other fan, I am very unhappy at some of the signings we made two years ago. They have proved disastrous for the club. The second injection of the Granada money [£20m] has, quite frankly, been wasted and I would not want to see that happen again. The manager is there to manage but no manager can have carte blanche.

"Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish were controlled by the board led by John Smith and Peter Robinson, who imposed strict financial controls. That's what I believe should be happening now. I would like to think we can return to the old culture of the club. I remember the days when all 11 players on the pitch would give their everything for the club. Unfortunately, apart from the obvious few, we haven't seen that in recent years. We need people who want to play for Liverpool back in the side, not those who want a huge salary at the end of the month."

Moores has invested huge personal, as well as financial capital in Houllier. The Thaksin deal, however unpalatable it may be to those who regard Liverpool as more than a mere football club, would come at a cost of surrendering marketing rights in Asia, rather than sacrificing the manager.

Morgan's relationship with Moores has been fractious as those between the very rich often are. It is hard to see, however, what the Liverpool chairman would gain by dealing with his long-term critic, who is an obvious potential successor. All Morgan could offer by way of incentive was: "Like the rest of us, he will see the club he loves get the success that we all want. That's what's in it for him."

Moores' board meets today to discuss the proposals that a poll in the Liverpool Echo suggests has majority support in the red half of Merseyside. Whether the Liverpool chairman can swallow so much personal antipathy is, however, questionable. "I don't know if there is a personal grudge," Morgan argued. "I have criticised, and quite rightly so, some of the actions which have taken place in the past. The only reason I criticise is that I want the same as any other fan: the success that we enjoyed in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

"My disagreement with him is like going home to your wife at night. You are not going to agree with everything she says but you have a strong and solid relationship." The problem is that David Moores and Steve Morgan have never lived together, let alone exchanged rings.