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Old 9th December 2006, 13:15   #1
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Default Liverpool know that the sheikh makes sense

Liverpool know that the sheikh makes sense

The proposed sale of Liverpool would always be hard for fans to swallow, but in today's big-money climate Sheikh Mohammed is as good as it gets.

David Lacey
December 9, 2006
The Guardian

Footballers have long grown accustomed to being treated like commodities. Now it is the clubs' turn. No sooner have West Ham been taken over by a former Icelandic biscuit manufacturer than Liverpool are lined up to be bought by a Dubai investment company headed by the fifth-richest man in the world who is also prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

The wealth of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum is said to dwarf that of Chelsea's Russian owner. When playing brag with Roman Abramovich he can afford to go blind. Dubai International Capital are set to pay 450m for Liverpool which would ease the club's move to a new 60,000-seat stadium little more than a long goal-kick from Anfield and strengthen their chances of a continued presence in the Champions League through being able to compete for the best players.

So everything in the red half of Merseyside promises to be hunky-dory. Except that one of their senior players, Xabi Alonso, has warned the club against selling its soul and abandoning traditional values. While welcoming the prospect of Middle East megabucks, Alonso has added a caveat : "You can think about the future but it's important not to forget about the past."

No doubt many Liverpool supporters would agree. The last thing they want is for one of football's most passionate congregations to become merely another column of figures in the business dealings of a state-owned private equity firm. To which those principally engaged in selling the club to Sheikh Mohammed, David Moores, the Liverpool chairman, and Rick Parry, the chief executive, might reasonably point out that, if past traditions of success are to be preserved in the present financial climate, this is the only way to do it. Or, as Ken Bates remarked when he sold Chelsea to Abramovich : "He's got deeper pockets than I have."

Liverpool and to a certain extent West Ham have been caught up in the ripples of the Ambramovich takeover at Stamford Bridge which upped the ante in terms of transfer fees and players' wages. While Liverpool are unlikely to follow Chelsea's example by spending millions on promising youngsters only to keep them on the bench, they will be breaking a few transfer records if the Dubai deal goes through.

Some Koppites with long memories may pine for the days when Liverpool were winning everything with a British squad while being run by three people - the manager Bob Paisley, secretary Peter Robinson and chairman John Smith. But that was before the Premier League, the BSkyB contract and the Bosman case which produced new wealth at the top of the English game and an influx of foreign players to share it. Woe betide those left behind. No sooner had Anfield confirmed the start of negotiations with DIC than Everton were posting a loss of 10m in the past financial year.

If the Liverpool takeover goes through, the reign of the Moores family in the Merseyside clubs, going back nearly 50 years, will end. In the late 50s John Moores, co-founder of the Littlewoods pools firm which expanded to include department stores and a mail order business, became Everton's prime benefactor. As a child he had watched Dixie Dean but, while an Everton fan, he also had shares in Liverpool.

Sheikh Mohammed is a familiar figure on British racecourses but so far has not revealed whether or not Kevin Keegan was a boyhood hero.

More pragmatic Liverpool fans may feel that, if the club has to be owned by a prime minister, it might as well be one with bags of money, a keen eye for bloodstock and a disinclination to wear a fixed smile.

The number of superfans able and willing to bail out teams they have supported since boyhood has always been limited. Jack Walker, who in the early 90s built Blackburn Rovers into Premiership champions and transformed Ewood Park from a rusting hulk into a modern all-seat stadium, was probably the last of the breed.

Those Liverpool fans with Alonso's misgivings can at least content themselves with the knowledge that DIC will increase the club's potential in the transfer market rather than saddling them with the sort of debts Manchester United acquired when Malcolm Glazer arrived. Signing Henrik Larsson may be seen as a stroke of genius by Sir Alex Ferguson if the Swede adds impetus to United's push for the Premiership and Champions League titles. If not, then the presence of a 35-year-old on a 10-week loan may merely reflect a decline in Old Trafford's spending power after Glazer's takeover.

Meanwhile Eggert Magnusson must already be wondering if he should have chosen West Ham as his specialised subject.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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