RED LETTER DAY | 

Why Liverpool owners on a fishing expedition to establish the market value of the club

Big-money, state-backed takeovers are turning heads of shareholders

Liverpool owner John W Henry and his wife Linda Pizzuti. Photo: Michael Regan/Sportsfile© Getty Images

Chris BascombeTelegraph.co.uk

With poetic choreography, Manchester City released their annual accounts minutes before it emerged that Fenway Sports Group (FSG) was hoping to put a sale price on Liverpool.

City, top of the Deloitte Money League, announced club-record revenues of £613m (€704m), with commercial revenues increasing in 2021-’22 from £271.7m (€312m) to £309.5m (€355.6).

Given that, FSG’s statement confirming the club will “consider new shareholders” is perhaps most accurately read, by those with mischievous minds, as a Liverpool concession.

​“Fair enough, Sheikh. You win. Have it all,” John W Henry might be telling the football world by inviting bids for the Anfield club. “We’ll take the first $6 billion offer and wish English football good luck. Enjoy those one-horse races for the next decade.”

The reality seems less dramatic (for now, at least), with Liverpool’s owners seemingly on a fishing expedition to establish the market value of their prized asset.

The sale of Chelsea for £4.5 billion (€5.2bn) will certainly have turned the heads of some of the more hands-off partners within the Boston-based organisation. Although there is no expectation of a quick sale, who knows how Henry and his fellow shareholders will react if the mother of all dividends looks like it could be coming their way, given they bought Liverpool for a paltry £300m in 2010.

Since buying Liverpool, FSG has openly pursued further investment, although in previous statements (as in 2018 when interest materialised) it was more belligerent with its “not for sale” messaging. To understand the FSG ethos it is always informative to go back to what Henry said upon collecting the keys to the Shankly Gates.

“I don’t have ‘Sheikh’ in front of my name,” he said. “People now think that Boston [Red Sox] is on a par, economically, with the New York Yankees, which is just not true. We have gone toe-to-toe with the Yankees, even though they have got a much higher revenue.

“When we looked at Liverpool, the first thing that struck us was that there are opportunities here to really build a winner because the revenue potential around the world makes this a global football club.”

Liverpool have rebuilt incrementally, first through expanding commercial activities, the rising broadcast money and then match-day revenues with a new Main Stand and soon-to-be-completed Anfield Road End.

Jurgen Klopp has also been a prolific fundraiser of all, leading the side to three Champions League finals to garner all those UEFA cheques.

That success has enabled FSG to maintain self-sufficiency, through increased cash flow, to subsidise wage increases and assist with recruitment. Yet, in the world of Manchester City, and perhaps Newcastle United in the future, it is still not enough.

​That is why FSG was led to the ill-advised Super League proposals in 2021, and why it sold a 10pc share of its whole company to RedBird Capital soon after.

City’s extraordinary commercial revenues are especially galling for Liverpool, as this is the one area the Merseysiders felt they could match their rivals.

Liverpool’s commercial revenues are expected to be around £240m (€275m) in their next published accounts, which is a vast improvement on where they were 12 years ago, but nowhere near enough to outbid any City offer for the next Erling Haaland.

That is what Klopp was talking about with his “no one can compete with City” soliloquy before the clubs met last month.

His remarks barely scratch the surface of the levels of frustration felt by some at Liverpool at a perceived lack of curiosity as to how City’s commercial team is more successful than Liverpool’s, but also those of gilded sporting institutions such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United.

So where, and how, can Liverpool keep finding the resources to ensure they are not outbid for Jude Bellingham, or whoever the next prime transfer target might be – especially if they drop out of the top four?

There will be no tolerance for transfer budget cuts, but FSG will never go down the “buy now, worry about paying off the debt later” approach of their predecessors George Gillett Jnr and Tom Hicks.

​Although Klopp was shot down by those who claimed Liverpool have been competing for most of the past five years, his critics were disingenuous when ignoring how much Liverpool have punched above their financial weight by sparring with and occasionally knocking City out.

The reality that the tribalistic football world does not want to confront – one which Arsenal fans may soon sympathise with should they enjoy a magnificent season with a club-record points tally and no title – is that even some of the biggest clubs are feeling the pinch of an obvious material disadvantage.

Those who are not already owned by a nation may have only one option left to explore – how to sell to one.


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