Jonathan Northcroft (The Times)
20 Jan 2008
TOM HICKS and George Gillett must decide whether to relinquish control of Liverpool or struggle through a gathering mass of problems, after being put on the spot by would-be buyers of the football club, Dubai Investment Capital (DIC).
DIC, the investment arm of the Dubai government, are poised to make an offer, forcing the Americans to choose whether to stick with their stakeholding - or twist.
The DIC bid appeared to be timed to pressure Hicks and Gillett at a vulnerable moment. Supporter opposition to the American millionaires, who last week confirmed that they had approached Jurgen Klinsmann about taking over from Rafael Benitez, has hardened to the point where a demonstration is planned for tomorrow’s game against Aston Villa at Anfield. A concerted campaign is also under way to send abusive email messages to Kekst, the New York public relations company hired by Hicks.
The DIC offer also comes at a time of fresh reports of a rift between Hicks and Gillett. Though dismissed by the Americans as rumour, it may be significant that the story is being reported in Canada, in a news outlet that has previously had close dealings with Gillett, owner of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey franchise. Until now, Hicks has been determined to hold on to his stake and bring to fruition long-term plans, including building a new stadium for Liverpool.
The intentions of Gillett remain unclear. DIC appear to think that they can acquire Liverpool, which they tried to buy before the American takeover in February 2007, by a “divide and conquer” strategy. If they can persuade one of the co-owners to sell, the other may be forced to follow.
Until last week, sources familiar with Hicks’ position were bullish that he and Gillett would be owners of Liverpool “for a very long time”. Their first step would be to complete a £350m deal to refinance debts incurred in their £220m takeover last year, investment in the squad, interest payments and money needed to start work on the new stadium. Analysts say such a deal is still imminent, possibly on Tuesday. But other City sources note that the Americans have proposed a refinancing deal since November, when they promised it would be in place by December.
DIC are said to be offering no more than half the £1bn the Americans estimated the club was worth in October. If Gillett wanted out and Hicks wished to retain control of the club, it would be a costly business for him. They could instead make a tidy profit by accepting a £500m bid from DIC, having paid only £218.9m for the club less than 12 months ago.