Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Liverpool Await High Court Ruling

A High Court ruling on the future ownership of Liverpool Football Club is set to be announced by Mr. Justice Floyd at 1000 BST on Wednesday.

The judge will make his decision having heard arguments from both sides at a packed court 16 on Tuesday.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), the club's major creditor, is trying to force a sale that owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are objecting to.

The American duo bought the club in 2007 but owe RBS £240m.

Hicks and Gillett are blocking the £300m sale to New England Sports Ventures (NESV), saying it undervalues the club.

Richard Snowden QC for RBS said at the hearing Hicks and Gillett were in "breach of contract" and guilty of "breathtaking arrogance".

It was also argued in court by the legal team of Hicks and Gillett that the deadline for refinancing or repaying the £240m debt is not Friday, 15 October but Monday, 1 November.

There were fears that, if the deadline was this Friday, RBS - which is 70% owned by the British public - could take control of Liverpool and place the club's holding company into administration.

That would almost certainly result in a nine-point penalty and might prompt NESV to walk away from the deal - leaving the club and RBS with no potential buyers.

As Tuesday's hearing got under way on a day of drama, BBC News revealed rival bidder, Singapore business tycoon Peter Lim, had increased his offer to £320m in cash for the club and its liabilities, plus pledging £40m for players.

And during the court deliberations, Hicks and Gillett's QC said there was a third bid to buy the club from hedge fund group Mill Financial, which would pay off the Reds' debt and commit £100m to a new stadium.

The key issue for the hearing to resolve is whether chairman Martin Broughton has the authority to sell Liverpool to NESV against the wishes of the current American owners.

Broughton claims when the owners decided to put the club up for sale in April, RBS requested undertakings from them that only he - as independent chairman - could make changes to the club's board.

That was to prevent the two Americans blocking any sale as the format of the board meant Broughton, managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre could outvote Hicks and Gillett three to two.

However, minutes before a meeting last week to discuss the bid by NESV, which will clear all debt but leave the owners with losses of £144m, Hicks tried to sack Purslow and Ayre and install his son, Mack, and Lori McCutcheon, who works for Hicks Holdings.

Broughton rejected the proposal and continued with the meeting, with the England-based board members coming down in favour of the NESV bid.

Hicks, however, has denied there are such undertakings in place, and insisted Broughton's actions were illegal and therefore the sale to NESV - which is partly owned by Boston Red Sox proprietor John W Henry - is invalid.

In court, Snowden told Mr. Justice Floyd that Hicks and Gillett were committing "a calculated breach of contract" by seeking to change the constitution of the board without the consent of the bank.

He said they were doing this in order "to frustrate the sale necessary to repay the bank £200m by this Friday".

Hicks and Gillett's legal team admitted they had broken corporate rules in their attempt to keep control of the club.

But they argued the Americans had been forced to do this after the board failed to consult them properly and to consider other, potentially more lucrative, offers for the club.

Ahead of Tuesday's hearing, RBS secured an injunction to prevent them sacking Broughton or any other board members.

Snowden said that reconstituting the board "would derail the carefully planned process designed to achieve a sale of the club in a timely manner."

That process, he added, would avert the prospect of Liverpool going into administration and losing nine points.

Mr. Justice Floyd was also asked to impose injunctions on Hicks and Gillett requiring them to restore the original constitutions of the companies and managing directors, therefore removing the final stumbling block to a takeover.

But the new Lim bid could become a further complication.

"What may excite Liverpool's fans is that Mr. Lim is also saying he'll provide £40m in cash to Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson to purchase players during the January transfer window," stated BBC business editor Robert Peston.

"Liverpool's board will find it difficult to ignore Mr. Lim's new offer, raising yet more uncertainty about the ultimate fate of the football club."

BBC sports news correspondent Dan Roan added: "What this does is introduce a whole new element into this debate. It may mean certain people at Liverpool, for example Hicks and Gillett, have a little bit more support for their argument that NESV isn't necessarily the best route for the club to take."

Meanwhile, Henry has started his dialogue with Liverpool fans by expressing his hope that the ownership issue is "sorted out soon".

On Tuesday morning the 61-year-old futures and foreign exchange trading adviser wrote on his Twitter page: "Hello LFC supporters. Everyone is hoping for the best. There have been enough twists and turns. Hopefully all gets sorted out soon; LFC moves forward.

"It would be inappropriate and presumptuous at this time to respond to questions. In the interim, we're all rooting for the same thing."

Peter Lim Confirms €370m Offer For Liverpool With Hodgson Handed €45m To Spend In January Transfer Window

Singapore businessman Peter Lim has announced a fresh €370 million offer for Liverpool with a further €45m made available for transfers in January.

