These past two weeks have been exciting to Liverpool supporters for all the wrong reasons. The exit in the Carling Cup to Northampton on penalties, unconvincing performances in Europe, and a shock loss to Blackpool leaving Liverpool in the relegation zone have all highlighted what is becoming a dismal season for the Reds and newly appointed Roy Hodgson. The roller-coaster is already screaming along and the ride is not slowing down anytime soon.
October 6 is the deadline for Liverpool’s American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillette, to repay a £237m pound loan to the Royal Bank of Scotland. While Gillette seems committed to exit the club (and the loss on his investment), Hicks has been actively seeking buyers and new refinancing from banks to buy more time. He has even gone as far as approaching a subsidiary of private equity group Blackstone for funds; but all to no avail, buyers sense a better price after Hicks has been pushed aside, banks will not consider refinancing loans for the Reds, and even Blackstone rejected what was surely a rich deal.
Given the very public rejection of Hicks’ efforts, it is likely the pair will fail to meet the loan deadline and that RBS will end up seizing control of the club. While many will be happy to see the Americans go, the aftermath of the ownership change will be more painful than supporters realize. Performance of the club has been seriously affected, squad morale is clearly dragging the bottom and continuing uncertainty over the direction of the club helps no one. While I disagree with John Nicholson that Liverpool could be relegated (not realistic without an unlikely administration triggered points deduction), I believe enough damage could be done to seriously injure the stature and progress of the club for years.
Liverpool’s future depends heavily on how quickly RBS can find a buyer after Hicks and Gillette have departed. The best scenario would have a prospective buyer in the wings ready to scoop up the club and have RBS spend little if any time in control. The worst case would involve a long tenure by RBS as owner, and supporters only have to look at West Ham’s situation to understand the negatives of that situation. Either way the next week is the beginning of the most important year in Liverpool’s recent history, many battles are looming: stabilizing club finances, keeping star players, and most importantly maintaining a foothold in Europe.
I hope that Liverpool supporters find themselves in calmer waters soon.