It’s still far too early to work out whether today’s announcement is good or bad news for Liverpool fans. Perhaps it’s safest to say this news is a mixture of both.
If it was all good news would Martin Broughton restrict his interviews the way he has? No press conference to announce his arrival suggests he knows he might be asked some very difficult questions. He’s not – so far – agreed to talk to the types of reporter that might drill down into his answers to see what the truth might really be.
When George Gillett and Tom Hicks arrived at the club they sat in front of a mass of journalists and answered questions about how good they were going to be and how glad they were to be here. Either that was supreme confidence that they could wing it or they genuinely thought they’d be able to sort out the finances and get the vital new stadium built.
Along came the credit crunch and a massive disagreement between the two partners. There were no press conferences when their finance was finally renewed in January 2008. There were no press conferences when they exercised an option to extend that finance by six-months a year later. Hicks spoke – on the whole – to reporters he knew would hold back on the difficult questions. Gillett didn’t speak for ages, and then restricted it to one particular radio presenter. They only seemed to speak to attack their partner or defend themselves against comments made by their partner.
When the finance was extended again in the summer of 2009 it wasn’t even announced. The press just got told off the record that it had been extended. No details were released.
Christian Purslow was working for the club, or at the club, or with the club, back in March of last year if we are to believe one of his own comments: “The most important aspect of the football club I was involved in in my first week in the job was securing Rafa for another five years.” Benítez signed his new deal on March 18th and Purslow was spotted sitting with the owners in the director’s box shortly after.
But the announcement of his appointment as MD wasn’t made until three months later on June 22nd.
Another three months on and he’d seemingly forgotten that first three months at the club. It was now mid-September, six months after his work on “securing Rafa”, and he told the Echo: “The job satisfaction I have felt in my first three months every day to go home from work, where unlike most normal jobs, satisfaction comes from maybe doing a good job.” He said it twice: “I feel a huge responsibility to all of our fans because until three months ago that’s all I was – just a fan.”
Why the secrecy for the first three months? It’s just one aspect that raises suspicions about his appointment and the true reasons behind it. It’s just one contradiction that comes up when comparing various statements and comments attributed to Purslow.
But secrecy isn’t new under the current ownership. Ian Ayre and Philip Nash were appointed to the board in December 2009 – but the announcement wasn’t made until January, and only then because an ill-advised email from Tom Hicks Junior saw him resign from the board. The appointment of Casey Coffman was made at the same time as the two appointments that had actually been made some weeks before.
Today’s announcement was less secretive, and although Martin Broughton was likely to know he’d not get any difficult questions from those speaking to him today, it does suggest that maybe there will be some good news in there somewhere.
In an interview on the official club website he was asked about the future of manager Rafael Benítez. He said: “Rafa is a good manager, we want him to stay, he’s contracted to stay, so I’m assuming he’s staying.” But the follow-on question to that would surely be: “What about the transfer budget?”
Something needs to be done to make up for having less to spend than came in from sales last year. And whatever happens there needs to be some honesty – we don’t want to be told that £20m net was spent on players when it was quite clearly nothing of the sort.
Speaking in an interview televised by Sky Sports, Broughton spoke about why this time the sale of the club might actually take place: “There have been lots of expressions of interest in the past but this is first time really the whole club has been available for sale on a structured basis.
“So there’s been ad-hoc interest, it’s been for sort of partial pieces and things like that.
“So as far as we’re concerned some of those who have expressed interest in the past may well be reinvigorated by this process, the whole of the club is available. We think there are others out there who will now be interested.”
“There’s been interest, but it’s been ad-hoc, this is now going to be structured I think there’ll be lots of interest.
Asked if he expected to find a buyer before the end of the year he appeared confident: “Oh yes absolutely. Oh yes. Months, a matter of months.”
In another interview, with the Liverpool Echo, he made it clear that he wasn’t going to be at the club full time and that Christian Purslow would continue “running” the club: “I am not an executive chairman – Christian Purslow, Ian Ayre and Philip Nash are the key players.
“It is a great team running the club and they will continue to run the club. I’m coming in as chairman with the principal responsibility to oversee a sale.”
Last summer there is little doubt that the transfer budget was cut as the summer went on. Benitez had spoken after the signing of Johnson of being able to bring another player in without having to sell anyone. Yet the transfers that went through after that saw him bring in at least £15m more than went out. Not only did he not get that £15m to spend, Purslow told the press that Rafa had been given an additional £20m on top of sales to spend on players. Even if you allow Purslow to redefine transfer spending by adding in pay-rises for players getting new contracts, it doesn’t explain that £35m discrepancy.
To this day he’s not explained that discrepancy, and it seems he won’t have to: “Christian will be running the club and it is his field to deal with the issues there,” said Broughton. “All I would say is that for the players as well as the fans, this is a fresh start.”
Although the new chairman won’t be based as far away as the previous co-chairmen, he still doesn’t intend to be in Liverpool too often, “maybe” one day a week: “I’ll be involved as much as I need to be. Involved a couple of days a week and physically at Anfield maybe one day a week. But the sale process is more likely to be based in London.
He made it clear he wouldn’t make any official statements about how the sale of the club is moving forward, he said he wouldn’t be naming any bidders: “Over the next few months I’m going to make no statements about who and how anything is progressing. I’m sure there will be lots of press coverage as the media try to find out, but there will be no statements from me.”
No statements – but will there be any leaks?
As for his status as a Chelsea season ticket holder: “I am a lifelong Chelsea fan, but most of all I’m a sports fan and a football fan. Liverpool FC is a wonderful football institution and the Premier League is a wonderful institution. My role is to make sure Liverpool is successful in the future.”
Of course Broughton won’t reveal where his priorities lie, but he must know he will have to make decisions that upset at least one party who has an interest in Liverpool’s future. The current owners still want their profit, the banks still want to make money out of the club, and the fans want the club to go back to being a successful side on the pitch. Can Broughton keep all of those people happy and still attract a buyer, who will of course want to make their own money out of this deal.
And for that reason there really can’t be any reassurance from the following statement: “It is now very important that we find the right owner – not just a new owner.” Right for who?
The whole reason David Moores sold “the family silver” was so that Liverpool FC could get a new stadium, a stadium that would bring in extra money to invest in the club and in the team and keep the club competitive. Despite Gillett’s infamous talk of shovels in ground within 60 days that stadium has still not happened. Broughton suggested that any new owners would have to make that stadium a reality if they were to be able to make their takeover a success: “I think taking the stadium plan forward has to be in everyone’s interests. I think when you look at the financial logic, it has to happen. It’s inescapable that any new owner would not go ahead with the new project.”
Broughton had a message for supporters: “I ask for patience from the fans. They want to get what I want to get – not just the highest bidder but the best bidder in the long term.”
He confirmed that the club would almost certainly have debt to service following a takeover, but suggested it should be at an appropriate level: “It has to be the right owners and also the right financial structure – no more than a reasonable amount of debt that you would expect in any organisation of this size.”
“My message to the fans is this: have a little bit of patience and in a little bit of time I’ll deliver.”
We’d have far more patience with him if he was willing to talk to someone who might ask the more difficult questions.