'The club need money, not a troublemaker'

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The Independent Football

On Wednesday morning, Steve Morgan walked into the casino that is the Premiership, stepped up to the table marked Liverpool and placed the biggest bet of his life. By Thursday afternoon, he had lost his gamble. Did he forget that the house always wins?

Last night, Morgan, a life-long Liverpool fan and vocal critic of the current board, was close to admitting defeat in his bid to increase his five per cent stake in the club. No matter that sections of the Anfield crowd sang his name during yesterday's match against Newcastle, Morgan accepts that he has no such support in the corridors of power.

"Despite the board's public announcement," said the Jersey-based millionaire, referring to the statement that described his offer as "unattractive", "I have yet to be contacted personally by Liverpool Football Club. I am being left in the dark."

The wait may soon be over, as the board, who met on Thursday with their financial advisers, Hawkpoint Partners Limited, have now indicated that they will explain their decision to Morgan personally in the next few days. However, they will not change their mind. Morgan's plans for a rights issue and the sale of shares to supporters do not appeal to the powers that be, not least because the former chairman of Redrow Homes values each share at £1,750, implying a current value of just £61m for the entire club.

Furthermore, a rights issue is not a direct injection of funds, as proposed by the Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who offered £54.6m for a 30 per cent stake in Liverpool. Morgan has merely pledged to find new investors, albeit with the proviso that he will buy in if no one else does.

Yet Morgan has clearly struck a chord with sections of dissatisfied fans and a nerve in the manager, Gérard Houllier, who defended his record passionately before walking out of Friday's press conference. But Morgan's biggest problem remains his image. Like the late Matthew Harding, who responded to a plea for funds from the then Chelsea chairman Ken Bates in 1994, Morgan is proposing to make the leap from the terraces to the directors' box. But a man of the people, who could create a power struggle à la Harding versus Bates, is not what the club's old-fashioned board are looking for.

As one insider explained yesterday: "The club need money, not a potential troublemaker. Morgan may be a more acceptable investor than the Thai Prime Minister for the fans, but as far as the board are concerned he would be too close for comfort." In other words, Liverpool want money, but no ties (no pun intended). "What they certainly want to avoid is having a disruptive figure sitting on the board," the source added.

Morgan himself has admitted that, in return for any investment, he would expect a say in the way the club are run. "I would want representation in proportion to the money I put in," said the man who came 137th in the Sunday Times Rich List with a reputed fortune of £312m, "and I believe that's fair."

In contrast, the Thai proposal comes with fewer strings. True, Thaksin has indicated that he would hope to nominate representatives "to participate in Liverpool's management", but David Moores' chairmanship would not be under threat. No wonder Thaksin is so optimistic.

"I would say it is now 51:49 in our favour," said the telecoms tycoon-turned-politician, who last year tried and failed to buy into Fulham.

Even Morgan is having to admit that is the case. It is significant that he has gone from positive bidder on Wednesday to negative campaigner yesterday. "None of us know the details of the Thai bid yet," he said. "Whatever happens, David Moores' stake will be diluted. At least with the bid I've put forward, he can choose exactly how much he wants to invest."

Morgan also questioned whether private or public funds would be used to fund Thaksin's bid, while many Thai politicians simply believe the deal is a ploy to distract attention from other issues. Amnesty International's claims over human rights abuses by the Thai authorities, for instance? "You would think it would come into it," Morgan said. "You have to be concerned at any allegations of abuse. But it is not for me to comment publicly on the Thai Prime Minister."

Morgan the businessman maintains that he can cope with the rejection. "If the Liverpool board accept the Thai offer it will be the end of the road for me," he said. "They will have had their capital injection and there will be no need for me any more. It will not hurt me. I'm a big boy, I've won deals and I've lost deals, but I really question whether it is in the best interests of my club to go to the other side of the world to get an injection of capital."

Morgan the Liverpool fan will clearly be downhearted. "I have not got an alternative," he said. "I couldn't invest in Everton or Manchester United or Manchester City or anybody else, because there is only one place where my heart is and that is Liverpool Football Club. If it's not Liverpool it's nothing."

Curiously, an anagram for Steve Morgan is: governs team. Not Liverpool he won't.

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