Although a number of names have been put forward as frontmen for potential bids for Liverpool Football Club only a couple of them have actually gone on the record to admit any involvement. The most assertive in declaring his interest isn’t Kenny Huang of what is now known as “the Chinese bid” but Yayha Kirdi of what is now known as “the Joke bid”.
Of course it’s not being played out as a joke by Mr Kirdi or his advisors, but it’s becoming more of one by the day.
What he hasn’t said is who specifically it is he’s working for, other than some unnamed and therefore mysterious Canadian and Middle Eastern investors. This of course means there’s a fair bit of speculation about who they might be, at least from those who are giving him the benefit of the doubt that he actually has got some backers.
One name put forward is that of Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasim. He’s the 71-year-old ruler of Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates, and has been linked with a move for the club before.
What isn’t clear is where this link between Sharjah’s ruler and Yahya Kirdi has actually come from, given that he is keeping quite tight-lipped about his backers. It seems most likely that this link has been offered by a certain George Gillett. Anfield Road reported last week that Gillett had apparently been to RBS to tell them he had a serious bidder lined up in what seemed an attempt to stall the process that Martin Broughton is running to sell the club. That is the process the owners agreed with RBS as a condition of getting a further extension to the finance.
There’s always a possibility that this link has come from adding a few clues together to come up with an answer.
Those clues could have come from claims back in April when Kirdi’s name was first publicly linked with the club. He was described as a former international footballer for Syria and it was also claimed in some reports that he’d played and managed at Al-Ittahid Kalba, a club from the UAE state of Sharja. It’s the kind of claim that can add credibility to the idea of him being a trusted contact of some wealthy backers from the Middle East and it also gives out an impression that he’s got a strong background in the game.
But reports this week have thrown that particular bit of credibility out of the window. It seems he didn’t play for that particular Al-Ittahid club after all. The term “Al-Ittahid” means “The Union” and is used in a similar way to how the term “United” is used with British clubs. There are a number of teams called Al-Ittahid around the world, and that includes Syria.
Kirdi’s former club was actually Al-Ittahid Aleppo, a club from the city of his 1966 birth. He also played for Oruba Club from the same city. All this was back in the 1980s, and as for his international career, it now transpires that he played for “the national youth team” rather than the senior squad. Added to the question marks over his links to the wealth of the UAE are doubts that his experience in the game isn’t quite what it was built up to be in those earlier links with a takeover of Liverpool FC.
Searching for information on Mr Kirdi earlier this week, after excluding any link to Liverpool FC, threw up blank after blank. But he was eventually interviewed by the Canadian media from what turns out is his current hometown of Laval, a city in the Montreal area of Quebec, Canada.
The Canadian Press confirmed Kirdi was Syrian-born and said that he’d arrived in Canada eight years ago, in 2002. He told them his ideas on the club and the much-needed new stadium: “I want to build Liverpool. I have a new plan which I have given George Gillett. This one is not only a stadium but also a stadium and hotel, five star, and shopping centre.”
Straight away any hope he had of being seen as a credible option took a bashing. Finance is going to be hard to come by for a new stadium, but at least there’s planning permission for one. And to make it more viable there needs to be some investment in the local transport infrastructure because without it the city council will not allow a capacity of more than 60,000. The plans first shown to the world by Hicks and Gillett three years ago, for a stadium supposed to open this month, were for a capacity as high 76,000 by the time it opened. The owners stated that they hoped to have overcome those local infrastructure problems by the time the build was complete.
Getting planning permission for a five-star hotel might be possible, but getting the go-ahead for another shopping centre so close to the city centre and the new Liverpool One project seems a bit of a stretch. And that’s before we get onto the question of how much money all this is going to take.
But that was nothing to the distance from reality of another part of Mr Kirdi’s “plan”. Although the reports didn’t actually quote him on it, he’d clearly told the reporter that “the facility would also include a solarium to generate solar power, which would be provided to Liverpudlians.”
