‘Liverpool and Manchester United not worth £4bn – because they are not in London’
The businessman responsible for the Fenway Sports Group era at Anfield has questioned the £4 billion-plus asking prices for Liverpool and Manchester United – because they lack London postcodes.
Sir Martin Broughton, a high-flying executive and former chairman at Liverpool, says his experience bidding for Chelsea last summer proved that many billionaires have a preference for clubs in the capital.
In an interview with Telegraph Sport, Broughton says he toyed with the prospect of helping with investment at Liverpool after FSG enlisted investment bankers to test the market, but added: "I would question whether they'll [United and Liverpool] get the kind of prices they floated."
Liverpool's Boston-based ownership engaged US investment banks Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley last year to facilitate the search for outside investment.
Unlike a potential April deadline for the sale of United, Tom Werner, who succeeded Broughton as chairman, says there is "no urgency and no timeframe".
Broughton, a former top executive with British Airways and British American Tobacco, is encouraging FSG to pursue only a minority shareholder because the current owners are "a difficult act to follow".
"Liverpool will be best off taking in co-investors to ensure the current owners can work alongside them and be satisfied that these are the right people," said the 75-year-old, who has published his memoirs Whenever I Hear That Song. "As I understand it, they [FSG] are interested to see what the market reaction is. They could be willing sellers. They could be willing to have investors, but if they carry on owning it, that's fine too. That's my understanding of their position."
Broughton, who has his own sports investment company, has not been sought out by Werner or JW Henry for his advice around the deal. However, he did weigh up involvement in speaking to investors. "I did say to them at the outset that I might get involved," Broughton added. "I never asked for any financial information. I did one or two inquiries with people that I thought might be interested but it didn't go any further. So now I'm just looking at it with a keen interest."
Broughton, a life-long Chelsea fan, served as an independent Liverpool chairman between April 10 and October 13, 2010. He was appointed with a remit to sell the club as the hated previous owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, had their leveraged investments badly hit by the financial downturn.
Broughton and the rest of the board won the right to sell the club to New England Sports Ventures (NESV) – now FSG – in a High Court case against Hicks and Gillett. The current owners secured the club for a sum of £300 million – less than the asking price – thanks to Broughton's court victory.
Almost 13 years on, he says both Liverpool and United have taken an "opportunistic" approach to testing whether there is now a market. It is unclear exactly how much FSG would sell Liverpool for, but the Glazers are understood to want upwards of £5bn for United.
"I would question whether they'll get the kind of prices that they floated," Broughton said, after narrowly missing out in the race to buy Chelsea last year. Broughton was many Chelsea fans' choice as a lifelong fan, with support from Lord Coe, who had thrown his weight behind the offer.
However, he believes his plan to install himself as chairman rather than invite Bruce Buck into the role may have initially counted against him. Buck ultimately stood down as chairman in June last year but he remained a "senior adviser" as he was succeeded by Todd Boehly, who bid successfully to buy the club from Roman Abramovich.
Broughton has doubts that United and Liverpool are attracting the same type of interest that Chelsea did last year. So far only Sir Jim Ratcliffe – another failed Chelsea bidder – has gone public with attempts to buy United, although there is known to be interest in America and the Middle East ahead of formal bids next week.
"With Chelsea – and I think Arsenal and Tottenham would fall into the same category – the people we spoke to tended to be overseas billionaires who had a pad in London and the pad in London was in Knightsbridge or Kensington, Chelsea or something," Broughton explained. "So when they came to London, they went to Chelsea. They were football fans, and they were Chelsea fans... they're not going to be bidders for Liverpool or Manchester United because they've got a pad in London and they're not planning to move their pad to Manchester or Liverpool. So it's a different type of buyer to the ones that we were looking for with our consortium."
The sales of United and Liverpool offer dramatically contrasting legacies, Broughton added. "I personally think John Henry and Tom Werner are not just very good owners, but keen to have a good legacy and want to make sure that we're passing it to good owners.
"In a sense, they had the benefit of taking over from people that the fans hated. So they had everything in their favour as long as they did what they said they were going to do, which the did – they had the following wind. They're a difficult act to follow. To be a better owner than Fenway is quite difficult. At United, it's more like the old Liverpool situation. Fans will be so pleased. Whoever buys it will have the following wind."
Whenever I Hear That Song, by Martin Broughton, is published by Nine Elms Books, priced £20
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