Liverpool fans' growing antipathy towards their club's co-owner Tom Hicks, who is close to strengthening his position at Anfield through refinancing the debt he incurred in buying the club, will be increased by the revelation of a US interview in which the American said that he intended to plough profits from the club into his US sports franchises.
Prospective suitor Dubai International Capital was waiting to see if the level of opposition against Hicks and his partner George Gillett before last night's home match with Aston Villa might make Gillett any keener to sell up. But the hard bargain being driven by Hicks is illustrated in a video interview with the Major League Baseball (MLB) website which deals with the fears expressed by fans of his Texas Rangers baseball and Dallas Stars ice hockey franchises, that the £218m American Anfield takeover last February would damage their own clubs.
"People are worried that I might take money away from the [Texas] Rangers [Hicks' baseball franchise] to go to Liverpool," Hicks said. "But it is just the reverse. Liverpool is going to throw off lots of extra money which, if I choose to, I can use for the Rangers or the [Dallas] Stars [ice hockey team]."
The interview was broadcast six months ago and Hicks' words were clearly aimed at pacifying American fans, but they will dismay Liverpool supporters, who turned out in numbers last night to voice distaste for the Americans, who seem almost certain to restructure their debt through a new £350m arrangement before any deal with DIC.
Despite persistent reports of an imminent formal bid from DIC, there were no developments on a potential buyout yesterday and the Arab consortium now seems to be playing a waiting game. It has not ruled out Gillett showing a willingness to sell up, thus forcing Hicks to follow suit. But sources in Liverpool suggest that the refinancing is a near certainty this week and that would make the club a far less attractive proposition to Dubai.
Contrary to reports, a meeting between DIC and Royal Bank of Scotland, with whom the Americans are restructuring their debt, has not taken place and will not do so today either.
It was revealed yesterday that Hicks intends to appear at the SoccerEx event in London in April, which hardly suggests that he is planning to move out of the sport any time soon.
The interview also provides a sense of how Hicks – whose Dallas Stars, purchased for $84m (43m), are now worth an estimated $254m – sees his sports franchises as business commodities. When he bought the Stars, he said, they were "a lousy franchise, playing in a crumbling arena... so I figured I could change all that; put them in a new arena, make them worth a lot more money and sell it and make money, because I'm a businessman. What I didn't count on was that I fell in love with hockey."
The angry Merseyside response to Hicks' revelation that he had approached Jürgen Klinsmann about the manager's job will hardly have left him "in love" with Liverpool and DIC may also find encouragement in Hicks' saying in the interview that he finds partisan Liverpool fans an alien entity. "There's a difference between American fans and not just European but UK," he tells MLB. "Liverpool football fans are on a different planet but God bless 'em they're proud of it."
The Liverpool hierarchy clearly relishes the prospect of investment by DIC, the investment arm of the Dubai government, which sources suggest is ready to issue sovereign bonds, allowing Liverpool's debt to be taken on by the Dubai state. DIC "would be welcomed by many on Merseyside," a senior Liverpool source said.
But DIC has so far failed to come close to a sum of money for Liverpool which would satisfy Hicks and Gillett, with a figure of £300m understood to have been rejected out of hand. Some financiers believe that even this represents the very top end of Liverpool's value, in view of the fact that £250m is needed for the redevelopment of the stadium.
Professor Tom Cannon, Dean of Buckingham University Business School and a long-time observer of the Merseyside football scene, said that if the costs of the stadium redevelopment, plus £50m for players, was factored in, the £300m valuation would make Liverpool more expensive than Manchester United or Arsenal and twice as expensive as Chelsea. "Liverpool have never made big profits – Manchester United have made big profits – but what is there apart from trophy cabinets?" he said "And trophy cabinets don't pay interest charges."
It is unclear whether the knock-on effect on the US stock market of the biggest fall in UK shares since 11 September may affect the Americans' position in any way. It was a bank holiday in America yesterday, but share prices on the Dow Jones seem certain to fall sharply today.
In Liverpool, the rancour felt for the Americans was voiced by the Reclaim the Kop group yesterday. "The fans want them out, unconditionally," said the group's Kevin Sampson. "The moment they confirmed our worst misgivings and admitted they'd been plotting to oust Benitez, they may as well have started saddling the horses. That's it. They are finished here."
The interview with Tom Hicks can be found at: http://mlb.mlb.com/media/player/mp_tpl.jsp?vid=7789&_mp=1&w=2007/open/teams07/tex/video/061907_tex_hicks_ownwords_400.wmv
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