October 15, 2010
Liverpool fans celebrate in the reception of Slaughter and May.
© Getty Images
Watching reporters and Liverpool fans alike bundle into the reception of law firm Slaughter and May’s London offices to hear John W Henry and Martin Broughton announce the sale of Liverpool Football Club to NESV on Friday, there was just one prevailing feeling: relief.
Relief that a club of the stature of Liverpool had been prised from the hands of a poisonous regime that, until the very bitter end, attempted to hold onto it to their own ends; relief that a passionate legion of supporters had avoided seeing their club plunge to any further depths; and, most of all, relief that one of the most interminable sagas ever to afflict English football had finally come to an end.
To be a Liverpool supporter over the past week has been a truly tortuous experience. Scousers, and reporters if truth be told, not possessed of a degree in corporate or international law have been bewildered by an array of legal terms - declaratory judgements, injunctions, temporary restraining orders. It’s enough to make you feel like a bumbling, incompetent Lionel Hutz.
Of course, the nightmare may not be over yet. In a matter befitting of Dr Evil, Tom Hicks has raised his little finger to his mouth, arched an eyebrow and declared he wants $1.6 billion in damages. The temptation to react like Austin Powers’ U.N. and burst out laughing would be tempting if it were not so serious.
But this is not how the destiny of a football club should be decided; the fate of a team should be determined on the pitch, not in the courtroom. The very fact that the future of one of England’s great sporting institutions was at one point dependent on a court ruling in Texas tells you all you need to know about the farcical situation that Hicks and Gillett forced Liverpool into.
Seeing football placed on the altar of the legal system does the sport no favours; it’s like seeing your pet puppy flattened by an articulated lorry, or your favourite band announce a new experimental direction by appropriating the musical styling of Justin Bieber. In short, it’s just plain wrong - the two worlds should never co-exist.
And when Liverpool fans burst into the reception of a top law firm and serenade a corporate chairman with chants of “We love you Martin, we do”, all that is left to ask is: How did it come to this?
Let’s just call the whole sorry episode a morality tale for modern football.
Sunday’s Merseyside derby will ensure the focus finally, slowly switches back to football. It’s time to swap law suits for tracksuits, and what a relief that will be for everyone.
October 8, 2010
United fans are strongly opposed to the American regime.
© Getty Images
No one is likely to confuse Harry Redknapp with a forensic accountant, but just 24 hours after his misguided support of the dying Hicks and Gillett regime at Liverpool, Manchester United’s latest accounts provided further evidence of the extent to which leveraged buy-outs can have a damaging impact on even the biggest of clubs.
“I'd love to know what the two Americans have done that is so wrong,” Redknapp wrote in The Sun on Thursday, somehow letting it escape his attention that the debt-laded takeover orchestrated by the Hicks and Gillett had crippled Liverpool, bringing a once-great club to its knees. Now a nine-point deduction could be incurred if the NESV takeover falls through and RBS places the club into administration next week.
Both on and off the pitch, United are not plumbing the depths scraped by Liverpool. With their vast revenue streams - augmented by the Glazer family’s expansion into foreign markets - and expertly-run affairs, there is no danger of United heading into administration - an invidious position solely accompanied by Portsmouth in the history of the Premier League, for a few days at least. But that is not to say that Friday’s financial results do not make worrying reading for supporters.
United’s accounts revealed an overall loss of £83.64 million, despite turnover rising to £286.4 million and operating profit standing at a record £100.8 million. Not that you would know that from the club’s official website, though - their Pravda-style operation neglected to mention the worst figures and later buried any mention of the results themselves.
That is hardly surprising when they paint a very unflattering picture of one of world football’s great institutions.
Imagine how financially formidable United would be had £40 million not been hived off to cover interest repayments, or a chunk taken out to cover the Glazers’ bond issue earlier in the year. Instead of signing unknown Portuguese kids with less experience of top-flight football than Ali Dia, they could have been making a concerted effort to follow up Sir Alex Ferguson’s confirmed interest in David Villa.
But emasculated by the Glazer takeover of 2005, they have been rendered impotent in completely unnecessary fashion. United did not need a bail-out, a knight in shining armour. For the sake of the club changing hands, it has been submerged in interest fees and charges.
Although United posted a profit of £48 million 12 months ago, that ostensibly impressive figure was only achieved after the club failed to resist a fax from the Bernabeu with £80 million emblazoned across it and decided to sell Cristiano Ronaldo.
While UEFA’s new financial fair play regulations, brought in to ensure that clubs do not artificially enhance their spending power, are expected to cause real trouble for free-spending Manchester City, across the city at Old Trafford, the opposite is true.
As a result of the Glazer takeover, United’s owners have artificially constrained their own club’s ambitions in the transfer market. United should be a club in a position to fully capitalise on their soaring turnover and burgeoning operational profit; instead, the burden of debt incurred by the Glazer takeover means they are not.
The vast majority of United fans are savvy enough to realise that just because they are competing for the Premier League this season, and won the Champions League under Glazer control in 2008, does not mean that their place at the summit of English football is guaranteed, or that their future is in the right hands - their prolonged and admirable protests against the Glazer regime tell you that much.
It is a distinction that Harry Redknapp - and anyone else ready to ignore the adverse impact of leveraged buyouts - would do well to recognise.
October 4, 2010
Kevin Cyril Davies: England's new hope.
© Getty Images
“My half brother is Jamaican so I might try for them, I have more chance of getting into that squad than the England one!”
Those were the words of Bolton striker Kevin Davies a few months back. Now, the 33-year-old with the middle name ‘Cyril’ is in Fabio Capello’s squad for the game with Montenegro and is ready to eat those words by claiming his first cap.
Pub quiz aficionados may now have to deal with one less answer for the question: Which players cost over £7 million but have never played for England? Carl Cort, Michael Bridges and Dean Richards are some of the names on offer but, from next week, Davies may not be another. So is his call-up a well deserved one, or does it just go to show how small the striking pool for England is?
In fact, it’s a little of both. Think international striker and the name Kevin Cyril Davies does not come immediately to mind - unless perhaps England are playing an exceptional physical side on a quagmire of a pitch. The Bolton man is not the most cultured on the ball and has developed a reputation as something of a hardman during his spells with Southampton, Blackburn and now at the Reebok.
But, as he has proved this season, his is a game that is effective in certain conditions. He would certainly struggle playing for a side like Barcelona or Arsenal, where the focus of the game is on short passing, and yet has found his feet under a coach like Sam Allardyce who favours the more direct approach.
Tough, strong, uncompromising and committed, he perhaps has all the qualities of an excellent central defender, while his goalscoring record follows suit: he has reached double figures just once since the turn of the Century. But he fills a gap. A fairly sizeable gap left by the retired Emile Heskey.
In England’s current situation - with Jermain Defoe, Bobby Zamora and Theo Walcott injured, and Wayne Rooney in indifferent form - Davies is the type of player than Capello would want to call upon to hold the ball up, and create space for others. Heskey performed the role admirably, despite criticism over his lack of goals, and Davies is cut from the same stone - albeit one that perhaps pushes the boundaries a little more.
In truth, Capello had very little other option. Darren Bent, Peter Crouch and Rooney will share the responsibilities of leading the hunt for goals, while Davies will likely be called into action only if needed. It is a nice reward for a player who has become a focal point of his club side, even if he has not won many neutrals over with his style of play.
West Ham’s Carlton Cole may rue his early season form, as he can count himself unlucky to be overlooked. But in the search to replace Emile ‘Ivanhoe’ Heskey, Cyril takes centre stage for now.