The Liverpool owner finally broke his silence on his future plans for the club on Monday.
There appears to be some clarity at last.
This season has been one of struggle on the pitch for Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool side. The feats of last season and sailing so close to what would have been an unprecedented quadruple, the hangover from that wild ride, allied with the lack of reinforcements to rejuvenate in the summer have seen the Reds look jaded.
But behind the struggle on the pitch there has been the constant unease that the November revelations around Fenway Sports Group potentially being ready to part company with the most valuable asset in their $10bn empire have brought.
FSG had been looking for minority investment for some time, engaging both Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley merchant banks to facilitate that search. But the events of last year surrounding the expedited sale process of Chelsea changed the approach, as did the desire of some minority partners who had a long-held shareholding in FSG to consider divesting and realising some cash.
When Roman Abramovich was forced to sell Chelsea following the sanctions imposed on him by UK Government following Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, and his close historical ties to Russia president Vladimir Putin, it set off the most hotly contested auction process in British football history. One where the nature of the incredibly tight timescale due to Chelsea being on borrowed time financially meant that there were a wealth of would-be football club owners who were ready to spend.
The sale price, £2.5bn, was seen as overvalued by many US investors that the ECHO spoke to, but the winning bid of Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, backed up by Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, gave owners the first real taste of what the true value of top six assets in the Premier League could be worth.
With Liverpool one of the Premier League’s very biggest clubs, with a global fan base of hundreds of millions and with success on and off the field to boast of, there was a desire by FSG to test the water and see just how much interest was out there as the Reds ownership group sought to recapitalise the business ahead of what is expected to be a costly rebuild where the sale of players won’t be able to make a serious dent in what the outlay needs to be.
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What the Chelsea sale did, crucially, was create losers, and visible ones at that. Dozens of bids came to the table for Chelsea as the Raine Group, who are managing the sale of Manchester United at present, whittled down their options. Those who failed to acquire Chelsea remain keen on the Premier League, and with that level of demand having been in the market it was seen as the ideal time for FSG to try and bring in new investment.
The idea of a full sale was considered, although it would have needed to be a major offer, likely in excess of £4bn, to encourage FSG to sell. In truth, the latent value within the Premier League that FSG believe exists, and the reason why it remains such a sought after league with immense scarcity value, is one of the reasons why they do not wish to sell the team. Also, it is understood that some of the partners that have come on board in recent times would not have been advocates for a sale given the long-term strategy that was at play when they invested in the first place.
It did not stop the rumour mill, though. Interested parties from across the globe were said to have been in talks, with social media accounts abuzz with rumours of an impending takeover by sovereign wealth funds, with the Qatar Investment Authority one rumour that got considerable traction. There were even suggestions of clandestine meetings between interested bidders from the Middle East and FSG in Liverpool in January.
Well-placed financial sources in the US had maintained the stance that it was a ‘strategic partner’ that FSG were seeking, one that could provide them with both capital and expertise, potentially providing an in for the next owners of the football club to acquire a small stake before accreting it over time into a full shareholding.
Those same sources stated that there had been no bids for the club and no high level talks, with the reported talks between FSG chiefs and sovereign wealth funds that drilled down into a potential stakeholding needed to strike a deal described as ‘not real’.