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Liverpool

FSG have opened door to Liverpool sale but big questions remain unanswered

22:39 GMT+3 07/11/2022
John Henry Jurgen Klopp Mohamed Salah FSG Liverpool GFX
The news that the club's American owners would 'consider new shareholders' has caught fans by surprise but an imminent takeover appears unlikely.

So much for a quiet Monday, then. 

As Liverpool fans looked to bask in the rare glory of a Premier League away win, and idly began plotting their potential routes to Madrid following the Champions League 16 draw, along came a lightning bolt, something to stir even the most casual of followers into life.

Owners Fenway Sports Group, The Athletic reported, have put the club up for sale, instructing Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, two of the world’s biggest financial institutions, to sound out interested parties and to ascertain what any potential buyers would be prepared to pay.

A significant development, for sure, and one which was accompanied by a statement from FSG, which was notable not only in terms of what it did say, but also what it didn’t.

There was, for example, the insistence that “FSG remains fully committed to the success of Liverpool, both on and off the pitch”, and an admission that they have “frequently received expressions of interest from third parties seeking to become shareholders” in the club.

“Under the right terms and conditions,” the statement added, “we would consider new shareholders if it was in the best interests of Liverpool as a club.”

What the statement didn’t contain, however, was any kind of denial that the club was for sale, or that a document had been prepared for prospective buyers to mull over. 

That is significant. When it was reported in 2018 that Sheik Khaled Bin Zayed al-Nehayan, the cousin of the Manchester City owner, Sheik Mansour, was ready to launch a £2 billion ($2.3bn) takeover bid for the club, FSG responded with a statement which, as on Monday, confirmed that new investment would be considered “under the right terms and conditions”, but which added, crucially, that “FSG have been clear and consistent: the club is not for sale.”

It was the same later that year, when the New York Post ran a story claiming John W Henry, the principal owner, was willing to entertain takeover offers. "Unfounded speculation," said a spokesperson on that occasion.

And as recently as May, Tom Werner, the Liverpool chairman, was telling The Athletic that FSG still see the club as "a long-term project,” and that they were “hungry to win more trophies for the club.”

There was no such comment in Monday's statement, though, and the easy assumption to make is that something has changed and that FSG's stance has softened, although sources have suggested to GOAL that the prospect of third-party investment, via a minority stake, remains far likelier than a full-blown takeover at this point.

FSG has already, in 2021, sold a share of its business to RedBird Capital Partners, an investment firm which has since completed a takeover of Italian giants AC Milan.

RedBird paid FSG £654m ($750m) for an 11 per cent stake, a deal which would, in theory, have valued Liverpool’s ownership group at more than £5.8bn ($6.6bn), but which in the short-term allowed them to absorb the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and prevent them from loading debt against Liverpool or their other sporting business interests, such as the Boston Red Sox baseball franchise or the Roush Fenway Racing NASCAR team.

Liverpool’s growth under FSG, both on and off the field, has been clear, even if they have not always been the most popular of owners in the eyes of supporters.

The Americans paid £300m ($344m) to buy the club in October 2010, bringing to an end the torrid ownership of George Gillett and Tom Hicks, but Forbes estimated earlier this year that the Reds were now worth in excess of £3.6bn ($4.45bn), the result of an era of success on the pitch, and substantial revenue growth off it. 

That valuation, incidentally, was made just before the £4.25bn ($4.87bn) takeover of Chelsea by the Todd Boehly-led consortium, and it has been suggested that that deal has been a factor in FSG’s decision to investigate what potential buyers would be prepared to pay for Liverpool.

Fears over the club's financial security should they fail to secure qualification for the Champions League may also have played a part.

In the meantime, the Reds owners have continued to invest in the infrastructure of the club, committing to the redevelopment of Anfield, which will see the stadium’s capacity increase to more than 61,000 when the new Anfield Road Stand is completed next year, and building a new £50m ($57m) training complex in Kirkby, which opened in 2020. 

From a footballing perspective, FSG overcame a difficult start to establish Liverpool as one of European football’s smartest operators.

The appointment of Jurgen Klopp as manager in 2015 was followed by a series of shrewd transfer decisions under sporting director Michael Edwards, which were rewarded as the Reds won the Champions League in 2019 before ending their 30-year wait for a league title the following year.

Edwards left the club at the end of last season, and was replaced by his assistant Julian Ward, but Klopp signed a new contract which will keep him at Anfield until 2026 back in April, and in July Liverpool made Mohamed Salah the highest-paid player in the club’s history, handing the Egyptian a new three-year deal worth an estimated £350,000 ($401,000) per week.

They also signed striker Darwin Nunez from Benfica, in what could eventually prove to be a club-record transfer.

Despite this, there has long been the feeling that FSG’s business model, which relies on player trading as opposed to pure owner investment, means the Reds are unable to keep pace financially with rivals, in particular Manchester City, who have won four out of the last five Premier League titles.

This was a point Klopp made recently, when stating that “nobody can compete” with the Abu Dhabi-owned outfit, or indeed Newcastle, who were taken over by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund in 2021.

“Some clubs have ceilings,” the Reds boss said. “We cannot act like them. It is not possible.”

Whether that changes in the future remains to be seen. Right now there is a little that we know and a lot that we don’t, where Liverpool are concerned. 

We know that FSG are at the very least exploring their options and that they have made the first steps to identify and attract potential investors, and that those are significant developments.

But we don’t know why they have looked to do so and we don’t know who, if anyone, is out there ready to make the Americans an offer they can’t refuse.

There are plenty of moral considerations attached to such takeovers, as Newcastle and City fans would doubtless tell you.

For the time being, then, there are far more questions than answers.

One thing is for sure, the coming weeks and months at Anfield could be fascinating, both on and off the pitch.