Will Thaksin Shinawatra’s money help Liverpool FC compete with the likes of Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea? That is the question many Liverpool supporters are asking themselves today. It has been widely reported in the news that Thailand’s Prime Minister, possibly together with other investors in a consortium, is about to invest approximately 2 billion baht or about 60 million pounds into the English Premier League football club in order to purchase around 30% of the club’s shares. (LFC is a privately held enterprise, unlike Man Utd, hence their shares are not traded on the stock market.)
Although there has been no confirmation yet from Liverpool FC (the official website states that “Liverpool Football Club will not be commenting on press speculation over the weekend about possible new investment in the club”), the deluge of reports in the mass media (with pictures of Shinawatra and Liverpool CEO Rick Parry in a meeting) does seem to imply that the deal could be closed very soon.
All parties in this deal have a lot to gain from this investment. Liverpool, of course, need an extra injection of funds in order to not only finance the strengthening of the squad (God knows we need to), but to also finance the construction of the new stadium over at Stanley Park. For Liverpool chairman (and majority shareholder) David Moores, this would also be a good opportunity to quieten the rumblings coming from Steve Morgan, the club’s third largest shareholder (behind Moores and TV company Granada) and property tycoon. Morgan had earlier this season tried to get himself a seat on the board by attempting to raise his stake via a rights issue, an attempt that had been rejected by Moores and other directors. He is still considering whether to launch another bid for a rights issue to win him the seat.
For Shinawatra, on the other hand, this may well be more than just another business deal. No doubt, his popularity among the nation’s football-crazy population would soar, which is important given that his reputation had taken a beating in recent weeks concerning the unrest in Southern Thailand.
For Thai football, the benefits are the setting up of a Thai football academy run with the assistance of LFC coaches and the revamping of the local league, which is very unpopular among the fans (although this is in contrast to the strong popularity of the national team which currently is the best national football team in South-East Asia, having won the SEA Games gold 5 consecutive times now).
Furthermore, it has been reported a company formed with other Thai private investors to pump money into the club would get commercial rights to use the Liverpool brand. Yes, you read that right. Liverpool FC are about to take the step that Man Utd had taken a long time ago and one that many fans considered as “selling out”. By turning Man Utd’s club image into a global marketing brand (the dropping of the words “Football Club” from the club logo was a significant part), United had grabbed the lead in what is now a race to amass huge commercial profits from sales of products and merchandise carrying the club “brand”. Liverpool, for so many years, have chosen to concentrate on the football side of business, having assumed that the club would eventually reclaim their long-lost mantle as Britain’s top dog. Well, it has been 14 years since we last won the championship, and it’s certainly time for the club to review it’s policies regarding marketing and profit-generating opportunities if we are going to continue to compete with Man Utd and especially Chelsea.
Speaking of Chelsea, many Liverpool supporters would definitely be wondering whether this investment deal would help us in transfer dealings the way Roman Abramovich’s millions has helped Chelsea. The answer is yes and no. 60 million pounds, while certainly not small change, is nowhere near the amount of money that Abramovich has already pumped into the club (indeed, even more is expected to be given to the manager – whoever it is – during the coming summer months). However, if Liverpool do go ahead and offload some of their under-performing talents in the summer, the revenue generated from these sales together with the money from the expanding war-chest would definitely help the club to flex their financial muscles in the transfer market. Plus, unlike Man Utd, Liverpool do not need to wait for City approval to move quickly for a transfer target, hence we could conceivably see some transfer scoops made soon. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do what Barcelona did with Ronaldinho and leave Fergie fuming?
But now for the negative angles. Despite Roman Abramovich’s millions, there is no doubt his influence has been negatively felt on the playing field. The constant speculation concerning manager Claudio Ranieri’s future may very well have disturbed the players’ preparations for key games this season, and one wonders whether the club might end up taking a step a backward if they do get rid of Ranieri in the summer. Likewise, Liverpool supporters everywhere want to know of what influence, if any, would Thaksin Shinawatra have in the club’s transfer dealings and management. Speaking from a Malaysian point of view, I am strongly against politicians getting involved in the management of football clubs. I consider it a primary reason why many of our local football teams are in such disarray. Shinawatra, in his political and business career, is no stranger to controversy, and one can only hope that he does not bring his reputed gung-ho, cowboy-style of leadership into the Liverpool boardroom.
It is also interesting to see how many overseas investors are beginning to come into the English game. No doubt it has much to do with the spectacular global success of the Premier League, but perhaps English football fans may begin to worry that the game is being removed from the ordinary bloke on the street and into the hands of foreigners who may not quite understand the English footballing culture…
So what is my personal take on all this? The money is certainly very welcome, Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, and I wish you all the best in developing the Liverpool brand into a strong, viable commercial enterprise, but when it comes to the football side, please refrain from meddling and leave the management to the manager, thank you very much.
Pic sourced from BBC Sport