Hollywood script fails to impress Liverpool

Tim Rich
Saturday 25 September 2004 00:00
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In Germany they call Bayern Munich "FC Hollywood" but yesterday Liverpool reacted with some disdain to news that they were being targeted by a couple of minor Los Angeles movie moguls.

The club, which has attracted bids good, bad and ugly in its quest to find adequate funding for a new stadium, distanced itself from reports that a Merseyside-born film-maker, Mike Jefferies, and his business partner, Stuart Ford, had begun takeover talks in a deal that might be worth £100m.

Jefferies claimed he has been discussing a buy-out of the controlling 51.6 per cent shareholding owned by the chairman, David Moores, for up to six weeks, although it seems that any contact was at Jefferies' instigation, not Liverpool's. The club, which has appointed an outside company, Hawkpoint, to attract future investment, said no further meetings with Jefferies were planned.

Plenty of doubt has been cast on exactly what financial backing Jefferies can offer Anfield since he is a film producer who lives in Hollywood rather than a Hollywood film producer. The picture he has produced, Goal!, shot around St James' Park last season, has been beset by production difficulties and no firm release date has yet been set.

Jefferies and Ford said merely that they "would like to contribute to helping Liverpool become the most successful club in the world again". The size of that contribution has not been specified. Jefferies has not stated he would put in £100m, although that is the figure that the club is worth, based on the value of its shareholding. Depending on the price of its shares, Liverpool could be priced at anything between £70m and £140m.

Jefferies' offer appears to have been that Moores would make an agreement in principle to sell his shareholding, and Jefferies and Ford, a vice-president in charge of acquisitions at Miramax Films, would seek investors to buy it. They are prepared to consider a two-stage deal, buying a minority stake in the club and then making further acquisitions, possibly targeting the 10 per cent stake held by the television company Granada.

January's reopening of the transfer window coincides with the club's AGM. Since Jefferies claims spending on players is "essential", a consortium would have to be put together quickly.

Liverpool already turned their back on a £60m deal with the prime minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, partly because of concern over human rights abuses by his regime but also because the policy of using public money to invest in a private English football club sparked uproar in Bangkok.

The more usual route of attracting investment from a local millionaire also ran into the sands in the summer. Steve Morgan, a lifelong fan and third-biggest shareholder, saw a plan for a £70m rights issue rejected by Moores in May, while a repackaged deal broke down last month. The club objected that under his plans too much money would go to existing shareholders and not enough towards the new stadium project. The cost of this has recently escalated from £80m to £100m.

Morgan's plan is, however, the only one to put money on the table and to have been backed by the public, although his long-standing rift with Moores meant it was unlikely be accepted. It may have hastened the departure of Gérard Houllier, of whom Morgan was critical, but otherwise his three-month campaign achieved little.

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