After a period away from the public eye Christian Purslow put himself right back into focus this morning by speaking to the BBC about the speculation surrounding the club. According to the Liverpool managing director the board are now carrying out checks on those behind written bids for the club after which they intend to see the club sold “as soon as possible”.
There has been a refreshing silence from the boardroom since the appointment of Roy Hodgson as manager. The club have left the football people to do the talking about the football; the senior management scaling back their contact with the media and a noticeable decline in the amount of “off record” briefings filtering their way onto the back pages, at least from the club. Actual interviews had all but dried up.
Quite why Purslow decided to speak out today is a bit of a mystery. The club issued a statement on Friday night saying that as far as the sales process was concerned, “we will not comment on rumour and speculation.” Purslow himself today said: “It wouldn’t be for me to comment on the football side.” So what was left for him to comment on? As it was he spoke at length about both “the football side” and the sales process.
His opinion on the football side should be of no importance right now, what matters far more is the part of his job he actually has the experience and qualifications to work on. Along with chairman Martin Broughton and commercial director Ian Ayre the Liverpool MD is about to be an important part of what will be one of the most crucial decisions in Liverpool’s history.
Their votes can overrule any attempts by Tom Hicks and George Gillett to extend their state of denial that this investment is one that just didn’t work out for them, that there isn’t going to be a massive profit, that they will make a serious loss if they don’t sell soon.
The signs are promising that the three non-owner board members are going to work with each other and not side with the owners. When Purslow got onto the topic of ownership this morning he spoke like someone who’d forgotten how much use he’d had from off-record briefings to the press over the course of his first year in the role. Instead he sounded like he was reading from a script prepared by Martin Broughton, a script expressing displeasure at any attempts to circumvent the process that the chairman had put in place. He said: “I’m not going to comment on the specifics – indeed it is a source of great frustration and mystification for me – that so many people who may or may not be interested in buying Liverpool prefer to tell newspapers that’s the case than the board of the club.”
Given the conduct of certain senior people at the club in recent years he shouldn’t be surprised at all.
He said that now the bids are in the board had to scrutinise the contents and verify the credibility of the bidders: “What I can say is that we do have a number of bids for the club. The board is going to take its time to examine those extremely carefully.
“Our number one priority – and I speak for myself and my chairman, and the independent directors – is to make sure we know what we would be getting into with any new owner.” The suggestion being that although the English members of the board might be working towards a common goal the owners have perhaps got somewhat different ideas about what is most important.
“That is our number one priority,” he continued, “we take that deadly seriously; to know who they are, where the money is coming from, what their plans are and to establish that there is a real commitment for a very long term stable and secure financial position for the club.”
There is little to suggest that more than two bids came in for the club, and no indication as to how seriously both bids are being taken. Although the board clearly want to take their time to ensure there isn’t another nightmare to follow after a change of hands the time required to authenticate the offers should still be fairly minimal.
And according to Purslow a speedy resolution is still important, almost as important as ensuring the stability of the bidders: “Second to that priority – and it’s a very close second – is to sell the club as soon as possible. And we have a process underway, it’s ongoing, I wish I could guarantee it will happen, I can’t, but we’re not going to comment on the specifics. The process is governed by very strict confidentiality.”
Fans are putting a lot of faith in Martin Broughton, Christian Purslow and Ian Ayre as the three members of the board with a vote to use but no personal profit to consider. Asked if they’d vote to sell to someone found to be “not the right person” Purslow was clear: “Categorically not.”
On Friday night the club issued a statement that referred to “proposed bids”, suggesting that formal bids were yet to be received, but according to Purslow the bids have now been made, in writing. He was asked if there was a favourite: “No there is not, there is not. We have, as I say, just received some written bids and at this stage it would be wrong to categorise anyone as a front runner.”
And have those bidders proved they have the funds? “Not yet,” said Purslow.
The bids only arrived late last week and the likelihood is that it is now a matter for RBS and Barcap to verify the funding behind those bids. However the Sunday Times suggested they had been given a different view of events, referring to “sources close to the talks” saying that “none of the potential buyers could prove they had the money”. The report also said that RBS was “preparing to take control of Liverpool FC as the search for a buyer peters out.”
Purslow was asked about those claims: “Well I’m not going to comment on newspaper articles and certainly ones I haven’t read. What I will say is that we have excellent relations at the football club with our lead bankers RBS, we’ve been in constant dialogue with them since the time I’ve been at the club and before and I am extremely comfortable with that working relationship and that sounds a rather speculative story to me.”
Asked if RBS would take over should the sale process fail, Purslow said: “No, not at all. RBS have been creating the environment in which we can take our time to sell the club, that is Plan A, B, C, D with their full support.”
Martin Broughton said in July that he hoped a deal would be done by the end of August. Purslow was asked when he thought the deal might be concluded: “I don’t know. I really don’t know.
“I’m not going to put a time limit on it, we’re in the process, we’re broadly where we hoped to be when the process was launched at Easter, namely to have initial bids by August, that’s where we are but the challenge now is to sort the wheat from the chaff.”
How long that will take, Purslow was extremely vague: “As I say, it’s underway, but the outcome remains uncertain and unclear. I wouldn’t expect it to be a lifetime but I wouldn’t expect it to be tomorrow.”
Many Liverpool fans would say that every day under the current owners feels like a lifetime. Few fans expect a takeover to be complete in time to make any difference to the spending plans for this transfer window, but what fans want to be able to do is to get back to talking about, thinking about and watching football again, as soon as possible.