Beware of the Locusts

If Arsenal’s imminent ownership change does not seem to carry drastic immediate implications, Liverpool’s ownership situation is becoming increasingly alarming. It has now emerged that Goldman Sachs – yes, the same Goldman Sachs, the great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity – conducted due diligence with bankers for Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett. In the end, Goldman Sachs decided not to bid, what what if an offer would have been made? Has it really come to this? Is it imaginable that the vampire squid could claim one of the most venerable names in England and the world?

Last year Hicks and Gillett hired Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Rothschild to find investors and to reduce the debt they created with their leveraged takeover, a wicked maneuver that has subjugated the club to stifling debt. Thus far, Hicks and Gillett have not received any acceptable offers. An offer for 40 percent of the club by a New York-based private equity firm was declined in March. Now the two American owners have hired Barclays Capital as their desperation intensifies.

The greatest culprit for Liverpool’s saga is Hicks. While Gillett has demonstrated some consideration for the club’s identity and some flexibility in dealing with the club’s financial plight, Hicks, a Texan with no previous connection to soccer, has treated his Liverpool investment with despicable opportunism, blatantly disregarding the club’s famed history and supporters. Now he wants out, having prevented Gillett a number of times from selling his share and having dragged Gillett all the way into this miserable place. Surely a solution will be found, as Liverpool is a tremendous club with massive support around the world.

But is there really no British entity or individual that can step in to rescue Liverpool Football Club? The most likely buyer might be an Asian version of Abramovich, or perhaps another Middle-East Sheik. Though far from ideal, such a solution would be better than a hedge fund or private equity scenario. Football clubs represent the identity of generations of people, community, history, idols, dreams, love, passion. Club owners should be merely guardians of these traditions and values, as is the case with the best run club in the world, Barcelona. No club benefits from detestable locusts looking to exploit these traditions and reduce them to dollars.