In a part of the country where it has certainly rained every day since St Swithin’s day that doesn’t exactly sound a viable plan – and that’s before we get clarification of how a sunroom will generate solar power to be provided to Liverpudlians, or whether that solar power will have to be shared with Evertonians.
On Wednesday Kirdi had claimed his vague group of investors were in “advanced negotiations” with Hicks and Gillett (notably not Martin Broughton, the club, Barcap or RBS) and that “agreement has been reached on all major terms including the purchase price, repayment of the existing bank debt from RBS and Wells Fargo and financing of a new stadium in Liverpool’s Stanley Park. A formal purchase agreement between the parties is in the final stage of negotiation.”
Something jumped out of that statement straight away. Wells Fargo now encompasses Wachovia, one of the banks used by the owners to refinance their debts related to the club in 2008, but the club’s last accounts said that finance commitments with Wachovia/Wells Fargo had now been settled. It’s always possible that Wells Fargo do have an involvement in the club in some way, but it’s not clear exactly what. Perhaps this is a sign of how closely Mr Kirdi and his advisors have looked at the club’s finances and how serious they are about the idea of owning Liverpool Football Club.
AIG and FIFA
There were also claims in this week’s reports that “he has worked as a senior consultant with AIG in the Middle East”. We contacted AIG this afternoon to see if they have any record of this and will report back if we hear any more. It’s not clear when he did this work for them, if he indeed did.
Another of the claims that seem part of an aim to give Mr Kirdi some credibility was that Kirdi is “still active in soccer as a coach and has many contacts through his playing days and work with FIFA.” We’ve also contacted FIFA this afternoon to see if he is known to them in any capacity.
The planes, boss
Perhaps the biggest effort made to show him as a man of means, or a man acting for other men of means, was that he had been “recently negotiating to buy six CRJ1000 aircraft from Bombardier.” Elsewhere a claim had been put out that he’d actually put pen to paper on those deals and with the aircraft in question – passenger jets made by Canadian company Bombardier – costing around £27m each this was clearly a big deal he’d done. Yet there was no mention on the Bombardier company website for what would be £162m worth of jet plane, in his or anyone else’s name, in the time frame that had been claimed.
We contacted Bombardier to ask if they could confirm the order and explain why it was missing from their website. Isabelle Rondeau, Bombardier’s Director of Communications, told Anfield Road that if the order had been made it would have been on their website.
We contacted Mr Kirdi’s representatives to ask about this, they didn’t respond to that particular question.
One UK newspaper made a worrying suggestion about where Kirdi’s money could come from. The Daily Mirror reported that Kirdi was “backed by Montreal group Gameday LMC and, apparently, Syrian businessman Rami Makhiouf.”
Rami Makhlouf was described in a 2005 BBC report as “one of the most powerful businessmen in Syria”. He runs the country’s mobile phone network, SyriaTel and “with friends at the highest level in government, Mr Makhlouf, who just happens to be a cousin of the president, is a very powerful man. It is said that no foreign companies can do business in Syria without his consent.”
In 2008 he became the subject of sanctions from the US government. Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence said that he had “used intimidation and his close ties to the Asad regime to obtain improper business advantages at the expense of ordinary Syrians”. The order saw any of his assets under US jurisdiction frozen and it also forbids US people or entities from doing business with him.
Kirdi’s representative in Canada, Dan Diamond, told Anfield Road: “I don’t know the name Makhiouf”.
However Mr Diamond was also unaware of major aspects of Kirdi’s relatively recent business history, suggesting that he’d not been told the full story about Kirdi’s background. And that background suggests Mr Kirdi is a long way away from being an associate of anyone with the kind of money required to win the battle to take Liverpool Football Club over, however that money was raised.