The billionaire initially lost out to New England Sports Ventures (NESV) in the bidding war to gain control of the club. While the John W. Henry-led consortium are in the High Court planning to force through the sale against current owners George Gillett & Tom Hicks' wishes, Lim has re-entered the race.

In a statement released to the media this afternoon, he said: "I respect and admire Liverpool Football Club, which is steeped in tradition and history. I am committed to rebuild the Club so that it can soon regain its position at the pinnacle of English and European football, where it truly belongs.

"This is why I have stepped forward with this offer. I believe that if its massive debt burden can be removed, the club would be able to focus on improving its performance on the pitch.

"My offer pays off the existing owners’ bank acquisition debt and also frees the club of its own bank debt. If the Board accepts this offer, the monies are available immediately thereby removing the threat of administration.

"The club needs to strengthen its existing squad. As part of this offer, I will be injecting £40m in cash into the Club for Roy Hodgson to bring in new players during the upcoming transfer window. Liverpool needs to start winning again!

"My offer provides a firm financial platform from which the club can rebuild. Given the manner in which the sale process has been handled, I feel Martin and the board owe it to me, to the club, and to the supporters, to consider my offer."

Lim's deal places an extra €23m on NESV's valuation and would similarly clear all its debt. The hope of an injection of cash into manager Roy Hodgson's kitty could add fresh uncertainty as the board could be forced to consider it.

Liverpool Takeover: Peter Lim May Sue Club Over Bidding Process

Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, who on Tuesday submitted an improved, £320 million offer to buy Liverpool, could yet sue the club over the initial sales process which resulted in the Anfield board rejecting his bid in favour of New England Sports Ventures.

His advisers, the Wong Partnership, on Tuesday submitted a letter to the High Court detailing Lim's "surprise" at learning NESV had come to an agreement with Liverpool's three non-shareholder directors less than 12 hours after he was informed his offer was "preferred and superior".

Paul Girolami QC, for Tom Hicks and others, revealed Lim had taken legal advice on the decisions taken by the club's directors between 3pm on Oct 5 – when Lim was informed he remained the preferred bidder – and when the agreement with NESV was struck.

He has also submitted a request to discover whether the terms of his offer, which sources close to the billionaire believe was financially more attractive until NESV improved its own bid by promising to pay £10 million to the Royal Bank of Scotland in fees, were revealed to his rivals, breaching his confidentiality clause.

Despite that, on Tuesday Lim improved his original bid, believed to be worth the £300 million NESV wishes to pay, to £320 million, plus £40 million for manager Roy Hodgson to spend in the January transfer window.

Lim's offer, through his Meriton vehicle, would wipe Liverpool clear of debt and is funded entirely from the former stockbroker's own $1.6 billion (£1 billion) fortune.

He said in a statement: "My offer pays off the existing owners' bank acquisition debt and also frees the club of its own bank debt. If the board accepts this offer, the monies are available immediately, thereby removing the threat of administration."

Lim accepts he remains an outsider to land the club – his bid would be considered only if NESV walk away or Liverpool go into administration – but he is determined to push ahead with a deal.

Though his background running Manchester United-themed caf├ęs in the Far East is unlikely to impress Liverpool fans, it is thought, should he land the club, he would pull out of that deal when his contract expires in 2012.

Liverpool Skipper Steven Gerrard Hits Back At 'Completely Over The Top' Criticism Of Fernando Torres

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has leapt to the defence of Fernando Torres and labelled criticism of him "completely over the top".

Torres, 26, has netted just one goal for the club all season as he has struggled to get up to pace. This return has led to fears about his form and fitness, but the England midfielder was quick to offer his support

"It's all completely over the top," Gerrard told LFC Weekly. "It's easy to watch a football match and, if the centre-forward doesn't score or pull a rabbit out of a hat, say his body language isn't right.

"If a player's form isn't there or he's fighting for full fitness after injuries it's normal that their body language isn't perfect. I'm the same. If I'm not playing at the levels I know I can, or if I'm struggling with an injury, people say the same things about me.

"The only time a centre-forward's body language is 100 per cent right is when they're scoring in every game, that's the way they are. That's why players like that are the best in the world, because if they come off the pitch without scoring or producing a nine out of ten or ten out of ten performance they're not happy. That's what helps to make them so good.

"You only have to look at Fernando's record since he walked through the door to know how good he is. He's had a bad time with injuries of late. He wasn't 100 per cent going into the World Cup and he had a lot of criticism over the summer. But he'll bounce back.

"We all believe in him, he's our top man. He's a top player and he's our goal-scorer. We all need to get behind Fernando and help him to get back to the form he showed in his first season here. On that form he's the best centre-forward in the world."

