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Is the impending bailing out of Liverpool a worrying sign for football?


Football - Liverpool v Arsenal Barclays Premier League - Anfield - 21/4/09..Liverpool owners Tom Hicks Photo via Newscom

Liverpool, like few other clubs in England are more than a football club, they are a footballing institution. Their history can perhaps only be matched by Manchester United and their fan base is huge.

However, like many other clubs of various sizes before them, Liverpool were the subject of a leveraged buyout in 2007 that, with the benefit of hindsight was destined to fail. The new stadium that was promised by Gillett and Hicks has failed to materialise, they have only once managed to put up a significant challenge for the Premier League title, the owners fell out with their Champions League winning manager and plunged Liverpool in to un-manageable debt. They are now looking to sell as quickly as they can to rescue themselves, possibly even accepting no profit on the sale of the club, happy in the knowledge that the burden of the debt has been removed from their shoulders.

However, what does this mean for football in general? There is no question that a takeover from a wealthy billionaire will be a good thing for Liverpool and their fans but what message does it send to other clubs or owners? Can a club that has been run so badly over a space of just three years really survive at the click of a rich man’s fingers and become successful once again? If so, it suggests that a handful of clubs are in fact too big to fail, and that they are able to take unimaginable risks with their finances and will be bailed out if they do run in to trouble. Liverpool have been saved by their history and heritage, because make no mistake, a lesser club would not have been afforded such patience from their creditors and they certainly wouldn’t have been offered a lifeline by multiple billionaire investors. Just ask Leeds!

If clubs such as Liverpool cannot fail, how will football learn? If clubs of the size of Liverpool can take themselves so far towards the brink but be in relatively small danger of going bust, how will football learn that it needs a sustainable business model? The clubs with a smaller fan base and less illustrious histories will either accept they cannot compete or they will take similar risks without the safety blanket afforded to the handful of larger clubs.

At the same time the FA and Premier League will continue to show no back bone when it comes to regulating the owners of football clubs because they will see the revenues that they are making from the likes of Torres and Rooney plying their trade in England, despite the fact that these men’s wages are being paid by borrowed money, with huge interest rates. Ticket prices will continue to rise as owners make the same mistakes over and over again, and the Manchester United’s and Liverpool’s will continue to survive, while the competition is either falling further and further behind or more worryingly trying to compete and risking their very existence.

If it is allowed to continue football will grow further from being the game for the fans and become more of a board game for high risk takers and people who believe they are rich just because the banks will lend them a lot of money. Not even their fiercest rivals would of wanted to see Liverpool “do a Leeds” and drop down the leagues due to their owners having eyes too big for their wallets (imagine a Premier League season without Man Utd v Liverpool). But without the fear of failure the situation will never be forced to change.

The imminent takeover of Liverpool FC is a great thing for the fans who don’t want to lose their club, and it is great for Hicks and Gillett who will leave financially secure, but for football the last 3 turbulent years for Liverpool may turn out to be a significant moment for a game that is eating itself.



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