Mr Kirdi had claimed this week that he was well-travelled, suggesting he’d flown the world before deciding to settle in Canada: “I’ve visited all the world, believe me.” Anywhere specific? “North, South, Africa, Europe, the United States, Middle East,” he revealed. Then he found home: “I like Canada in general and Quebec especially. When my airplane arrived at the Montreal airport, I opened my heart because this is my country.”
And, it seems, shortly after opening his heart he opened a shop. A public records site in Quebec contains details of Mr Kirdi’s business activities since his arrival in Canada. It shows quite clearly the businesses that he had until 2008, after which there is no record of him being in business.
In 2002, which is of course the year of his arrival in Canada (according to this week’s reports) he began a business by the name of “Kirdi Pour Vetements” (presumably a clothes store) and another by the name of “Rasoya” (no clues as to what that might actually have been). Both of these businesses are recorded as having ceased trading in December 2006.
In 2004 he began a business called “Pizza Kirdi” and as the name suggests that was a pizza outlet. That business came to a close in April 2006, but it wouldn’t be the last time Mr Kirdi was involved in the pizza business. In December 2006 the records show that he began an enterprise called “Pizza Madona”, and this ran until September 2008. It’s now under new ownership with the name of “Pizza da Tony”.
He also had a business called “Dépanneur Monaco” for 10 months in 2006, which was what in the UK might be called an off-licence.
Assuming that Mr Diamond would have been informed of his client’s background, Anfield Road asked for an explanation of how someone with business credentials seeming to consist of owning a couple of pizza stores was supposed to be seen as part of a credible approach for Liverpool FC. We wanted to know why we should feel confident that Yahya Kirdi could bring the good times back.
Mr Diamond said: “Let’s deal with facts. Our group’s interest preceded the hiring of Martin [Broughton] and BarCap. We were one of a number of parties who had expressed interest who the current owners held out of the Broughton/BarCap search for new buyers. The owners excluded the parties on this list from BarCap’s territory. So we were ‘grandfathered’ and were never directed to do anything other than negotiate with the owners. That said, we hope to win the support of the LFC Board based on the strength of our bid.
“Kirdi and his backers are football men with experience as team owners at a much smaller scale. They recognize LFC as one of the world’s most important clubs. Their bid is based on the perceived value of an LFC with solid management, money to be active in the transfer market and an appropriate modern stadium. And they have the money to buy the club, clear its debt, hire top management and acquire quality players and get that stadium built. And they’ll do this without rhetoric or promises of instant success. They understand ‘The Liverpool Way.’
“Kirdi has worked on behalf of this investor group for more than ten years but has never been involved in a high profile project like LFC. The pizza story is nonsense. Funny and slightly insulting, but nonsense.”
So perhaps Mr Diamond didn’t know about the pizzas. We sent him the proof, he replied saying it was, “frankly, news to me.”
Despite being caught off guard Mr Diamond was still good enough to respond in some detail. “Owning a depanneur (which is a corner shop that can sell beer and wine) and/or a pizza restaurant are travelled paths for entrepreneurial immigrants to Canada (and I suspect the U.K.) from the around the world who come with some cash, little language skills and a desire to create paying work for members of their family, Mr. Kirdi has made local investments while looking for bigger opportunities for his overseas investors.”
Yahya Kirdi – credible or not?
Whatever Mr Kirdi claims to be, it really doesn’t match up to what it seems he is in reality.
The solar-powered solarium is funny, the downgrading of his football experience is only a minor concern. He hasn’t ordered those six planes and that immediately puts a huge question mark over his integrity. His business empire was still impressive enough on an individual basis but it’s certainly not something that would put him in contention to take over one of the corporate boxes let alone the whole club. Only two names have been suggested as his potential backers – one of them is the ruler of an emirate he has absolutely no discernible link to and the other is someone that George Gillett and Tom Hicks are legally unable to do business with.
Whatever the truth turns out to be about the other possible candidates for the ownership of Liverpool Football Club, Mr Kirdi clearly isn’t a credible candidate.