US businessman Robert Kraft has not completely ruled out the possibility of taking over from his hapless compatriots Tom Hicks and George Gillett at Liverpool Football Club.
Kraft has been linked with investment in the club in the past, before the current owners took over, but even now seems to have reservations. He owns one “soccer” team already, New England Revolution of the MLS in the US, and also owns a “football” team, that’s American Football, the New England Patriots outfit.
It’s no secret, despite desperate denials from Tom Hicks, that Dubai International Capital are looking to buy into Liverpool FC. They probably remain the only serious option to a disastrous future under Hicks and Gillett, but speaking to Sky Sports, Kraft admitted that there’s a slight possibility he’d consider taking over: “We haven’t ruled it out completely, but I’m worried a little bit. I want to be able to win whatever we do. But there are no rules in terms of spending on players.”
In most US sports salary caps and other restrictions ensure that all teams have a ceiling on squad investment, and that prevents the richer clubs moving too far ahead of their less-well-off rivals. The lack of a similar system in the European game of football is a major reason the Reds ever looked for investment. The more money a team has, whether it’s through having a higher stadium capacity or a wealthier and more generous owner, the more it can spend on its squad. In fact one problem Liverpool also faced at the onset of their investment search was that there weren’t four Champions League places for English clubs, and so it was harder to get into that exclusive club, harder to get the extra income it brought in.
In simple terms, the club needed someone to provide funds for an increased transfer budget and to get the new stadium built, with that investor getting its money back in the longer term, starting after the new stadium was open. Instead the club got two people who didn’t use any of their own money to buy the club, and not only failed to increase the transfer budget in the early days, but have ensured it’s already going to be £30m lower than it would have been had there been no takeover, with another £30m in interest expected when the stadium is finally built. If the new stadium brings in an extra 26,000 spectators every game, paying an average of £40 per ticket, and we play for example 25 home games a season, that’s still only an extra £26m per season from the new stadium. Naming rights and improved executive facilities, along with possible summer events, will add to that figure, but the hopes of fans to see us in a position to compete in the transfer market with our rivals are quite clearly not going to come to fruition.
This is what puts Kraft off. He says he wants to win, but the club’s finances and the way the game as a whole is financed make that look impossible: “We would never want to be in a business where we couldn’t compete and right now some of the structure doesn’t allow you to compete on a level playing field.”
He recalled talking to Liverpool’s former chairman David Moores, who sold out to the current owners a year ago: “I spent a lot of time with Mr Moores and his group in Liverpool and we know something about building an opportunity. The fan base in Liverpool is a lot like the fan base of the Patriots when we bought them. They are dedicated fans if you give them a quality product and they know you are doing their best to win.”
That last sentence probably sums up that even if he can’t do anything about it, Kraft at least understands what the supporters’ requirements are. He seems to imply that his view is that a successful investment in a sports team brings both profit and success. Hicks and Gillett couldn’t afford to do that, and knew that full well. Perhaps Kraft knows this too, but he’s not the one that came in and spent a lot of money moving a club further away from success than it had been before.