Friday, 6 August 2010

New owners at LIVERPOOL FC? Well just Huang on a minute...

A workman applies gold leaf to the Shankly gates outside Liverpool's Anfield stadium in Liverpool, northern England August 2, 2010. Chinese businessman Kenny Huang has launched a bid to acquire control of Premier League club Liverpool from its unpopular American owners, a source close to the deal said on Monday. REUTERS/Phil Noble (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER BUSINESS)

If I knew back then what I know now 
If I understood the what, when, why and how
Now it's clear to me
What I should have done
But hindsight is 20/20 vision

GEORGE BENSON had it right, hindsight gives us 20/20 vision. And if we'd had that benefit, the throng of Liverpool fans that prevented Tom Hicks from entering Anfield the last time we faced Arsenal would have been present in even bigger numbers when, three and a half years ago, he first ventured into the vicinity of the postal district of L4.

The reign of Hicks and George Gillett as owners of Liverpool Football Club is possibly coming to an end with solid news on a new owner expected within a week according to reputable sources including The Times.

After the lies, the politics, the broken promises and our unwelcome crash course in accountancy, not to mention of the suffocating blanket of debt that has accompanied the American's time in charge, it's easy to see why many fans will look at prospective owners and say, 'They'll do'.

But back to hindsight. Whilst hindsight is now used to point fingers about how we as a club ever arrived at the situation where two men lacking class, cash or football knowledge were allowed the keys to the Shankly Gates, it should also be used to question any future suitors.

Yet already some fans are poised to unfurl their China flags and declare that Kenny's from heaven. Well just Huang on a minute.

It's all well and good supporters castigating Rick Parry, David Moores, the Premier League's pointless 'fit and proper person test', the media and so on for not seeing through the smiles, sniffing out the sh*te or questioning the iffy track record of the successful purchasers the last time the club was sold.

Aug 02, 2010 - Liverpool, England, United Kingdom - China fund raises finance to match Liverpool asking price. China Investment Fund sold shares worth  351.4m. Sum is equivalent to Anfield club's debt. The Chinese fund represented by KENNY HUANG (minority shareholder of Cleveland Cavaliers) has spent the past fortnight raising precisely the amount of cash required to finance a bid for Liverpool. Sources have confirmed to Digger that the China Investment Corporation, the sovereign-wealth fund to the world's most populous nation, is the organisation being fronted by Huang, who yesterday admitted interest in bidding for Liverpool. In a series of trades since 19 July, CIC has sold $558m of shares in Morgan Stanley, equating to $374 million. That sum is equivalent to Liverpool's debt to the nearest decimal place, and is exactly the number insiders say has been quoted to interested parties as the sale price.
Kenny Huang
But fans were taken in, too - remember the banners (there were a few variations on the theme) aping the Mastercard advert: Match ticket £32, New stadium: £220m - For everything else there's Tom & George?

So to see some swallowing the Chinese whispers of a new investor without a care to question is breathtaking given our recent history.

It also leaves a sour taste in the mouth to see fans acting like lottery winners, instantly looking to the money, talking about how many millions more we can spend than other clubs.

Once upon a time fans argued with rival supporters about who had the best number nine - now it's who has the richest owners.

It's not football as I know it and for me some kind of supporter representation is the key to retaining some semblance of the club I once knew.

The name of Liverpool has already been dragged through the mud, the club in many respects has lost sight of it roots - fans are increasingly being priced out of watching the team they love, the community around the ground appears long forgotten.

What Kenny Huang, Yahaya Kirdi, the Rhone Group and the Al Kharafi family all have in common (if indeed they all have a genuine interest in the club) is they see Liverpool as an opportunity, a brand to be exploited, a supporter base believed to run into the hundreds of millions which can be squeezed. 

Super-rich fans that genuinely care for the club have been priced out by the money-mad game but even fiscally-motivated aims can complement those of fans - owners can pocket a profit and bask in the prestige of being associated with the most-decorated club in Britain, we can taste success again and the club can be run in a way befitting of 'The Liverpool Way'.

That's the ideal. But the other side of the coin is Hicks and Gillett. And there's many more like them sniffing out a buck without a care for football. Read David Conn's The Beautiful Game? for an excellent if depressing insight into clubs - and fans - that have been shafted by their owners.

Owners in the modern game care about money. Fans care about the club. The two can and should work together, a fact recognised by UEFA who, according to the FSF, will under Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations have the obligation to appoint a Supporter Liaison Officer to ensure a dialogue between a club and its fans from 2012.

The rule-makers could go further - in Germany a '50 plus one' rule means clubs will always retain their identity and power because owners can only ever take 49 per cent of control of Bundesliga holding companies. Rules such as these have allowed Bayern Munich - Champions League finalists last season - to stay debt-free and offer tickets for as little as £11.

We shouldn't hold our breath about a similar model being adopted in England any time soon, though. Portsmouth's plummet into administration - and the Championship - after having four owners in a season proves the Premier League's power men are quite happy to leave it alone and allow the financial rat race to continue unchecked. Laissez-faire? What's fair about that?

But there is one way for fans to enjoy greater power in the current set up - own the club themselves. That may seem fanciful given the huge figures being bandied around to buy Liverpool but with the aforementioned hundreds of millions of fans worldwide - why not?

The joining of forces of Liverpool supporters' union Spirit of Shankly and Share Liverpool and the forming of a credit union are steps in the right direction. It will clearly take time but with support from fans it is achievable - Bayern is 80 per cent fan owned, while Barcelona's decisions are taken by a president and board of directors voted for by its 102,000 members, hence the motto "Més que un club" (More than a club).

Dedicated Liverpool fans would argue that LFC is also more than a club. It's certainly more than a business proposition. And that's why supporters - and the Liverpool board - should scrutinise and question every step of a bid to take power at Anfield.

Until match-going fans are involved in decision-making processes, suspicion is healthy for the well-being of the club we all love.