Manager Roy Hodgson has borne the brunt of the blame for Liverpool's descent into the Premier League relegation zone. Gerrard stated that the playing staff were ready to "accept responsibility" for the poor results along with the coaching staff.

"It's unfair for people to just blame the manager for the bad start to the season," he added. "We're all in this together, everyone at the club, from top to bottom. We've all got to accept responsibility and pull together if we are to turn things around. A good win in the derby would be the perfect way to start doing that.

"We've had some wonderful Champions League nights at Anfield and I'm sure the supporters would agree with me when I say we want all that back.

"Obviously the only way to bring it back is to finish in the top four places. That's the main priority for the club and the players. It's where we belong. Over the last five or six years we've proved that we're one of a number of clubs that deserve to be at that level and we are all determined to get back to it."

Malaga Line Up Loan Swoop For Liverpool's Ryan Babel

Malaga intend to tempt Liverpool with a loan offer for Ryan Babel, according to Spanish daily AS.

Babel, 23, has struggled to make an impression at Anfield since he joined in 2007 and has made just two substitute appearances in the Premier League this season. He had been expected to be jettisoned last summer but an upturn in form in the final months of the previous campaign secured his squad place.

Malaga have made a promising start in the Primera Division and intend to bolster their playing staff in the New Year. A conclusion for the bid for Babel will have to wait until Liverpool's ownership issues are cleared up, however.

Reds Wait On Duo Fitness

Liverpool face an anxious wait to assess the fitness of Dirk Kuyt and Daniel Agger after the pair limped out of the action during the Euro 2012 qualifiers on Tuesday night.

Kuyt started for Holland but was stretchered off and replaced by Jermain Lens after 29 minutes, while Agger returned from a groin injury but only lasted 39 minutes for Denmark before he had to replaced by former Everton defender Per Kroldrup.

Christian Poulsen captained the Danes and played the full 90 minutes of the 2-0 win over Cyprus in Copenhagen, and Holland beat Sweden 4-1.

Both Kuyt and Agger will be assessed now when they return to Melwood to see whether they will be available for Sunday's Merseyside derby.

Raul Meireles enjoyed a great night for Portugal when scored a fantastic goal for Portugal in their 3-1 win in Iceland.

Liverpool's No.4 was impressive throughout and let fly with a rocket of a shot from over 30 yards out that flew into the net. He played the full 90 minutes.

Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson played the full 90 minutes for England against Montenegro at Wembley but it was a frustrating night as the match ended goalless.

Joe Cole didn't make the bench.

Pepe Reina also didn't make the bench as Spain won a five-goal thriller 3-2 against Scotland in Glasgow.

Martin Skrtel didn't play because of suspension as Slovakia drew 1-1 with the Republic of Ireland. Former Red Robbie Keane missed a penalty for the Irish.

Milan Jovanovic also didn't feature as Serbia's match in Italy was abandoned after eight minutes because of crowd trouble.

Fabio's Special Fitness Plan

Liverpool’s Sports Science and medical team have devised a special training program for Fabio Aurelio in a bid to help him eradicate his injury problems.

The Brazilian full-back made a successful outing when he played for 30 minutes in yesterday's behind closed doors friendly with Crewe Alexandra, and he could be back in contention for a first team place in next week's Europa League trip to Napoli.

He has been on the sidelines with an achilles problem since our 2-1 win in Trabzonspor on August 26, but Head of Sports Science and Sports Medicine Peter Brukner revealed he is not far off a return to action.

"Unfortunately he's had a bad run with the injury and a few weeks ago he had an achilles tendon problem, but we decided to back off and really try and give him some good pre-season training which he needed," said Brukner.

"This is to try and make him a little bit stronger and more resistant to the sort of injuries that have plagued his career over the last couple of years, so time will tell.

"So far he's on track. He played 30 minutes for the reserves against Crewe which was planned. He was fine and we will see how he is, but we are optimistic that over the next couple of weeks he will be able to increase his game time, whether that be at reserve team level or the first team and contribute to the rest of the season.

"Sunday's derby is too early for him to return but he will certainly be available for the trip to Napoli next week and that's up to the manager to decide.

"The problem of course is he hasn't played for a while so you can't really throw him into big games too quickly but hopefully he will get a couple of games to build up his match fitness.

"There's no point in taking shortcuts with Fabio. We want him available for the rest of the season and if that takes an extra week or so to get him back then that's the approach we take.

"He's a lovely guy who works very hard, as hard as anyone on his rehabilitation. Hopefully the strength work we are doing with him will make him able to resist the enormous stresses that come on the body with playing Premier League football.

"Every player at the club has a specific program that they undertake both in the gym and on the training ground.

"We are working hard to make them all fitter and stronger so they will pick up less injuries."