Business 'wizard' to cast Anfield spell

By Nick Harris
Saturday 03 February 2007 01:00

If Tom Hicks can do for Liverpool what he did for George W Bush, fans of the club might yet come to embrace American ownership.

First Hicks made Bush rich, a multimillionaire, in fact. Then he helped to make him President of the United States. He has since helped Bush to retain his role as the most powerful man in the world through fundraising.

The pair's relationship has not been without controversy (more of which later) and some left-leaning red Scousers might not all embrace a "neocon" Republican in charge at Anfield, or Stanley Park, or the Weetabix Dome Bowl or whatever the new stadium will be called. But there is no doubt that Hicks is one influential, well-connected "player".

Hicks, 60, and his fellow American sports tycoon, George Gillett Jnr, 68, could take control of Liverpool as early as next week if their proposed £470m takeover unfolds as they expect. They have already held face-to-face secret talks this week with Liverpool's chairman, David Moores, and chief executive, Rick Parry, about their vision for the club, in which they will take 50-50 ownership.

It is understood that Hicks and Gillett will pay for the club's shares with cash. The pair will say nothing for now in public about the structure of their deal, but their advisors are keen to stress in private that they do not intend to load the club with debt, as the Glazer family has done at Manchester United.

Hicks has a reputation in America as "the leverage wizard", so called because of his long-standing tactic of buying firms with loans, and using the new asset as collateral. But sources close to him claim that any borrowing for a new stadium (£215m), debt-clearance (£80m) or transfer funds (undisclosed and unconfirmed) will "not be secured on the assets of the club".

Both men are rich, but neither is in Roman Abramovich's league. Gillett, who owns the NHL's Montreal Canadiens, is thought to be worth around £440m, a fortune amassed since a $1bn bankruptcy in 1992. Hicks, who owns the NHL's Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers baseball franchise, is a dollar billionaire, but is not hugely wealthier than Gillett. They know each other through the NHL, and from working together in meat production. Both have a broad portfolio of business interests including media and sport. Gillett has a penchant for ski resorts.

Hicks, who founded the firm that owns Weetabix, has a fondness for property. His experience in stadium construction is attractive to Liverpool. The real estate potential at Anfield, post-move, attracts him.

Hicks first became close to Bush, a fellow Texan, when he funded Bush's campaign to become Texas governor in 1994. Hicks had previously funded the Democratic incumbent, Ann Richards, but he backed Bush more heavily and has continued to do so since. Bush was duly elected in 1994, and in 1995 Hicks, a well-known "deal maker", successfully lobbied Bush and the Texas legislature to form a private company at Hicks' alma mater, the University of Texas, as a vehicle to invest UoT funds. Thus the University of Texas Investment Management Company was formed. Hicks became chairman and oversaw the investment of billions of dollars of assets in various ventures.

It was later revealed that up to $1bn had been committed to ventures run by associates and friends of Hicks, Bush or major Republican donors. It was not illegal, merely very controversial.

Bush only became very rich in 1998, when he sold a 12 per cent holding in the Texas Rangers, bought in 1989 for $606,000, to Hicks, for $15m.

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